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We’re Victims’ Rights Advocates, and We Opposed Marsy’s Law

The “Marsy’s Law” campaign arrived in Iowa this year like it has in many other states. This national effort seeks a specific list of constitutional rights for crime victims more expansive than the statutory rights afforded victims in every state. Iowa’s version sought to enshrine existing legal rights to notification, participation, and restitution into our constitution and add rights to safety, privacy, and the right to refuse discovery requests. For now, state legislators resisted the popular appeal of the campaign’s central theme — that crime victims deserve “equal rights” to the accused in criminal proceedings.

The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault remain unwavering in our support for victims, yet we oppose Marsy’s Law. We represent agencies providing direct services to crime victims before, during, and long after any encounter with the criminal legal system. In addition to offering emergency services, these are the people law enforcement call to assist at a crime scene or at the hospital to support rape victims. Lawyers and judges rely on them to accompany victims in court and explain legal proceedings. They help victims obtain housing, jobs, and access to services and safety.

We believe this well-intentioned effort promotes the wrong mechanism for advancing victims’ rights. Amending the Iowa Constitution to comport with Marsy’s Law undermines the legal system and strains resources to the range of programs addressing victims’ comprehensive needs. The assertion that victims deserve constitutional rights equal to the accused mischaracterizes how the justice system operates.

...Opposing Marsy’s Law does not mean we oppose victims’ rights. The amazing service providers we represent go the distance 24/7 and 365 days a year, helping survivors rebuild their lives. Based on several thousand years of combined experience serving victims, directors of every member program in Iowa publicly urged opposition to Marsy’s Law.

...The insensitivity victims experience is not a constitutional failing. Victims deserve dignity and respect. They deserve to be notified and heard at criminal proceedings. And they deserve to be informed regarding the status of their offender. These rights and more already exist in Iowa’s legal code, but it takes money and people to ensure access to them. A victim cannot exercise her right to be heard in court without transportation to the courthouse or if she needs a lawyer or is reluctant to participate without someone to help her understand the process.

Adequate funding for systems and services and better enforcement of our victims’ rights laws can more effectively serve survivors. Instead, Marsy’s Law makes sweeping promises the state cannot keep, claims to fix problems constitutions cannot solve and harms our justice system.

Survivors deserve better than that.

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