Victory (and a voice) for victims

(Child sentences subjet of 3 bills: Westerman’s proposals would give judges discretion in juvenile cases by Frank E. Lockwood | March 29, 2019 at 2:04 a.m.)

In the Friday, March 29th, 2019 Democrat-Gazette, B section, an article appeared that I felt represents the proof that society is finally coming to terms with the impact of child sexual abuse. 

What we hope will lead to further advances and reform in sentencing abuse victims in cases where victims are under 21, I feel that this shows a movement to address the constitutional rights of all victims to have their abuse considered in relation to their culpability or blameworthiness.  Once again, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R- Ark. is leading reforms that have long undermined the ability of abuse survivors to have their traumas compassionately considered through the pursuit of justice.

All too often the indigent defendants, whose family can’t afford the huge retainer fees demanded by the most competent attorneys, find themselves with public defenders, most of whom are overworked, underpaid, lacking defense funds for adequate expert witnesses, have unmanageable caseloads, and who lack the knowledge to attack a case that has abuse as its central focus. Prosecutors and state-funded mental professionals work hard to present the offender in the worst possible light and pressure those charged with the maximum unless they plead guilty.

It is the plea of guilt that insures that victims of crimes are denied a chance to truly understand what happened or why. Without the context of trauma and the abuse, actions that were the product of the emotional toll of psychological torture become evidence of perceived nonredeemable character, rendering justice denied to all parties.

The recent bills that have been proposed will only apply to those under 18, which are considered “juveniles” based on brain development, but they still represent social proof of science-based legislation that is formed with objective evidence. So often what we see in the courts are the emotional embellishments meant to inflame jurors or judges, and as we all know emotions, brought up in times of pain and loss, can blind everyone to what is real, fact, and reasonable. By the legislature passing laws that insure objective consideration of the facts, not presentations by prosecutors to gut any true understanding of the event being considered, our judges and jurors have a better chance to measure out justice based on all the elements involved in a crime.

Victims of child sexual abuse and human trafficking exist in an emotional state that deprives them of the ability to think, feel, and act in ways that their peer group does – the perceived “normal”. The abuse and trauma causes chemical and biological changes in the brain, leading to patterns of thought that are not rational or sane, and any attorney or prosecutor that suggests otherwise should be disbarred.

While I did not kill my abuser, after 10 years of sexual abuse and mental torture, the crimes for which I am in prison were masterminded and forced under duress by him. It is my hope that at some point legislatures will add to existing law or future legislation, and allow all victims of abuse that were manipulated into crimes while in a traumatic state the due process required of true justice.

I do not know Sara Kruzan personally, but as a survivor of a decade of severe molestations and rapes we share the impact of complex trauma. Several cases have come up of girls that have been trafficked, sold into sexual slavery, and I was moved to tears as I read U.S. Rep. Westerman’s comments about Sara’s law being passed.

“I can’t imagine anybody not having empathy for a juvenile who’s been trafficked or sexually abused and (is) … resorting to violence to get out of the situation.”

Those who know my case know that I sought to expose Charles “Jack” Walls III as my Boy Scout abuser, and that exposure lead to him pressuring me to silence my own family to protect him. Walls had a history of manipulating his victims to protect him, and evidence of his coercion to kill was exposed in the Hogan case. Unconstitutionally, the Prosecution, DHS, and State Hospital all suppressed that evidence and history of abuse on my mental state, as elements in the crimes, and the power of an abuser over victims by emotional bonding and grooming.

We, victims of abusers, can’t find justice in a system that denies the truth of our mental states before, during, and after the crimes that happen as a result of complex traumas. I said all that to say that unfortunately, Mr. Westerman, there are many, including state officials that suppress abuse to ensure unfair conclusion to cases. Prosecutors can’t inflame jurors emotions with empathy, and what would compassion do in those leaks to the newspapers, meant to sway communities against defendants, from “anonymous sources.”

Mr. Westerman’s bill “would allow judges to consider “the effect of trauma” the juvenile experienced at the hands of the abuser, if the abuse occurred within a year of a violent crime. In such cases, judges would be authorized to “suspend any portion of an imposed sentence.” While this only applies to federal offenses, it does open the door for cases to be presented to courts for new precedents to be made that will in time trickle down. It took the Governor in California to cut Sara’s time, allowing her to parole after 19 years in prison, so at least these new proposed legislation will better protect victims of trauma from unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishments.

Victims of abuse that commit crimes, against their abusers and at the manipulation of their abuser, should be treated differently by a system that values mental state (mens rea) as an element of crimes. One’s mental state during a crime can’t be accurately appreciated if the state intentionally suppresses evidence that could inform an objective observer to understand it.

I applaud U.S. Rep. Westerman, as a father, Sunday School teacher, mentor, and elected official for the voters determined to craft and pass legislation that protects and reflects the will of the people. He is using his wisdom as a father, mentor, and public official to explain why he wants to draft law that possesses a moral understanding of justice and a scientific grasp of human nature.

Kids have a hard time making the right decisions even in the best circumstances because they are prone to rash decision making, bad at weighing consequences, impulsive, and under influence from others vulnerable to make the wrong choices. Not only do the mistakes and actions of juveniles under 21 not represent who they will become, but they don’t represent the kind of character capital punishments were created for, to begin with.

People change, mature and, when given the chance, victims of abuse can, with love and support, become adults that can help others with empathy tended and harvested in mercy.  An elected official, be they a court official or legislative representative has a duty to protect the vulnerable and, in our world, there are none more vulnerable than children who have been manipulated, molested, raped, abused, and conditioned to act in ways against their will. Those that do such things mentally and physically torture children through that trauma, and the externalized and internalized expression of that pain doesn’t reflect their person without the abuse.

We didn’t ask to be abused, did our best to free ourselves from it, and we thank those that are willing to listen, finally, to what happened and why. I also want to thank Mr. James Dold, leader of Human Rights for Kids, for weighing in with support as a child advocate. Not only has he supported efforts that have lead to the banning of cruel and unusual sentencing for juveniles, but he understands that if age alone limits culpability then so must trauma’s impact on normal development.

If the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid ’20s, as neuroscience has proven, then any factor that stunts or abnormally slows that development must be considered. Complex trauma, or abuse that is both severe and long term, slows and stunts the pre-frontal brain’s development. ACE surveys, conducted by the CDC, have shown that trauma impacts the development of victims on every level.

Thank you for your efforts to spread that understanding to those that make legal decisions and write legislation, and in due time I believe the law will reflect both a moral and scientific understanding of human nature and mental health.

Thank you, Mr. Josh Rovner of the Sentencing Project, for pointing out that punishments for those under 21 in the United States are unusually severe. It takes men and women of courage to share such truth, as it flies in the face of our country’s position as a moral leader in the world. Our country and constitution were founded and written by men that use the Bible as a moral code to write the law. As our society has evolved in its understanding of the brain and what goes into its programming, we have learned that one’s personality, in turn, reflects one’s personal reality.

Abuse and trauma create a storyline line that undermines a victim’s ability to break free of an abuser, and a system of justice can’t further victimize them by denying it exists. All the things one experiences go into shaping who they are, how they think, what they feel, and how they act in any situation.

Please reach out to your Senators and Representatives, and ask them to work on laws that protect victims of abuse and trauma from being deprived equal justice under the law. Thank you to all those who are working to fight for those that have had no voice, and in the #metoo world we live in I pray that #allvictimsrights and #allsexvictims will count, too.

Heath Stocks

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