A victim impact statement is a written statement or document prepared by the victim and or affected individual(s) and is used to describe the physical, emotional and/ or financial harm encountered as a result of the incident. You can present it in court and take the stand to read it yourself. You can ask someone else to read it out loud in court for you. You can give it to the judge for him to read to himself. You can also have a support person of your choosing nearby when you read it. You can read your Victim Impact statement while you stand behind a screen which can act as a buffer between you and the offender. You can give your statement via closed-circuit television from another room in the courthouse so that you don’t have to see the offender at all.
A victim impact statement is something that the court is supposed to take into account when sentencing someone. The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (July 23rd, 2015) gives every victim the right to present a victim impact statement in court and to have it considered when decisions are made in regards to someone who is found not criminally responsible. A person who was directly victimized, who has been physically or emotionally harmed can write one. A person whose loved one has been a victim of crime can also write one. A victim impact statement can be written by someone acting on behalf of a victim who is not able to write one themselves.
All victim impact statements have a form that the information must be written on. You can include a drawing or a letter or a poem or any other form of expression that helps you to explain or demonstrate how the incident has impacted you. You cannot and should not hand it into the courts until after a guilty plea has been offered by the offender or a guilty verdict is found by the courts.
When I was working in mental health I had assumed the value of a victim impact statement (which I didn’t really know much about) was primarily on being able to influence sentencing and having your say in that manner. Now that I’m working in a position where we have more experience with these types of things, I see how much I was missing a very valuable point.
Quite a few years ago a victim came forward struggling with a request to write a victim impact statement. She had been victimized as a young teenager and had chosen not to present anything then. Fast forward many, many years and she’s an adult and is contacted by a detective who is working on a dangerous offender application for the person who had victimized her. This offender had continued to hurt many, many young people throughout his life, some of them weren’t even born when he offended against her. I think it was something like a thirty year span of offences that he would commit almost as soon as he was released, usually against a few different kids before he was caught, arrested and jailed. Rinse and repeat as they say. The number of victims was quite astounding.
The detective was having a tough time finding people who were willing to present a statement at his hearing. There were new young girls that were victims and this detective had helped to find and prepare a case for these kids. In the process he realized the sheer number of people this man had hurt over the years and wanted to do something about it but people were stressed and unprepared to come forward. This particular victim was torn. She had spent so many years trying to bury it, sometimes using less than healthy coping methods but still, she had developed her own ways to keeping the demons at bay.
We met a few times about this in the hopes that she could process what had happened to her and how to actually put it into words in a way that made sense. It was tough. She had many years to go back, not only to look at the immediate crime against her and the impact back then (dropping out of school, running away from home, getting involved in drugs and alcohol, less than healthy relationships) but the impact on her now as she tries to put together a healthy life with some unhealthy relationship patterns working against her and a lack of formal education (which did not reflect her capabilities at all).
She had to travel to present this to the city where the hearing now was. She almost didn’t go. She agonized and stressed and made herself ill over it and in fact had to take time off work due to the stress it caused. It’s not that she had resolved the issues from her past, she had just gotten really good at burying them. But she did it. She took the stand and read a story. Her story. It wasn’t short. She went back to her young teen years and told the story of her life, starting with the crime that was committed against her. She talked about the impact on her, her life, her relationship with her parents and the challenges she had to overcome to get to the point of feeling like she was a stable, successful adult. Everyone in the entire court room was crying, even the judge. It was the most powerful victim impact statement I have heard.
Before doing this, people used to tell her that the offender was a coward (among other things) who hurts children but to her, as a child victim, he was larger than life in her mind. Not wanting to face him was part of her hesitation and stress. After she read the victim impact statement, that all changed. As she was sitting through the hearing she began to see him in a different light. She saw how much of a coward he was, how small he was as compared to the larger than life monster in her mind. For the first time in her life since the offence, she felt strong. In fact, she sat in front of his two youngest, latest victims and felt like she was able to help protect them with her actions. For the first time for as far back as she can remember, she felt free.
I’ve only seen her once since that court case and that was so she could come by and tell me how it went. She brought her statement, it truly was amazing and she looked lighter and happier than I’ve ever seen her. I knew her when she was a child victim and the transformation was amazing. I learned a lot from her and tell her story to many people. Even though reading that statement was not what she wanted to do, even though reading it was in her mind for the benefit of others, doing this and being able to voice her experiences and present her story in such a way allowed her to finally be free of the hold this man had over her mind and soul. Preparing and reading a statement is not for everyone but it is something that everyone now has the right to do.
For more information about the Victim’s Bill of Rights, please visit; Victims Bill of Rights