Shielding sex crime victims
StoryMetropolitan King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn today introduced legislation urging the Washington State Legislature to adopt HB 1001, a measure to protect victims of sex crimes from defendants who represent themselves – also known as “Pro Se” defendants. The legislation also calls on the Washington State Supreme Court to adopt rules by July 31st to reduce the risk of trauma to these victim-witnesses.
“It is an extremely scary prospect for victims to tell their story in court. Imagine how much more difficult it is to be questioned by an attacker directly,” said Dunn. “To get victims to come forward, the criminal justice system must offer them some protection, while balancing the rights of the accused.”
House Bill (HB) 1001, currently before the state House, declares that the state has a compelling interest in the physical and psychological well being of sex offense victims, especially related to direct questioning from Pro Se defendants. Sex crimes are often not reported or prosecuted because victims fear confronting accused offenders in court.
In addition to declaring that the state has a compelling interest in the well being of victims, the legislation requests the Washington State Supreme Court adopt new rules that would protect victims. At a minimum, the rules would place restrictions on Pro Se defendants when questioning victims including allowing the court to ask questions prepared by the defendant or allowing questioning by video conference. These restrictions would protect defendants’ constitutional rights by allowing them to maintain direction of their own defense but not allow defendants to intimidate their victims.
King County’s criminal justice system recently witnessed an incident in which a 21-year-old woman threatened to jump off the King County Courthouse rather than face questioning by the man charged with raping her as a child. The man was acting as his own attorney at the trial. Prosecutors dropped charges relating to her sexual assault so that the woman would not be called to testify.
“This young woman's trauma is a great example of why we must become more sensitive to the victims of sexual crimes,” said Dunn. “Simple revisions to court rules could go a long way to protecting the well being of victims. At the same time, more victims might feel comfortable coming forward and reporting attacks.”