Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Victims further victimized by the very agency meant to protect them, said many at the Montgomery and Prince George's Counties meeting That Abusers get custody of their children

Crime Victims Share All at Town Hall Meeting

They were victims further victimized by the very agency meant to protect them, said many at the Montgomery and Prince George's Counties meeting.

By Teke Wiggin | Email the author | 6:00am

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Crime victims from Montgomery and Prince George's Counties told a panel of police and government officials how they feel marginalized by the justice system at the Silver Spring Civic Center.

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In an emotional town hall meeting Tuesday night, crime victims who live in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties told their stories to a wide array of government agency representatives. The crimes themselves were despicable. But there was something else to their stories which was almost equally so: the egregious mistreatment or neglect they received from the government.

In tender voices which sometimes collapsed into heaving sobs, speakers recounted cases of government ineptitude including medical misdiagnoses, police insensitivity, and judicial cruelty. Speakers included the father of a gang-raped daughter and a domestic abuse victim who lost custody of her children to her abuser. Members of the panel included representatives from both counties' police departments, the State's Attorney's Office, Division of Parole and Probation, Sex Offender Registry, and the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

The meeting was the fourth of a series of others meant to gather feedback from victims who feel marginalized by the justice system, said Patty Mochel, the communications manager of the Governor's office of Crime Control and Prevention. Mochel will use the content of the meetings to draft a report which will be used to identify shortcomings in various departments. "It's to set ourselves up for the next legislative session to find out where there are gaps that we didn't realize or how our best intentions have maybe fallen short," she said.

The accounts of the different speakers certainly shed light on such gaps. Several speakers told stories that revealed hasty decision-making among medical workers. 

One of the first speakers said her daughter, who was declared dead on arrival one night, was quickly judged by EMTs and hospital doctors as having died from a drug overdose. The mother said they based this conclusion on the fact that her daughter was very pale. But what the mother knew and had such a hard time getting across to medical professionals, she said, was that her daughter had just an unusually white skin tone. Only due to her dogged persistence, she said, was a thorough autopsy conducted – one which definitively ruled out drugs. Doctors later concluded her daughter had been murdered.

Like so many others at the meeting, the speaker called for an establishment of more concrete protocol for agencies to follow. In this case she urged authorities to "rule the fact that a crime is out before ruling the obvious."

Another speaker, the father of a rape victim, also expressed a desire for firmer procedure when diagnosing victims. He told the story of his daughter's rape and the obstacles they faced in their fight to win justice.

He said he originally found his daughter at night after a party in the street whispering for her former abusers to desist. He rushed her to the hospital. That's when "our nightmare began," he said.

Nurses and doctors quickly ruled out rape, mostly on account of the fact that her clothes were on, he said. But conscious of his daughter's words from before, he insisted on a more thorough examination. Ultimately, he reached a rape crisis center worker who came and quickly confirmed what he had suspected: his daughter had indeed been brutally raped. Later, it was revealed that three of her classmates had fed her jungle juice at a party until she couldn't stand at which point they proceeded to rape her, he said.

But their difficulties didn't end there. Legal incongruities followed.

Though they admitted to first-degree rape, the three perpetrators were ultimately released, and worst of all, said the father, allowed to attend the school where his daughter was still a student. The judge had been outlandishly lenient, he said, and was apparently convinced that the victim had brought the crime upon herself. According to the father, the judge talked about his daughter's virginity in court. The judge "totally degraded my family and totally degraded the victim," he said. 

And the justice system hadn't only failed his family, said the father. It had also failed the perpetrators: They are now in prison.

"They didn't understand what they did was horrible and wrong … there was no consequences," he said. "There was no rehabilitation. Now they're in the adult system."

A later speaker explored what she says is another recurrent judicial shortcoming: unfair treatment of abused mothers and their custody rights. She said fathers convicted of domestic abuse are often still allowed to spend unrestricted time with their children. "Courts are allowing absolutely free access of the abuser to the child," she said.

She said sometimes abused mothers even lose custody of their children to their abusers if abusers put themselves to the task of trying to convince the court that the mother is mentally unstable. The mother might go to court trying to protect her children from their father only to lose them to him, she said. Her conclusion on the state of matters was grim. 

"If you think that you're going to go into court and help your child, you have a better chance of losing custody to that abuser," she said.

She said the legal system needs government workers who specialize in child development to operate in an advisory role in such cases.

At the end of the meeting Herman Ingram, division chief of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, said he was deeply grateful the speakers had shared their stories with the panel.

"I can assure you what we heard tonight will go right up the ladder and go right to the governor," he said.

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