Time to pass a victims’ bill of rights in Kentucky

Eileen Recktenwald
Eileen Recktenwald

In the United States, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape, according to statistics presented by the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center. In Kentucky, 1 in 9 adult women have been forcibly raped sometime in their lives.

Unfortunately, many victims may not report their assault — statistics indicate that the number of unreported cases may be as high as 70 percent — and many do not seek medical treatment for their injuries.

For those who do report their sexual assaults, the trauma does not always end there. Many experience “revictimization” as they navigate our criminal justice system which, by design, unfairly favors the rights of the accused and convicted over the victims.

In Kentucky, individuals accused or convicted of crimes are afforded constitutional level protections, while crime victims’ rights are only outlined in statute. This means that the rights of these victims can be trumped by the rights of the accused and convicted anytime.

It is time for the commonwealth to remedy this inequality, and guarantee crime victims the equal rights they deserve. It’s time for Marsy’s Law for Kentucky.

I support Senate Bill 175, also known as Marsy’s Law for Kentucky. This important legislation, if passed by the 2016 General Assembly, would give Kentucky voters the opportunity to choose to place a Victims’ Bill of Rights in the state constitution. This would elevate the rights of victims to the same level as those already afforded to the accused and convicted.

Marsy’s Law would guarantee victims the right to be treated with fairness and respect, the right to be notified of the rights and services available to them and of proceedings and other major developments in the criminal case, and the right to be heard at any proceedings or process that may result in the offender’s release.

It would also guarantee victims the right to be notified of changes to the offender’s custodial status, the right to be present at all court proceedings and the right to provide input to the prosecutor before a plea agreement is reached.

The rights codified by Marsy’s Law are commonsense. Kentucky is long overdue to pass legislation in our state that would guarantee that crime victims are afforded the constitutional level rights they deserve.

Last week, Senate Bill 175 passed out of the House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs. It is now headed to the House floor for a full vote. I encourage the House to pass this important legislation this session.

Eileen Recktenwald is executive director of Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs.