What is justice?

Traditionally, in our conception of justice we do not think of the victims. We often hear about a vengeful victim. Some people think that because the victim is angry about the harm caused to them they are vengeful. The victim says, no, we just want justice. What is justice for the victim?

Becoming a victim of crime is a traumatic, unusual, life-changing event where the experience challenges the victim’s belief about the world as a place of order and civilization.

• Criminal Injury Compensation is a little like trying to win the lottery. The results of an application are out of the victims’ control. Some are approved, some are not, for varying reasons. The amount can never be predicted. In one case the victim was beaten into a vegitive state and criminal injury refused payment saying the victim was not suffering.

• Victim Impact Statements must be done according to the rules or they are not considered or read by the judge. The victim’s “truth” has to be told according to someone else’s rules.

• Emotions are unacceptable. They have no place in a court room.

The last thing a new or unskilled victim expects is their non-place in the legal system. From there it just gets worse – add all the rules of law, including what they can and cannot say, what information they can and cannot have – then tell them they are without legally enforceable rights in the whole game and if they need legal advice they have to hire their own lawyer. While we are at it, why don’t we just kick them while they are down and let them see how the offenders future is central, but their rehabilitation isn’t even relevant. It is shameful the way victims are treated even though this whole multi-billion dollar industry exists only because of their victimization.

Justice is something that happens to the offender. Crimes are violations of law and the offender is brought before the courts and held accountable for the crime committed against society, or the breaking of the law. When the offender is apprehended, tried and sentenced our traditional justice system says “justice has been done”. The only measurement of “justice” we have is the length or severity of the sentence. What about from the victim’s perspective? Has justice really been done? Why does it seem that some victims are not satisfied with the “justice”? Are they vengeful? Our present criminal justice process occurs with or without the victim. A societal response to an offender says “You have violated the law and we will hold you accountable and punish you if it is appropriate, isolate you if needed, and offer you services to help reintegrate you into the community, rehabilitate you and return you to the community as a productive member of society.” The victim is left on the outside saying, “What about me?” The victims of crime have no comparable experience of a societal response to them. There is no statement of community responsibility that says, “What happened to you was wrong and we will help you rebuild your life.” Victim’s emotional, physical and financial needs are rarely fully addressed, if addressed at all. As a result, victims feel further victimized and alienated.

Repairing the harm is often very complicated. Some victims turn to substances as a way to cope. Some are so traumatized by their victimization that they are unable to return to their place of employment. To the extent that the real and practical needs of victims are not addressed, ” justice” will ultimately be unsatisfying for the victim.

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