No Notice Given When Rapist Paroled - Melanie's Story
Fourteen years ago, I was sexually assaulted in New Hampshire – I was 12 years old. Two years after the assault, my case went to trial, just 2 months shy of my 15th birthday. Throughout the entire criminal justice process I felt that my life was on hold and in complete control of the defense and my perpetrator.
I had a great team to support me, but having Constitutional rights that were on par with the man that sexually assaulted me would’ve made a world of difference in my case.
I’m deeply saddened and disappointed in the House Committee's recent vote against Marsy's Law for NH as it appears they did not listen the the brave survivors that courageously shared their stories. Please don’t tell me that statutory fixes are enough - Constitutional rights are the only thing that would have made a difference in my case. I deserve nothing less than that.
I waited for 2 years after I reported my assault for the case to go to trial. I understand that these cases can take time and that a defendant has important constitutional rights to due process, but the delay was due to not one, not two, but five uncontested postponements requested by the defense. As the victim, I had no constitutional rights to stand on to dispute this. My statutory rights were not on the same level as my perpetrator’s constitutional rights.
Marsy’s Law would provide victims with a constitutional right to “proceedings are free from unreasonable delay,” as well as a prompt conclusion of a case. This would not have guaranteed that the court would have denied the defendant’s request for a continuance, but it would have allowed the court to weigh each of our rights co-equally and make a fair determination – rather than having to automatically default to the defendant’s constitutional right because it outweighed my statutory right.
After the trial was over and my perpetrator had been convicted, I was still struggling to heal and reclaim my life. Little did I know that my world would suddenly be turned upside down and I would feel victimized all over again.
I was on vacation with my family in Rhode Island when I decided to check online to confirm there had been no changes in the inmate status on my perpetrator – something I did regularly for peace of mind considering I was still living in fear and working to heal.
To my surprise, I found out that my perpetrator had been released on parole. No one had notified me. I didn’t even know that he was eligible for parole. I was not told that there would be a parole hearing, and I had no opportunity to speak to the parole board about my experience.
I was shaken to the core. I felt like I was 12 years old all over again, frozen in fear and completely out of control of what was happening with regards to my safety.
Could you imagine a situation where a defendant is not notified of a proceeding or given the opportunity to weigh in? Of course not. But, unfortunately, this was my reality and the reality of far too many victims of crime.
Due to the fact that I only had statutory rights, there was nothing that could be done to right this wrong. There was no course of action and no next step. Had CACR 22 existed, had my rights to be notified, present, and heard been Constitutional, rather than statutory, I could have raised these rights and the parole board would have had to give me the opportunity to weigh in. There would be no guarantee that they would change their decision, but they would have had to listen, and I would have been able to move forward knowing that I did everything I could. I would have had the satisfaction of knowing that our criminal justice system cared about me, my safety, and my experience – I wouldn’t have been ignored like a second class citizen or forced to be on the outside looking in.
I now work at a Child Advocacy Center and am an advocate for survivors. I’ve worked with countless survivors of child sexual abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence. Both personally and professionally, I’ve seen how the lack of basic enforceable rights can impact the trajectory of a victim’s journey. I’m proud to stand in solidarity with so many courageous survivors across my home state in support of CACR 22, Marsy’s Law. This is long overdue and its time we make sure no rapist is given more rights than their victim.