No One Is a VICTIM Just because S/he Says S/he Is: A Reminder for Reporters…and Other People Who Shouldn’t Need Reminding

Posted on March 12, 2016


I looked at a form I was handed a couple of weeks ago at a criminal arraignment I was ordered to attend. The form gives the impression I was supposed to sign it, which no one asked me to do. This would be disturbing if I were still capable of registering disturbance. I noticed with dim approval, though, that it said this:


When accusations are made on “protective orders” or are of the type “protective orders” typically purport to concern (e.g., harassment, stalking, or domestic violence), journalists routinely call accusers “victims” automatically. They reason, apparently, that a person can’t be awarded a restraining order unless s/he has demonstrably been victimized. (More accurately, “reporters” don’t scruple overmuch about the facts or how the process works, because they know where their loyalties are supposed to lie.) Probably a majority of injunctions are awarded based on their petitioners’ say-so alone. To understand what that means, a “reporter” would have to investigate (instead of, say, quoting a pamphlet authored by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).

Prosecutors? They seem to call all accusers “victims” on reflex. Their job, after all, is to “prevail” in court. If they think they can win, they try to; it’s not about justice. That’s rosy rhetoric for the rubes…like journalists.

Whether intentionally or not, both journalists and prosecutors get it wrong. Legislators do, too. The statutes they enact may explicitly call accusers “victims” (due process be damned).

The (criminal) court at least got this much right: Allegations aren’t facts, and until some semblance of due process has been staged, an accuser is an “alleged victim,” not a “victim.”

Judges don’t always get this right, either, however.

I couldn’t say with complete assurance whether lapses in objectivity, ethics, and procedural propriety like this have always existed or whether they’re testaments to systemic bigotry conditioned since the mid-’90s by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)—whose megabuck grant contracts stipulate that alleged victims should be treated as victims in every instance.

I feel pretty confident, though, in my suspicions of corruption.

The lines can’t help but have become blurry since the advent of the restraining order, which authorizes the court to draw conclusions prior to a trial, based on a few minutes of testimony and what may be no ascertainable facts at all.

If “verdicts” can be formed without proof and possibly without any adversarial contest in which controverting evidence could be adduced, that would seem to make the distinction between “victim” and “alleged victim” merely academic.

Restraining order judgments aren’t uncommonly “default” judgments, because defendants either don’t show up in court or can’t. An “emergency” injunction can require a defendant to appear in court mere days after service, possibly after having been booted to the curb (and left without resource or a vehicle), and even a non-emergency injunction may require a defendant to appear in court within a week. There’s no time to secure legal representation, even if the means are available and even if the respondent appreciates the significance of the paperwork that’s been thrust in his or her hand, and injunctions can be issued against defendants in other counties or states. (Some defendants, moreover, may not be first-timers, and they may simply conclude: “F— it. What’s the point?”)

(What defendants are told: “Here’s your restraining order. Don’t violate it, or we’ll arrest you.” What they’re not told: “You have six days to learn enough law to extricate yourself from allegations of which you’ve already been found guilty.” At the time they’re told anything, chances are they won’t know what the word defendant means.)

When procedure is engineered to find anyone who has alleged victimhood to be a “victim,” maybe calling every accuser a victim to begin with is just economical. Maybe it’s also the closest thing to honest a person can expect from a manifestly crooked business.

Copyright © 2016

*And make no mistake: It is a business.