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Sun Sentinel: Marsy’s Law for Florida would give victims a voice, and a choice | Opinion

Friday, January 26, 2018

By Lauren Book

The scales of justice are not balanced in Florida. As a survivor of child sexual abuse and an advocate for others, I can tell you that our criminal justice system doesn’t do enough to protect victims — innocent people thrust into the system through no fault of their own. Marsy’s Law for Florida, or Florida Constitution Revision Commission Proposal 96, would provide victims — and the families they leave behind after a tragic loss of life — with rights and protections equal to those afforded criminals and the accused.

Why should a criminal be afforded more rights than a victim? Why shouldn’t there be a fair balancing of rights in our constitution?

One of the most important rights Marsy’s Law for Florida would afford victims is the right to choose to provide a deposition to the defense. Currently, victims have no choice but to relive the crimes committed against them as they undergo lines of questioning from the defense that are often hostile and traumatic.

Too often, depositions are used as a weapon against victims. Depositions are intended to help discover what the victim — a key witness — knows, and preserve their testimony. However, they have become a vehicle to intimidate, harass, discredit and to dissuade victims and their families from pursuing justice.

I was 16 years old and had suffered five years of abuse at the hands of a trusted caretaker. I had finally found my voice and gathered the strength and courage to pursue justice. Sitting across from the defense preparing to be asked about painful memories and intimate details is intimidating enough. To be asked at my deposition, “You wanted it, didn’t you Ms. Book?”, is unfathomable. The intention of that question was clear: discredit me, scare me, get me to back down.

In my case, I was deposed three times and forced to re-experience the same anguish each time.

No victim should have to go through that. Many state attorneys will agree to a lesser plea to avoid having the victim re-traumatized and re-victimized by a deposition. Where is the justice in that?

Potential abuse of a victim’s deposition is just one of many reasons the federal government and 45 other states do not allow victim depositions. Florida is one of only four states that requires a victim to undergo a deposition by the defense. In Texas, the defense can only take a victim deposition with court approval.

Marsy’s Law for Florida would give victims a voice in the criminal justice process, and a choice.

Some say this proposal is unnecessary as there are already victims’ rights in the Florida Constitution and Florida Statute. Take it from someone who has been through the process: they are not enough, and they are not clear or enforceable.

Here are the rights the state constitution currently offers victims: “the right to be informed, to be present, and to be heard when relevant, at all crucial stages of criminal proceedings.” Who’s to say what is “relevant” and what is “crucial?” Those are subjective terms easily left up to interpretation and debate. And, what’s considered “relevant” and “critical” in one judicial circuit may not be “relevant” and “crucial” in another. However well-intended, time and experience have taught us those rights are simply not enough.

As a survivor, I know these things are happening in our criminal justice system. During the seven times I have walked the state with other survivors, I’ve heard their stories, too.

Victims need equal rights and protections enshrined in our state’s most powerful legal document. That way, there is no question about what should be provided. Florida victims deserve Marsy’s Law.

Sen. Lauren Book (D) represents state Senate District 32 in Broward County and is founder and CEO of Lauren’s Kids, a non-profit foundation dedicated to sexual abuse prevention.


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