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How The System Fails Victims

By Blaine Stum

It’s been quite a few years since I first felt it: that sense of despair, and the anger of witnessing systemic injustice. At that time, a string of gay bashings in Spokane occurred in rapid, and horrifying, succession. The police response was abysmal: They told us these incidents were unrelated and “nothing to be concerned about.” When you’re a community that already has a target on its back, you don’t get the luxury of not worrying about it. We watched as suspects didn’t the get the charges they deserved, or didn’t get charged at all. The victims were, in essence, revictimized by a system that cared more about procedure than justice. Fast forward several years, and it seems the cycle of our “justice” system is set on “Rinse and Repeat.”

In February of this year, a trans woman was attacked at a local bakery by two men. After an exchange of words in which the two men used derogatory language and slurs, they followed her in to the bakery; angry that she dared to talk back to them. One of them entered first, shouting, “Where is that f*****g f****t?!” He proceeded to punch her in the face, causing her head to hit the wooden booth. As soon as he left, the other guy came in and kicked her in the face; causing her to go in to convulsions and causing damage to her eye socket. Initially, the two men were only charged with second degree assault. After the police department conducted several more interviews with her and eye witnesses, they were also charged with malicious harassment.

An initial trial date was set in April, then it was deferred to August. The August trial date was then deferred until October. Court records only cite “negotiations” as the reason for the deferrals. Usually, that means the prosecutor and defense attorney are negotiating a plea, but in this case it meant that the prosecutors office was negotiating with the victim to get to drop all of the charges. Prosecutors suggested to her that the trial would “put the LGBT community under a microscope,” and she would be protecting the LGBT community by not bringing it forward. They told her that her spitting at them before walking back inside the bakery meant that she “started it.” They further told her that the Defense would use her identity, and anything they could find, to destroy her character. Essentially, they were arguing a “Trans panic defense” with a nice serving of victim blaming for the defense before it even got to court. All of these claims were offered without a victim advocate present, and without proper context on legal standards for claiming self defense in commission of an assault or when evidence of character is allowed to be introduced in a court case.

The prosecutors office has, understandably, refused to offer a statement or comment to the media. I say understandably because I’m sure even they know: they failed the victim. They gave her advice that was inaccurate, and professionally uncalled for, from a prosecutors office. And now, we have two men who may never have to face the prospect of being held accountable for their crimes, we have a community that is still reeling from this information; already heavily targeted and marginalized, and we have a Prosecutorial decision that will only create more victims.

The frequency of hate crimes in the United States is astounding: The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that their actual incidence is 25 to 40 times higher than what is reported by the FBI. Yet, very few hate crimes are ever prosecuted. Part of this due to the burden of proof a prosecutor has to show (but that would have been much easier in a case like this, with credible eye witness accounts and somewhat conflicting defendant statements). The other part is, frankly, a systemic disregard for the victims. Prosecutors and police often don’t understand the communities that are targeted, or have a tenuous relationship at best. Bias, prejudice and political calculations substitute for legal analysis, and victims are not given the tools or resources to understand the law and navigate the system they’re placed in. This what you’re left with: a system that fails victims more often than it brings them justice.

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Blaine thanks for consistently having the courage to speak up when it would be easier to say nothing.

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