Opinion: Victim or suspect? Let’s respect the victim!

POSTED: 02/14/12 3:38 PM

On February 2nd 2012 TODAY newspaper published an opinion on the Opinion & Commentary page concerning a criminal case that was dealt with in court the day before. The Public Prosecutor’s Office feels the urge to respond to that article.
The article suggested that the victim in that particular case and her family tried to take advantage of their right to claim their damages in court. Since the tenor of the article was very negative towards the victims the Prosecutor’s Office considers it necessary to present some insight in this case, since the criticism towards these victims was, in our opinion, unnecessarily tough.
The victim is a woman who was nearly stoned to death because she was erroneously taken for a burglar by the later suspect in this case. Due to the rain of stones she had to endure she suffered a serious head wound and subsequent brain injury which may turn out to be irreparable. Due to the wounds that she sustained, she had to be flown out to Trinidad and was operated on and hospitalized for some time. The country gave a guarantee worth tens of thousands of dollars in order to pay for the medical bills in Trinidad. It is still to be seen whether the victim will have to bear these expenses herself.
Next to this possible huge claim, she and her family sustained considerable damages due to the fact that she was so badly hurt and had to be hospitalized. Who will pay the doctor’s bills and all other costs that were made?
The law gives the victim of a crime the right to claim damages that were sustained due to the crime that is being prosecuted. Victims need to appear in court to submit their claims to the judge but will be asked to substantiate their claims based on proof (bills, receipts, statements, invoices etc.). This appears to be simple but the contrary is the case. The judge will have to assess whether the claim can be linked to the crime that is held against the suspect. On top of that, this claim may not be too complicated. If so, the judge may see reasons to declare the claim inadmissible and the victim will have to start a civil procedure in the civil court instead of the criminal court. The judge will take a close look at the claim, as will the prosecutor and the defendant’s lawyer. A well documented claim therefore is essential. For someone who is not trained in legal procedures, these procedures are far from simple, especially when they take place in a court of law which most certainly is not their home turf.
Due to her ignorance of the legal process, the victim claimed certain costs she and her family had made during her hospitalization. Because of inexperience and unawareness with the rules, the apparent impression was created that she and her family were aiming for a quick profit. The prosecutor involved did not have that impression at all but came to the conclusion that the victim and her family were inadequately informed.
Some time prior to the court hearing the victim came to the Prosecutor’s Office to be informed about the procedures to claim her damages. Besides providing the necessary information our office advised her to see a lawyer to help her to submit her claim, since the claim was substantial and complicated. A lawyer could have helped her to duly submit her claim and make things run smoothly in court. But lawyers are expensive. Apparently the victim chose not to ask for legal assistance. If you already suffered substantial damages and a possible huge claim is still pending, this decision is more than understandable.
Victim aid could also have been a considerable help. But such a service is not yet in place. It is because of these cases that the justice minister has recognized the necessity of such a service and is currently busy getting victim aid installed.
Let us hope that in future misinterpretations like the ones of TODAY’s reporter can be prevented by providing free victim aid for those who so desperately need this support.
Let us bear in mind that the lady involved was, and still is, a victim of violence and sustained serious bodily harm. She and her family should be treated as victims. Picturing them as “suspects” of making a profit out of their misery is sour and gave us the feeling that an injustice was done to them.
This letter is to support them and to set the record straight.

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