by JayTee Barbour,
Medical Advocate, STAR New Orleans
In 2003, Sedrick Hills raped a then 15-year-old girl in Baton Rouge. It took until 2014 for DNA evidence to surface that linked him to the crime, and then another two years for the courts to find Hills guilty of Forcible Rape. (5) Altogether, it took 16 years for the victim to finally see justice in a case she actively wished to pursue.
Earlier this month, District Court Judge Bruce Bennett who is presiding over Hills’ sentencing, asked the survivor if she would accept $150,000 dollars in exchange for less time served for Hills (5). His rationale seems to have come from a good place. In his supplemental reasoning for sentencing Bennett stated a concern that Hills may be pursuing a civil case following a truck accident in which Hills was injured and “thought it seemed unfair for Hills to ‘emerge from prison with a windfall while the victim has received no compensation for her emotional injuries sustained as a result of the crimes.’” (6) Additionally, since the statute of limitations for a civil case had passed in the rape case, Bennett hoped this alternative would “at least partially [empower the victim] to control her own economic destiny and receive compensation for this reprehensible and life-changing action.” (6)
But the survivor strongly disagreed stating, “this whole experience has been like a movie, but a bad movie, a horror movie. I’ve been fighting this over half my life. I’m tired. I’m angry. Stuff like this deteriorates a person. It deteriorates who I am. I’m still trying to figure out who I am.…I don’t think money is going to provide any restitution for what he’s done.” (5) She turned down the judge’s offer in pursuit of a full prison sentence.
Judge Bennett’s confusion of financial compensation for the survivor is not an uncommon one. In a WAFB investigation piece that talked to both LaFASA’s Jessie Nieblas and the Louisiana Commissioner of Administration, Jay Dardenne, on what each thinks qualifies as state funding for sexual assault, the two fundamentally disagreed. Nieblas asserted, “Louisiana gives no money to sexual assault prevention or survivor services,” while Dardenne pointed to the Crime Victims Reparation Fund as evidence it did. (4)
It is true that last fiscal year 93.2% of the CRV Fund was comprised of redirected unclaimed gaming prizes (thanks to 2015’s HB 143) and various court fines and fees (2), but Dardenne here makes the same mistake as Judge Barrett in equating financial reimbursement for expenses incurred due to a sexual assault with actual survivor services and sexual assault prevention.
The Crime Victims Reparation Fund is a great resource for victims of various crimes to help them reduce the financial burden incurred as a consequence, including cases of sexual assault. A survivor can receive reimbursement of no more than $10,000 ($25,000 if the crime resulted in permanent and total disability) for funeral expenses, lost wages, child/dependent care, loss of support, medical/dental expenses, mental health treatment (for primary and secondary victims), catastrophic property loss, and crime scene evidence and clean up. These are all expenses no victim should have to worry about as a result of a crime perpetrated against them. (1)
But, to be clear, money allocation is not immediate. On average, an application takes six months to a year to be processed. In fact, the application process itself is arduous requiring endless documentation, including proof the survivor tried every other financial source- such as insurance and workers comp- before reaching out for help from the CRV Fund. Additionally, even though there is a caveat for sexual assault survivors that states “a victim of a sexually-oriented criminal offense shall not be required to report a sexually-oriented criminal offense to any law enforcement officer for purposes of a claimant filing a valid application for reparations,” (6) all CRV applications filed by a survivor are done so through the sheriff’s office that is in charge of investigating its validity and determining if it even reaches the CRV board for review. Part of that investigation can include interviewing the claimant. If the survivor does not want to give a statement to a law enforcement officer for any reason, it then has the potential to trigger a cause for denial of application in the statute which reads “the claimant failed or refused to cooperate substantially with the requests of appropriate law enforcement officials” (6). This in and of itself can dissuade the applicant from filing altogether. Not to mention that while the CRV adjuster’s investigation is an extension of the sheriff’s office but not an official criminal investigation, it certainly can read like one to a survivor who has to provide a statement on the assault and supporting evidence which can be greatly retraumatizing.
So, yes, the CRV is a great program if you have the time, resources and emotional fortitude to complete the application, wait for the board to decide on your award amount, and the mental energy after living through the assault to once again open that wound for money you may or may not receive. But, the segment of our population who most need this support, are the most vulnerable in our society with the least amount of access to resources to assist through the process.* In no way should that be considered preventive or survivor support. And, an assertion that the state funds this is a bit misleading; the state is essentially directing auxiliary funds from the courts and redistributing unclaimed gaming prizes.
The Crime Victims Reparations Fund is an important and necessary idea, but it is a process that needs to continue to evolve to become more efficient and effective. An important part of having a process under control is having metrics to measure its performance, metrics that are not readily available today. What we need to support survivors as Nieblas said is “to look at the root causes of sexual violence” and invest in prevention.
*If you are a sexual assault survivor who needs help working through the CRV process or would like to know about applying you can reach out to LaFASA your regional crisis center for free assistance.
Sources: 1.“Crime Victim Reparations.” LCLE, Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice , http://www.lcle.state.la.us/programs/cvr.asp.
2.State of Louisiana Crime Reparations Board. (2018). 2018 Annual Report. Retrieved from http://lcle.la.gov/programs/uploads/CVR%202018%20Annual%20Report.pdf.
3.Crime Victims Reparations Act, Lou. R.S. 46:1801. et seq. Retrieved from https://www.lasc.org/court_managed_prog/LPOR/LPOR_State_laws_and_appendices.pdf
4.“THE INVESTIGATORS: Advocacy group, administration differ on whether state provides funding for sexual assault prevention.” WAFB, 7 November 2019. https://www.wafb.com/2019/11/08/investigators-advocacy-group-administration-differ-whether-state-provides-funding-sexual-assault-prevention/
5.“Judge proposes $150K payment to victim to reduce sentence for rapist; victim declines, says she is ‘broken’.” The Advocate , 7 November 2019. Retrieved from https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/courts/article_5dbbe324-00d9-11ea-bfd3-2b4223269cf0.html
6.“Rape Victim Rejects Judge’s Offer:$150,000 for Her, Reduced Sentence for Attacker” Washington Post, 10 Novemebr, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/crime-law/2019/11/09/rape-victim-rejects-judges-offer-her-reduced-sentence-attacker/