Survivor Mission: Controversial Effort to Add Victim Rights to Iowa’s Constitution

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DES MOINES, Iowa — You have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, the right to face your accuser, etc.  We know the rights of the accused by heart.  But few people realize crime victims have no legal rights in the State of Iowa Constitution.  Leigh Bauder and Audrey Hartzler are sharing their horrific story in an effort to change that.

“I was 17-years-old, high school cheerleader. It was Senior Skip Day,”  Bauder said of the day a man held her and Hartzler hostage, and brutally raped and beat them.  Hartzler said, “(Bauder) was a teenager, but I had a family… three children.”  “(It happened) 42-years-ago, and the tears still come.”

Their fear over the man who attacked them should have stayed locked away in 1979, along with his 100-year-long prison sentence.  But Bauder’s niece stumbled across something a few years ago while researching family history.  She realized the criminal was about to be set free.  Bauder recalled, “He had said when he got out (of prison), if he ever got out, he was coming to get me.  He (was) planning on murdering me, and then he’s going to commit suicide.”

Hartzler added, “I didn’t know any of this because (Bauder) weren’t supposed to tell me.”  Bauder said the Iowa Dept. of Corrections told her not to share the information with Hartzler, but she did anyway.

The women worked with Marshall County officials, including law enforcement, and state officials to establish a safety plan.  Then, they joined a mission to change Iowa’s constitution.  Now, they speak out on behalf of Marsy’s Law.  It’s a nationwide effort to guarantee crime victims are granted certain rights to level the scales of justice.  For example, the right to be notified about court proceedings, to be present and be heard in court, to notification if their offender’s prison status changes or if he is released, the right to restitution, and reasonable protection from the accused.

Hartzler said, “Survivors need rights, as well as the offender.  And I don’t know what’s so hard about it.  What is so hard about putting that together?  And that’s what Marsy’s Law would do.  We need that law.”

Bi-partisan victim rights bills have been introduced in the past, but there are people fighting against adding victim rights to Iowa’s constitution.  Jenny Dorman lobbies on behalf of the Iowa State Bar Assoc.  She thinks that, in some ways, victims are being misled by the promises of Marsy’s Law.

“I, I feel for these people,” said Dorman.  “They’re talking about if this law were in place then this wouldn’t have happened or this wouldn’t have happened.  But the truth is, the things they are talking about, this law wouldn’t have solved.”

Dorman contends that in some of the states where Marsy’s Law or similar amendments have been attempted, courts have ruled the language is too vague.  Often, the rights aren’t funded.  She worries victim rights could conflict with the rights of the accused.  “I don’t want to put something in our constitution that doesn’t have teeth, that’s not actually going to do something, wherein the code you could put more teeth to the way that we handle victims’ rights violations today,” Dorman said.

“(The laws we have are) not enforced!” exclaimed Hartzler.  Bauder agreed, “They’re not enforced, and they’re not administered the same, county-to-county.  And I know that for fact from helping other victim-survivors.”

Bauder and Hartzler’s offender moved far out of state upon his release.  The Iowa State Bar Assoc. is just one of the dozens of groups, including some victim advocates who think Marsy’s Law is not the best way to help victims.

Mahaska Co. Attorney Andrew Ritland sides with a constitutional amendment.  “By having a constitutional protection, you want to have those right durable so that when the next legislature comes in, we don’t have to be afraid that the rights of victims are going to be lessened.”  Or, kept the way they are now and leaving survivors feeling like Bauder.  “Disrespected.  And actually, victimized again.  If our story helps one person and changes the laws, it’s worth the tears.  It’s worth the pain.”

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