How Crime Victims Become Crime Survivors

by Diane Dimond on October 19, 2009

Victims Can Survive

Victims Can Survive

It was an overcast October Saturday at the Joint Forces Training Base at Los Alamitos, California. The 7 am start time was daunting but I’d promised to go.

I’m glad I did.

It was the annual “Survive and Thrive” 5k run/walk event put on by a group called Crime Survivors. Note that it’s not crime victims – it’s crime survivors. And before you ask, no, I didn’t run but I did walk.

The woman who started Crime Survivors is Patricia Wenskunas, my hero.

She is a blond dynamo, a catering event planner by trade and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and attempted murder. She speaks gently but her message packs a wallop: Crime victims deserve consideration, at least as much consideration as the criminal gets.

It was a point I heard repeatedly from the crowds who attended this annual event, all touched in life-changing ways. Several participants wore T-shirts with the image of their dead loved one, taken away in a sudden spurt of violence.

Patricia Wenskunas Makes a Difference

Patricia Wenskunas, Survivor

Many told me what they’d endured: childhood rapes, adult sexual assaults, domestic violence deaths or family who were killed by repeat drunk drivers. Several spoke of senseless murder. Every single person said after police arrived to tell them the awful news they were left in a foggy swirl of loneliness. They spoke of how hard it was to heal and to discover the pathway to their own recovery.

“Hi, I’m Diane Dimond. May I ask what brought you here today?”

Juenenne, a woman about my age, silently pointed to the picture of her handsome son Jake Eric Jackson on her shirt. Her chin quavered, her eyes brimmed and suddenly there we were – two total strangers standing on a parade field on a distant military base full of victim’s rights advocates – hugging each other.

“He was at a club one night. There were a couple of guys disrespecting a young lady and Jake stepped in to help. He was hit in the face and wrestled with one for a minute. One took out a gun and shot Jake in the chest. As he lay dying the other man kicked him and stomped on him.”

Juenenne had driven nearly two hours that morning from her home in Phelan, California as a step along her path to recovery. She hoped mixing with others who shared similar pain might ease her sorrow.

Doves Mean Hope

Doves Mean Hope

After the speeches Patricia invited a few family members up to the front to hold and then release beautiful white doves into the overcast sky. As touching music played Patricia gave a lingering hug to each survivor and then the doves flew off, one by one, instinctively circling overhead, waiting for the others so they could fly off in unison. Their unity in the dreary sky was inspiring. That’s when I first noticed Mary Ann who was certainly thinking of her dead son, Jonathan Muse, as she released her dove.

On the walking path, lined with 3 foot tall pictures of lost loved ones, Mary Ann and I talked. She’d been angry at her 17 year old son for getting his 16 year old girlfriend pregnant. In a huff he’d jumped on a bike at midnight and ridden off down the street. A carload of gang members happened by and inexplicably shot Jonathan dead. Mary Ann, a nurse who is married to a police officer, was pushing a baby carriage as we talked. Inside was little Shayla, the new grandbaby, who will never know her father.

Shayla Muse, Crime Survivor

Shayla Muse, Crime Survivor

“I don’t know what I’d do without this child,” Mary Anne said as she clenched her teeth against the tears.

Juenenne got justice. The two men who killed her son are in prison. Mary Ann has not and that is part of the problem so many victims of crime face. Their terrible loss is made more burdensome as they try to navigate the justice system. Police are too busy to deliver updates on the case, the court proceedings are confusing and the parole system is frightening. On this staggeringly long journey to justice these folks feel victimized again and again.

I wish we could clone Patricia’s Crime Survivors group nationwide. They help educate the public and the police about victim’s rights. They push to change laws and attitudes. Crime Survivors donates thousands of adult and child emergency victim bags to law enforcement every year so officers can offer a victim something. The bag contains a list of vital phone numbers, toiletries including a toothbrush, first aid kit and a journal with a pen so victims can write down their thoughts on the road to survival.

Our system simply doesn’t help crime victims. I hope you never have to experience what they’ve gone through but odds are you might. Next week the ‘Victim Crime Clock’ and why your family could be next.

For more information on Crime Survivors visit www.CrimeSurvivors.com

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

jeff liddell October 19, 2009 at 1:33 pm

As a victim of an attempted robbery many years ago, my abdomen sliced open with a sizeable knife, fortunately I survived this attack. I guess that makes me a crime survivor. In as much as I support such groups and have in turn offered my help on occasion to other crime victims, the act itself will never go away. I managed to survive, continue my life, get married and have a wonderful son, who happens to be a police officer now, and keep taking forward steps. However, when I see movies or television shows or news programs depicting similar events, I relive that moment as if it were yesterday rather than 30 plus years ago. With all of these constant reminders crime victims must learn how to survive the continuous images and feelings that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. For me it was through devotion to all the things I do care about in this world. Sometimes when trying to assist other crime victims, I found myself reliving my own nightmare and sometimes it was hard to do. Many of your readers that have never suffered through a criminal act may think such support groups are unnecessary or frivolous, but when you realize that most of these were founded by former crime victims simply trying to reach out to others with similar circumstances, I think they warrant our respect and support.

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Diane October 19, 2009 at 10:33 pm

ABQ Journal reader Alice B. writes:

“Diane, when a crime is committed everyone suffers, the victim, the perpetrator, friends and family. I only find answers for this in the word of God. Perpetrators are sent to therapy and so are victims. It helps some, not others. In Scripture we find some really bad perpetrators: King David of Israel, Moses who broke God law regarding murder, Saul of Tarsus who in a religious rage, went around killing people. I am sorry to sound religious, not to some people’s liking, but there is no other answer. Regards, Alice”

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Diane October 19, 2009 at 10:37 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Pam H. writes:

” I read your column about crime victims and found it both moving and heartbreaking.

Two years ago, in December of 2007, when our youngest daughters were 4 and 6, they were sexually assaulted by the babysitter’s 13 yo son. it was not his first offense; a year before, he had exposed himself to a 5 yo in the locker room at the school gym.

We did the right things — notified CYFD, did the video disclosure interviews. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s investigator told us we would be contact by the DA’s office when court time came.

After trying for 6 months to contact the DA’s office, we got a return call at the end of July, 2008. The ADA prosecutor, Linda Burson, told me that the case had already been adjudicated, the file was sealed, and there was nothing we could do about it.

There had been a plea bargain before the offender ever appeared before the judge. The DA’s office dropped four counts of criminal sexual contact and replaced them with two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He received a curfew, weekly counseling, and up to 2 years of probation. In the first offense, the parents chose to drop charges after they were told that it was their 5 yo’s word against a 13 yo; “why ruin a good kid’s life over a ‘misunderstanding’”, and “it’s being handled.” That was the last of it, except that the boy, Ryan Davidson, has a file at CYFD and at the Sheriff’s Dept.

My husband and I called, wrote, and emailed everyone we could think of who might be able to help. Our angel was state Sen. Rod Adair, who connected us with Diana Martwick, who was, at that time, a defense attorney in private practice. Since them, Diana has been elected Lincoln-Otero Counties DA, defeating Linda Burson.

Before taking office, Diana helped us get a temporary restraining order (we had to fight to keep this kid away from our children. We live in Corona, and the school is small). With her help, and assistance from attorneys at the NM Crime Project, we were able to get a new hearing, asking to set aside the former plea, or, lacking that, the sentence. All of it was handled by 12th District Judge Karen Parsons.

The following months have been a nightmare. We reached a settlement with defense re: the abuse case, and received $3000 in restitution and a permanent Order of Protection. We asked for an apology and were emailed one that I doubt Ryan wrote. We also asked for the credentials of his counselor, who was supposed to be specialist in treating sex offenders. His name is Mark Ovrick; he works for a domestic violence program in Ruidoso and has a private practice in Roswell. He is not a specialist in treating sex offenders.

On March 12, Ryan spoke up in one of his school classes and said he was going to kill our children. He said it twice. He also threatened Pres. Obama and Gov. Richardson, as well as saying he’d like to dress up for Halloween as Hitler or a KKK member.

On Friday the 13th, when school officials told us what happened, we had Ryan arrested for violating the restraining order. We ended up having hearings, every two weeks, till the end of July. Jon and I both had to take days off from work to attend these hearings.

A list of events from then:

*The only person ever accused of hurting the girls was me. For reasons I still don’t understand, Judge Parsons colluded with the probation officer, Sergio Castro from Ruidoso, to file an abuse and neglect charge against me with CPS. We sat down for about an hour with the CPS worker, at the school; she interviewed the girls privately and immediately determined that the charge was “unsubstantiated.”

Judge Parsons knew/knows nothing about us. No one has ever viewed the disclosure interview. No evidence was ever entered, or even allowed. She also didn’t know that we already had a close relationship with CYFD, because we were completing the licensing in order to adopt our fifth child. We had recently done criminal clearances, application and references, extensive home visit, medical exams,and everything else needed for licensing.

She rarely let the NMCP attorneys speak, even telling one, once, to “be quiet and sit down.” She refused to let my husband or me speak till the end. She determined that Ryan should be on house arrest, except that he was allowed to go anywhere as long as he told his probation officer first, and if he arrived somewhere before us, in spite of the OOP, we were to leave.

The ADA’s, frankly, weren’t much help. There wasn’t really any way Diana could get involved without being accused of conflict of interest. When the “expert witnesses” came in, neither the judge nor the prosecution bothered to look at the CV’s of either. At one point, one witness had a whispered conversation with the judge that no one else was privy to.

We’ve collected and kept copies of everything. I’m working on a judicial conduct complaint (takes forever); an ethics complaint against the psychologist for testifying as a specialist when he is not, and for giving testimony evaluating my daughters’ mental statuses and perspective of their reaction to the abuse even though he had never talked to anyone in my family.

I finally passed over the line into PTSD when his conclusion was: “This was no more than expected youthful sexual exploration. The girls probably thought of Ryan in a very fond way. If there is any trauma, it was caused by the mother talking about it to them.”

To which the judge replied, “The court has wondered if the parents were talking to the girls daily about this.”

I’d already said, in a victims’ statement, that the girls knew nothing about the court hearings or death threats or anything else; they had been under psychiatric and medical treatment since the start, they’re still seeing both psychiatrist and counselor, and are doing well. Clearly, she wasn’t listening.

In the end, Ryan was ordered to attend school in Roswell and come home to the Corona ranch on weekends. Though his PO says he never comes into town, he admitted he could not prove this.

Our fifth child has been with us since June 25th. No problems. Our other two children are 27 and 30. All but the oldest have serious special needs.

I’m an ordained United Methodist minister (since 1977) and have a doctoral degree in counseling and psychotherapy. I taught college psychology for ten years in Alabama, where we lived until more than 3 years ago. I was in private practice for 18 years. I understood what the “experts” were saying, and what they said was either misleading or untrue — like Ryan would be better off with once-a-week counseling than at a treatment center, where he would probably be sexually assaulted.

I work as a therapist for two rural PMS clinics. For two weeks after the hearings ended, I shut my office door between clients and cried. After a suprise baby shower for one of the women at one of the clinics, all I could think was, “Big people hurt little people.” I sobbed in my office for and hour and a half and the director came and sat with me. I still have bad days — like when the school assigned Ryan’s mother as a substitute in our 14yo’s classes.

There’s more — sorry I couldn’t make it shorter but it was so terribly, and intricately complicated. We’ve been connected to a civil attorney in ABQ whose whole practice involves civil suits on behalf of child abuse victims. All I can say about it — or anyone — is that, “It’s all about accountability.” His mother was being paid to be their sitter, and the abuse happened in the house while she and his older sister were in the house. According to the investigator, one of the girls said in her disclosure interview that the sister asked them not to say anything.

If there is a victims’ support group around here, I’d love to know about it. I plan to arrange to make my signs and sit outside the Roundhouse passing out pamphlets about the girls and victims’ rights. Sen. Adair introduced two victims’ rights bills to legislative committee in December, requiring the Court and DA’s to notify victims of hearings (already required by the constitution but without consequences or much enthusiasm.) Sen. Michael Sanchez led the successful efforts to kill the bills before they even made it out of committee. He gave me the “victims can already file complaints” excuse for the courts (not according to judicial conduct rules), and the “we don’t want an adversarial relationship between DA’s and victims. Believe me — we’ve had a horribly adversarial relationship with the DA’s office because they didn’t tell us.

I’ll quit. It’s so painful, and I am so grateful we’ve been able to shelter the girls from most everything after the abuse itself. And I don’t want any victims — or parents — to ever have to go through this again.”

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Diane October 20, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Web site Reader William D. writes:


Crime Victims colunm. With regards to your last Saturday column on the plight of crime victims, I agree that they are often shortchanged by the law enforcement bureaucracy. Over 25 years ago, my parents’ neighborhood in Nashville, TN, helped form their first “Friends of the Badge” anti-crime chapter where it gave various supports to some victims of some recent violent crime that once plagued their neighborhood. Their group was a diverse one, ideologically as well as otherwise. Several members had very liberal to leftist views along with several way on the other end of the spectrum, with several in the middle. They all agreed to help make their neighborhood safer. This victims’ rights group acted independently of any national office. The police who helpfully cooperated with the group, interestingly enough, support the Miranda laws that many conservatives and rightists villify. The police argue that the 1967 Miranda ruling actually protects police from any false accusations of police brutality. These police who comply with Miranda have a much better conviction rate than those who do not, at least in Nashville, TN. Since the early 1980′s, this Friends of the Badge chapter has now expanded to non-crime issues as well that pertain to the neighborhood: side walks; pedestrian crossings; better lighting; more public transportation; building more city recreational areas; etc.–in other words, improving the neighborhood’s overall quality of life. Whie my folks no longer live in Nashville, they try to keep tabs on their former neighborhood’s development since their departure.

I used that example to assure everybody that most liberals and leftists share concern that victims of crime get a fair shake. With that said, some groups who claim to be victim’s rights advocates are nothing more than front-groups for right wing extremists who exploit the average American’s genuine fear of crime to trick the law-abiding into giving up all their civil liberties in the name of law ‘n’ order. Prior to 1968, the term, “law and order,” did not have the right-wing connotation that George Wallace, Frank Rizzo, et al gave to it. The term used to mean opposition to lynching and vigilanteeism. Such pro-civil liberties/rule of law groups back in the 1920′s called themselves the Law and Order Leagues where their primary duty was to fight the insurgent Ku Klux Klan that captured the governments and law enforcement agencies of several states, both North and South. These leagues played an essential role in preventing the Ku Klux Klan from winning several local victories in Tennessee between 1920 and 1925. Before Rizzo, et al hijacked the term, it used to have a completely different meaning. I also found it strange and disturbing that the Reagan Administration and all his successors up to Obama, did not choose corporate crimes that ripped off the elderly and the infirm of their hard-earned savings or the abuse of patients in nursing homes as a type of crime deserving of victims’ rights coverage. Maybe that was because these politicians themselves were big time corporate criminals who used the violent street crime issue to divert public attention from their wrong-doings. Victims rights groups should also look after the rights of homeless people who are mugged, etc.; mental patients and convicts who get assaulted by either other inmates or staff; as well as the “respectable” middle class home rentors and home-owners. Let’s make victims rights inclusive for all socio-economic classes and not just the “respectable” or “beautiful” people.”

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Diane October 21, 2009 at 1:07 am

FaceBook friend Patty R. P. writes:

” I’m sure this includes Jaycee Dugard…she’s a trooper (for lack of a much better term) she is quite pretty too! I can’t imagine having to have gone through what she has had to endure.”

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Diane October 21, 2009 at 1:10 am

FaceBook Friend Maria R. G. writes:

“awe-inspiring article…it’s a sad time in a country where criminals seem to get more and better attention than the victims…we need to put an end to the pacifying of criminals and their rights; when a criminal commits a crime, that person has chosen to risk losing their rights. PERIOD.”

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Diane October 22, 2009 at 3:28 pm

NOTE TO READERS: THE FOLLOWING IS FROM JUENENNE, THE WOMAN I WRITE ABOUT IN THE COLUMN:

“I am so glad that we met one another. Your article was wonderful and thank you so much for including my story about my son in it. These past two years have been the hardest for my family and I. Your article puts it out there for everyone to read and to let them know that what is happening to the victims and we need to be heard. My son has touch so many peoples lives and he is still touching people. He was one special young man. Don’t get me wrong he had his moments. When we have family get together (which we have all the time) he would make sure he talked to you and made you feel welcome and didn’t matter if you were young or old he took time to talk to you. I remember when he was about 14 years old we at a Taco Bell eating lunch and he saw a homeless man sitting out side and he went out there and asked him if he was hungry and the man said yes so Jacob came and got some money from us and bought him some lunch and sat there with the man while he ate and talk to him. Not to many young people would take the time to do that. I was very proud of him. I just wanted to let you know a little bit about my son. You are an angel for writing wonderful article.
Thank you
Juenenne

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