Thursday, November 12, 2009

How Crime Victims Become Crime Survivors

by Diane Dimond

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.

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 discover the pathway to their own recoveries.

“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 victims' 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. One hit him in the face and wrestled with him. 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 HopeAfter 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 three-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 (photo below right), the new grandbaby who will never know her father.

“I don’t know what I’d do without this child,” Mary Anne said as she clenched her teeth against the tears.
Shayla Muse, Crime Survivor
Juenenne got justice. The two men who killed her son are in prison. Mary Ann has not, and that's 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 their cases, 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 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.

For more information on Crime Survivors visit


Soobs said...

Beautifully, well written post, Diane. Thank you.

Jan Williams said...

Thank you for your article on Patricia and Crime Survivors. She is a Godsend to all of us in Southern California who are trying to deal with the aftermath of violent crime. It's been two years since my son and two small grandsons were wrenched out of my life by murder, and in that short amount of time, I have lost almost everything that still anchored me to this world - job, friends, health, etc., swiftly gone. No one wants to talk about crime or see and deal with the ghosts that we who survive have become. We find loss and further victimization at every turn. If it wasn't for people like Patricia, and organizations like Crime Survivors, POMC, etc. we would probably all go ahead and crawl into a deep dark hole and ask someone to fill it in over our heads. Sometimes it feels like that's what our society wants from disappear as if we and our lost loved ones never existed. We need to be told once in a while that it's our duty to survive - that we still have something to do and a way to contribute. That's especially important when most people are uncomfortable if we even speak the names of the dead or act like their murder is something that we should feel ashamed of. Neal and Devon and Ian deserve better. I deserve better. Thank you again for writing about us and making us feel a little less invisible.