V is for Victim, Who Rarely Get to Have Their Say
(in the criminal justice system, victims rarely get to have their say)
Every act of violence requires a victim, and every victim a perpetrator. Even if victim and offender are strangers, in the searing moment when a violent crime is committed they become inextricably bound in one of the most painful human relationships imaginable.
Lyndy is a victim of violent crime. When we meet her, she is pregnant with her first child. When we meet the man who raped her at knife-point fourteen years earlier, it is her own brother, Tim, to whom we are introduced. Tim is serving the thirteenth of a twenty-year prison sentence for his crime. Lyndy is serving her own kind of sentence, one which can only be commuted by Tim.
Lyndy and Tim’s story of violent crime, accountability, forgiveness and restoration – told in the award-winning documentary, Beyond Conviction – reminds us that remedies exist to heal the wounds inflicted by nearly every damaged human relationship.
By anyone’s standards, the Pennsylvania criminal justice system has done for Lyndy the job it was supposed to. Tim was arrested, charged with rape, convicted, and sentenced to twenty years in prison. The punishment meted out to Tim, however, did nothing to help Lyndy recover life as she knew it before that terrifying November night when Tim came home drunk, flew into a rage, held a knife to Lyndy's throat, forced her upstairs and repeatedly raped her.
Twelve years after Tim's sentencing Lyndy found herself close to suicide. If she took her own life, Tim’s curse, his terrible prophecy, would come true – that by his hand, Lyndy’s life would be ruined. Lyndy perservered and when she she became pregnant two years later, she sought out the services of Pennsylvania's restorative justice program, a program devoted to doing that which the criminal justice does not, and cannot, do – heal the victim. When asked why she wanted to meet with her brother after so many years, Lyndy explained. “I want to raise my son to be a kind and forgiving and caring person and I can't do that if I can’t be kind and forgiving and caring to the one person who has hurt me the most.”
Lyndy wants to forgive. But we cannot forgive that which we do not understand. Nor can we forgive someone who is unwilling to take responsibility for the harm he has caused. That would just make us more of a victim – doormats, co-conspirators to our own injury. Lyndy wants – she needs – her brother to acknowledge his responsibility for her suffering. She wants to tell him that nothing in their mutually difficult childhood could possibly justify his crime. And like so many victims, she wants to know that the rape was not her fault.