Ten years ago, I was living a very normal life in West Des Moines. I was raising my two kids in a quiet neighborhood, going to work every day and putting down roots in our community. My kids were excelling; my daughter was a model student, nominated for Character Counts awards. She regularly achieved academic success and had lots of friends, a personality that was just a bubbly joy to be near.
Like most kids her age, she wanted to connect with her friends on social media. It was in this space where she was targeted, groomed and eventually lured to a predator's home where she was raped at the age of 12.
Most crime victims never expect something like this could happen to them. I know I didn't. Knowing what I know now, I am speaking out to change the criminal justice system for future victims.
Iowa is only one of 15 states that does! not have constitutional protections for crime victims. This is disgraceful. Iowa crime victims must be afforded the same constitutional protections as the accused.
In our case, my daughter's offender was convicted and put in prison. While the law in Iowa entitles the victim to know parole information and allows them to speak at hearings, we were never informed of such events. The parole board never got to hear from our family. They never got to hear how my once happy daughter began cutting school, failing classes, running away from home and even having suicidal thoughts. More importantly, they never got to hear that he was still on Facebook, a clear violation and evidence that he was not rehabilitated. According to the Iowa courts, the rights of this heinous rapist were greater than my daughter's.
This week, April 8-14, is National Crime Victims' Rights Week a week where activists across the country support those who have been victims of crime and highlight services and laws designed to help them.
I want to take this week to call attention to a new law before the Iowa Legislature – Marsy's Law – which would enshrine rights for crime victims in Iowa's constitution.
These provisions are nothing new to Iowa; they're in Iowa law. But Iowa law does not go far enough, and, in the eyes of the court, it is not on the same level as constitutional rights. Courts can overturn laws, and they can be weakened in the blink of an eye.
The proposed permanent provisions would give crime victims:
• The right to be heard with notice of all proceedings.
• The right to be heard in any proceeding involving release, pleas, sentencing, deposition, and parole.
• The right to reasonable protection from the accused.
• The right to reasonable notice of any release or escape of the convicted.
• The right to restitution resulting from the financial impact o! f the crime.
My daughter is grown now, she received treatment, and she is thriving. But for many victims, their stories do not end as happy ones.
We need to do all that we can to protect Iowa's innocent victims. It's far past time for crime victims to have equal footing in Iowa's constitution.
Michelle Wonderlich lives in West Des Moines.