My Victim Impact Statement and Why I Hope Releasing It Will Be Helpful to Others
Trigger Warning and Note:
This piece includes a description of a sexual assault with a weapon, a “fight” nervous system response, and a description of acute PTSD symptoms. Please note that every person’s nervous system is unique and would respond differently to a life-threatening situation. … I am publishing this Victim Impact Statement both as a resource and sample/example for other survivors contemplating or going through the justice process, as well as to illustrate the profound effects of sexual violence.
I have always intended to publish (eventually) the Victim Impact Statement I wrote for and presented to the presiding judge at the 2019 sentencing for the sexual predator convicted (via plea agreement) of sexually assaulting me and another woman on back-to-back days the prior year.
The reason I always had this intention is that when I was in the process of writing it, I needed and looked for examples of Victim Impact Statements online to figure out how to write one, which is a super hard thing to do.
I mean, who knows how to do this, right? It’s not like a college paper or the many hundreds of news articles I wrote as a journalist. It’s an incredibly hard thing to stand up in court and talk about how a crime has affected your life. It’s immense; the effects extensive. How do you organize this? What do you include? As you contemplate the defendant and the judge listening to you in the courtroom, what do you want them to know?
There are lots of academic articles online about Victim Impact Statements, and lots of general how-to’s about what to include. But actual sample statements are not as easy to find.
I was writing mine in the height of the second wave of the #MeToo movement in late spring/early summer 2019, and high in the search results was an actual sample: the 2016 Emily Doe Victim Impact Statement from the Stanford University sexual-assault case, which the victim had allowed to be published on BuzzFeed.
It was this statement, which we all found out belonged to Chanel Miller when her incredible memoir, “Know My Name,” was published a few months later, that had the most influence on me as I wrote my own. It empowered me. She was able to tell her story — what happened to her that night and in the fallout from the sexual assault — her way, and it had the dual result of giving her a voice responding to how the court case was handled, how she was treated, how she was revictimized by it, as well as leading to eventual tremendous public influence. It was powerful and detailed.
The fact that her assailant got basically a slap on the wrist — six months for sexually assaulting Miller while she was unconscious — enraged and motivated me. (By the way, the judge who sentenced him, Aaron Persky of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, was recalled by voters in 2018. He was the first judge to be recalled in California in more than 80 years.)
In my situation, the statement I would write would not inform the judge with regard to sentencing the man who assaulted me because he had accepted a plea deal. The sentence would be set when I arrived in court. Yet I wanted to use the platform I was being given to make a difference, to explain, to educate. To do my part in the #MeToo movement that I had become a member of violently and unexpectedly at age 51. So that perhaps if the judge for my case presided over a future sexual-assault trial and determined the resulting sentence, he would understand, as best as I could help him understand, the true lasting impact of these types of crimes on the lives of victims.
I wanted to be heard.
I decided I would speak my piece and not be rushed away from the podium.
I both told my story of the sexual assault and outlined the traumatic and economic effects of the crime. Since the case didn’t go to trial, the judge hadn’t heard the details of the crime in court previously. I directed comments to him – and, in fact, was told specifically by my district attorney not to address them to the defendant – for at least 20 minutes that afternoon (I really don’t remember how long it was), and he listened intently and thanked me genuinely and with empathy afterward.
I am grateful he really listened to me; I felt validated and seen by the focus he gave to me. And I am confident this is NOT the norm for sexual-assault victims. While I was re-traumatized by certain things that happened and didn’t happen overall during the investigation and the justice process, I generally was happy with the judge. I did not experience significant re-traumatization during the sentencing hearing, and I do think it was empowering and helpful for my healing.
Several years later, as I now approach the five-year anniversary of the crime, I am finally ready to publish it (with some information redacted and a little context/commentary provided in italics within this document), as I have done so much processing since then. And it doesn’t feel as vulnerable to me. I have removed the predator’s name (because he doesn’t deserve any publicity or renown), some personal information of mine, and the names of other victims for their privacy.
If publishing my Victim Impact Statement is helpful to other survivors, as Miller’s statement was helpful to me during the justice process for my case, then it is worth it to me.
I offer this as one example/sample of a Victim Impact Statement for a sexual-assault crime. I practiced it with a friend several times before I presented it in court so that I was comfortable reading it aloud and also to understand how long it would take me to read it.
(I also wrote and presented a much shorter Victim Impact Statement for the sentencing hearing following the trial of this serial predator in a separate sexual assault case. I was informed prior to the hearing (communicated by that victim’s appointed advocate) that the judge in her case was not receptive to longer statements and would possibly cut me off if I spoke too long. I didn’t want that; that certainly would have been traumatic for me to have my voice cut off.)
Victim Impact Statement
Victim Impact Statement
RE: Case No., XXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXX
June 28, 2019
2nd Judicial District Court Judge
Thank you, Your Honor, for listening to my statement.
I am a writer — by education, past career and passion — and with all sincerity:
Writing this Victim Impact Statement, summarizing the effects on my life since XXXXXXXXX sexually assaulted me last year, is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write in my 52 years.
It comes from a place of fortitude and conviction, but amidst a wealth of exhaustion.
- Let me start first by saying I’m tired of crying. My friends and family have heard me say that repeatedly lately. … Yet the well of tears seems bottomless. And I’m just tired of them interrupting my days as I grieve and process, and deal with the justice process, which is exhausting.
- I’m tired of not being as functional as I used to be, and for being less reliable to the people in my life and to my business obligations and colleagues.
- I’m tired of the triggers, the reminders that steal hours and days and even weeks from me at a time. They take the joy from normally wonderful activities like travel, parties, dancing, enjoying new adventures by myself, hugs. Those things that bring others joy many times bring me pain and anxiety.
- I’m also tired of being less independent and more needy. I was fearful leaving my house in the first weeks following the assault without a buddy, a companion. There are many things I still do not do my myself. I need more help than I did before, and I don’t like that.
- I’m tired of my world being smaller as I stick with what feels safe and whom I trust. My adventures are smaller, my circle of people smaller.
- I’m tired of feeling so behind in my business and career aspirations, frustrated that I haven’t been contributing much to our household income for the past 15 months, upset about the business dreams I’ve had to put on hold but watching others move on with their lives and fulfill theirs.
- I’m tired of the hours of therapies every month that I need to both keep making progress with the PTSD and to fend off health issues from the stress.
- I’m tired of getting nauseous whenever I pick up a knife to chop vegetables for dinner, or getting triggered when someone gestures to me while holding a knife in their hand. This is a result of XXXXXXXXX attacking and threatening me with a knife.
- I’m tired of my hand aching every day from the knife injury that resulted from that attack. I hate it that I can’t get away from the reminders.
- I’m tired of the memory of the assault itself inserting itself into my days, and affecting my sleep.
- I’m tired of the hypervigilance, looking behind me, my alertness on overdrive when I’m out by myself, sometimes my heart pounding and nerves raw.
- I’m tired of my brain not letting me concentrate when I need it to be linear and to readily problem-solve.
- I’m tired of the alone-ness I feel on so many levels. As one recent high-profile survivor [Chanel Miller (known as Emily Doe when I wrote this)] said, “You bought me a ticket to a planet where I lived by myself.” It’s so true. It’s a very lonely experience, even when surrounded by people.
- I’m tired that just about everything I do every day is harder and takes more forethought.
- I’m sad for the lost physical intimacy most importantly with my husband, but also simple intimacy with family and friends, as I so rarely crave touch anymore, the spiritual wound on my body making touch feel unsafe and unnatural. I used to love to hug. People need touch.
- And I’m tired and angry knowing that I’m always going to have to deal with these issues, and keep working and keep working to get better, and having to do this just because someone decided he needed to have power over me that day.
Those few minutes at the bookstore changed my life. For survivors there is a before and there is an after – everything registers this way. How things were before and how things are now. And I have now become part of the club of the walking wounded, for whom every day, every activity, every task, every passion, every desire from life has become more difficult. But most people can’t see the wounds, and it’s hard for them to understand. This is my after.
So figuring out how to go – by choice — TOWARD the pain and the memory of the violence and violation and fear in order to encapsulate and make understandable for you the scope of change XXXXXXXXX has effected on my life has been a demanding effort.
But I’ve looked back through my journals and my notes and letters, and I share my experience here because my story is important, as is the story of every adult and child affected by sexual violence. And I won’t be quiet about it and fade away. People need to know and understand the effect that these types of crimes have on women’s [and men’s] lives, how they change them permanently. I speak my voice, my story here, and I speak for those who cannot or have not yet found their voice, or were unable to get justice or adequate justice.
THIS is my before. (And there’s a point to this.)
The year I turned 50 was such an amazing year for me. My daughter and my husband threw me a huge party that was so joyous, a retro roller-skate and dance party, complete with disco ball. I felt so free and happy and hopeful and excited. It was a relatively drama-free year for me personally. I found a new passion and direction for my business – I’m an antiquarian and used book dealer – and was starting to make plans to implement them, had shed much of my old business and inventory and was prepping to greatly expand into a new area, I was overcoming some health issues and feeling empowered in my sport, triathlon. I felt strong.
It was a great year, and I remember saying so out loud and feeling it with my whole being. 2017 was a GREAT year! ….
I say this because there’s something about turning 50 that is not just unnerving, but also liberating. You care less about the little annoyances, you worry less about what people think of you, you realize you don’t have forever so you better get after your dreams. AND I even remember specifically thinking how liberating it was to be exiting the time of my life where I had to be so fearful about personal safety and rape. Women talk about that, if you didn’t know, as one benefit of aging – having less fear of being attacked and raped. Because for most of our lives, it’s something we women have to think about, and we plan our days the best we can to avoid empty streets and car parks, being alone out at night, etc. The world is not safely a woman’s world. Yet. As a society, we have a lot of work to do in this area.
On XXXXXXXXX, 2018, I was just working. And it was the middle of the day. Lunch time.
As I mentioned, I’m a book dealer, and one of the ways I get exposure for my business is to sell at a brick and mortar store, a co-op where dealers rent retail space and take turns working. We sell our books there, but more importantly, we get exposure to folks coming in off the street or calling in wishing to sell books. Whoever is working gets first dibs on those walk-ins & calls. Access to good, new inventory is the lifeblood of my business. I need to be out in the world for my business to be a success.
XXXXXXXXX came into the store that day around lunch time. I greeted him, as we do all customers and introduced him to the store, and I told him to let me know if I could help him with anything. He wanted to browse and wandered the store, stopping in various sections; at one point I saw him carrying around a book as he crossed the back of the store; twice he came up to chat with me; we talked about his work; he expressed an interest in science fiction books, asking me if I had books by a few particular authors. I said maybe I had a few in another location, and I had him fill out a contact form for those authors. [Yes, he actually wrote his name down on this form.]
I got the sense he was in the store for about 30 minutes, and he didn’t raise any red flags with me. He wore jeans and a hoodie, a baseball hat, looked pretty clean-cut, wore glasses, spoke appropriately about books, carried on decent conversation.
Most of this time, though, I was still behind the desk. There had been another customer in the store during that time, who eventually left. And it was just XXXXXXXXX in the store. He came up to the desk one last time, and asked me if I had any Neil Gaiman books. So I came out from behind the desk, and he followed me over to my literature section, where I had a fairly large selection of Gaiman books. People frequently ask for his books, so I would usually keep a good inventory of them.
Just as I reached my hand to point to the Gaiman books, I felt his hands on my shoulders from behind. For a split second I was so confused and surprised that he was touching me. But he quickly tightened his grip and threw me and pushed me down on the ground, right atop the chalk body outline on the carpet that delineated the murder-mystery section of the store, just 15 feet from the outside busy sidewalk. And as I was going down, I remember thinking, “What the F***! What the F***!”
I immediately knew he was trying to rape me. He was hovering over me and touching me, and every instinct in my body responded in fight. I screamed so loudly that my scream still sometimes echoes in my head, and I thrashed my body and kicked. My only real cognitive thoughts at first were that I knew I was supposed to fight, and never stop fighting, and I acknowledged the fact I might actually get raped, and that felt so unbelievably surreal. … And then my body just continued to fight. I had tunnel vision, and it zeroed in on his crotch and I just kicked and kicked as best I could from the angle I was at, and I know I got one good kick there. And I just screamed like a crazy person and rolled and thrashed my body.
He threatened to kill me, and it was then the tunnel vision zeroed in on the knife that he was holding in his hand, a kitchen chef’s knife with a long blade. And in my brain’s continuing fight response that had a life of its own, I watched as I reached out and grabbed the blade of the knife with my left hand. I didn’t register any pain because of the adrenaline and so grabbed on tighter and pushed it away from my body.
I’m not sure how much time passed or what he did next. I just remember him then standing halfway between me and the front door, pausing, turning to leave, and I got up. I had such anger and fear, and the adrenaline was coursing through me, so I picked up a metal bookstore stool and chucked it at him as hard as I could as he exited the door. It made contact, but he still continued going out the door. And it’s only then that I had a rational thought that I shouldn’t have thrown something at him when he was already leaving. What if he turned around?
But he kept going.
I immediately went for the store phone and fumbled with it, trying to read the buttons, but I couldn’t get my eyes to focus on the numbers. I was panicking a little bit and grabbed my cell phone instead and went outside to call 9-1-1 so that I could be where people could see me, which felt safer, and it’s then I realized my hand was dripping blood. Two women stopped to ask me if I was OK, and I asked them to stay with me until help came. I don’t know whatever happened to them, but I’m grateful they stayed with me.
The police and the paramedics arrived, and soon after the store owner. It’s a blur. They asked me questions, cleaned and wrapped my hand, took photos of me, my hand, a knife cut on my lip, marks on my upper chest. I felt dazed, but I felt OK. I had survived.
The bookstore owner’s wife drove me to the hospital, and I walked in and asked to be seen, holding up my hand. I must have looked a mess. And they worked on me, worked on my hand, gave me blankets because I was cold, in shock, they stitched up my hand. My husband, my daughter and another friend arrived, and they stood all around me and they knew, what I hadn’t processed yet – that things had changed for me.
[Nope. No one came to retrieve my clothes at the hospital. And I wasn’t offered a rape kit because I indicated he hadn’t gotten my pants off. It has always bothered me that no evidence was taken there. An officer finally arrived at my house late that evening to collect my clothes.]
The acute trauma took about two days to hit. It slammed into me like a Mack truck. My brain was on fire, with messages bouncing around in my head constantly like pinballs. It felt like my brain had been hijacked, like all of a sudden I was in the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve with all these screaming voices around me and being caught, trapped, afraid and not knowing which way was safe, which way was out –my body over-charged and hyper-vigilant that someone was about to grab me. My brain was no longer calm, but a jumble of images, a replay of the assault, my brain constantly analyzing the space around me, examining corners, hallways, sidewalks, parking lots.
When you’re in acute trauma, it’s like your body is anticipating the unexpected at all times. It’s sort of like someone is poking you in the shoulder constantly: Pay attention! Pay attention! Nothing really feels safe, and so you are never quite comfortable or relaxed, and that’s exhausting. My body could not be convinced that I was safe, that it couldn’t happen again, that he wasn’t coming after me. I felt unmoored, untethered, unanchored, flapping in the wind.
During that period of acute trauma, the only relief I would find was when I could somehow get hyper-focused on something at home or when I had my husband or a companion who I felt was watching my back for me when I was out of the house. My brain was never quiet otherwise, and I couldn’t concentrate or really accomplish much of anything, and I finally REALLY understood why substance abuse and suicide is so common with trauma because you just need your brain to shut up.
I felt trapped in my own house, afraid to leave, feeling unsafe anywhere outside my own house. I would see his face whenever I opened my front door, so that held me in the house like a prisoner. I was afraid he would come after me. The police hadn’t caught him. I saw baseball hats everywhere, and would react to them, hated them, I couldn’t go anywhere by myself comfortably for a long time. I would examine every male face; every man became a potential threat. For weeks, I watched the world go by outside my window and felt not part of it.
Physically, I didn’t have much use of my hand for a few weeks, friends came to help me chop food so I could cook, and one dear friend came every day for a week to help me clean and change the bandages because I couldn’t deal with looking at what was underneath. But what actually was most painful right away was my throat and my neck. My voice was hoarse, and I had trouble swallowing; and it hurt to do so for weeks. A reminder with every swallow. It took time and massage therapy for that to improve.
For a couple of months, I had twice-weekly counseling and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, commonly known as EMDR. EMDR is a now-common therapy used with PTSD clients that is effective, but extremely difficult and exhausting. I also had acupuncture treatments twice a week to help calm my central nervous system.
I had several weeks of physical therapy on my hand to regain range of motion and function and to reduce pain sensitivity.
I still am in counseling and continue to have EMDR and will probably always need therapy support. I still get acupuncture several times a month. We also adopted a Labradoodle from a breeder last summer — because I have dog allergies — to be a companion for me, at first to help me be more confident outside of the house, and now for continued emotional support.
My out-of-pocket costs for these and other therapy and related expenses, not covered by Victim Compensation, have totaled approximately $XX,000 so far.
I have not been able to return to working at the store, something that I loved and that is also important for business growth and important for networking within the local book trade. I’ve been able to desensitize myself to being in the store, but during triggering times I cannot bring myself to go there. I loved working in the store, chatting with customers, providing service, matching books with people, watching people get excited about my books and my new focus XXXXXXXXX. XXXXXXXXX took that experience and those current and potentially future earnings away from me. I’m still working to try to get back there, still hoping I’ll get back to working there.
Another part of my business is going out to people’s houses to purchase books. This feels very vulnerable to me, and I’ve only done it two times by myself so far since the assault.
Between these limitations, the inability to relaunch my business as I had been working on it, and the lost time because I’ve had to focus on recovery, I estimate I’ve lost at least $XX,000 in sales revenues over the last 15 months.
The assault has also had long-term effects on many other areas of my life:
- Most importantly, it’s affected the intimacy I have with my husband and the relationships I have with people in general. I’m less trusting. I have a hard time with touch. I’ve lost several friendships.
- I still have hyper-vigilance about people behind me, and I also don’t like people hovering over me. I’ve stopped going to yoga classes because being on my back in a room full of people is too vulnerable, and I’ve had to switch doctors and other service providers for this reason – mainly to women. I request to keep my street clothes on now at the dermatologist. I cried during my breast ultrasound last year. I had to instruct the requested female doctor giving me my colonoscopy last fall to tell me each time she was going to touch me during the procedure. I had to pull all my therapeutic resources to tolerate being on my back for a recent 2-hour crown replacement. I need to go to an ENT right now, but I haven’t because my doctor’s a male, and I haven’t had the energy to find another.
- Doing things outside my small world is difficult, I’ve realized, and I’ve had to stretch my tolerance gradually to do new things. I used to love to travel and loved the surprise of it; now I like things more predictable.
- It has changed, rewired my brain, and I’ve had to compensate. The largest effects are that sometimes I have a hard time focusing, and too much stimuli is overwhelming. When my brain is affected during a trigger or a difficult time, I just can’t push it. When I try to “accomplish” when I’m having a PTSD episode, I just feel completely overwhelmed. So I’ve learned over the year when I’m like that, I have to do work that does not require organization or problem-solving. I’m an accomplishment-oriented, success-oriented person by nature, but trauma is completely different. You can’t just push and push. Your brain needs to relax, needs to rest, needs to recover.
- I’ve struggled with the typical effects of PTSD, including anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and one particularly awful 2-week period of numbness when I couldn’t feel any emotions, following a bad trigger on vacation.
- I have mostly full function of my hand, but it aches every day, and it is sometimes painful. I have a hard time going long periods on the bicycle, bearing weight on the handlebar. It’s uncomfortable.
- I’ve been a triathlete for several years, and I’ve lost fitness and momentum in my sport. I have limitations on where I feel comfortable running. I have a hard time sharing a lane when swimming, and the thought of being amongst of bunch of bodies in the reservoir during a race is no longer exciting. My usual bike route is XXXXXXXXX, and that has lost some joy following XXXXXXXXX’s assault along there last year. …. I’m working my way back in all of these areas, and I WILL get there, but it’s all just more work, more effort.
- I struggle with knives. I don’t like using them. When I’m triggered, I see him hovering over me with a knife. Most of the time, I just get nauseous picking one up.
- There are things I just don’t do. I don’t use ride-sharing apps. I don’t take long runs by myself. I don’t listen to music while I run. I don’t have service people or deliveries into my house when I’m home alone.
- And most recently, I’ve started to develop an auto-immune reaction from the stress.
This is what a violent sexual attack has done. And I think it’s important that the court and people in general understand the scope of effects from assaults like this, and worse.
It feels unfair that I was just going about my life, and XXXXXXXXX has made my life so much more difficult. He took a lot of things away from me; he took away my sense of freedom and safety, and the world no longer feels the same to me. He also, by the way, could have killed me with his recklessness. And that thought is not lost on me or my family.
Let me finish by talking about the sentence. The most important factor that drove my decisions during this legal process is that XXXXXXXXX never get out of prison. I don’t hate XXXXXXXXX or think he’s evil. I’m angry about what he did to me and how he’s changed my life, and I think he should never be on the street again. I also believe there needs to be a consistent message from the justice system that violence against women will not be tolerated. Too many men get light sentences for acts that, due to the fall-out of trauma, affect the very fabric of our society.
If I could have my way, I wish the sentence for XXXXXXXXX would have been longer. 30 years, the original offer, feels much more in line with the effect he’s had on TWO women’s lives [I was one of two victims in this combined case]. I agreed to 25 years to get the defense to beginning dealing with me after many months of no response.
I would have continued to trial, no problem, if I had had to. I have a persistent personality and can endure. But the two legal processes [for this predator] – here in XXXXXXXXX and in XXXXXXXXX — going on simultaneously added complexity.
I elected to offer a plea because I want him to serve the sentence for the crimes he did in XXXXXXXXX first because they happened first and also because I’m 52 years old. I want to know that he is actively serving time for what he did to me and XXXXXXXXX while I am still alive and aware of it.
[There was a concurrent court proceeding at that time for this serial predator in a neighboring county that was expected to result in a very long sentence, meaning if my case had proceeded to trial and the sentencing for my case happened after that other case, I would never (because of my age) have experienced him being in jail specifically for what he did to me. He is now serving the two sentences consecutively. At the time of the case and at the point I was in my healing journey, it was very important to me to feel this direct relationship.]
While I have found a spattering of Victim Impact Statement samples on various sites, below is the only site I found that has a small library of statements organized by crime type, including sexual assault/rape.
If one of my readers knows of any other Victim Impact Statement catalogs/libraries, please comment or e-mail me at [email protected], and I will update this article.
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Wishing you love, peace and sparks of joy wherever you are on your healing journey. It is my wish with all that I do and all that I write about for you to know that you are not alone.