Last year, our state took a significant first step forward by answering our call for change in the criminal justice system, both for crime victims and to stop cycles of crime. Now it’s time we take another step forward to make our communities safer.
That’s why I and 400 other crime survivors from across Florida are coming to the state Capitol to advocate for the policies that will make what happened to us less likely to happen to someone else. There are a number of common-sense policies we would like to see the Legislature adopt this year — from reforming the way our probation system treats technical violations of probation like driving on a suspended license to get to work or school, to incentivizing rehabilitation for people in prison so that people come out of the criminal justice system better rather than worse. However, the issue that concerns me most is our state’s glaring need for more protections for crime victims like myself.
I lead the St. Petersburg chapter of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a network of more than 40,000 crime victims nationally and over 4,000 across Florida. Our members often struggle with work, school and housing in the wake of their victimization. For instance, the father of one of our members was shot across from her family’s home. A suspect in the case lived down the street. Yet her family had to continue to live there for almost 8 months because they could not get out of their lease. During that time, they were constantly retraumatized seeing the place their family member was killed every time they left their front door, and they struggled to feel any sense of safety.
Currently in Florida, most victims of violence have few legal protections if they need to take leave from work to ensure the safety of themselves or their loved ones, seek victims’ services, or relocate. A 2018 survey of Florida crime victims found four in 10 survivors reported wanting emergency or temporary housing assistance following the crime, but only 4 percent received it. Survivors of crime can be doubly traumatized, when they can’t move to ensure their safety or take time off to get the trauma services and help they need to heal.
That’s why this legislative session, it is imperative that legislators pass policies that expand unemployment benefits to victims and witnesses of violent crimes, and to pass protections so that victims and witnesses are able to relocate quickly and safely. No one should have to be victimized twice — first by the perpetrator of the crime, and then punished again by being forced out of a job or forced to stay in an unsafe home.
Last year, elected leaders from all political persuasions came together to pass the most significant criminal justice legislation in 20 years. I hope that the Legislature hears our calls again this year and can work together to build on our victory and ensure that all crime victims can maintain support and stability after a crime.
Dr. LaDonna Butler is a crime survivor and serves as chapter coordinator for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice in St. Petersburg. She is founder of the Well for Life and integrative wellness space in south St. Petersburg.