August 19, 2002
A new report released today paints a startling picture of systemic bias and discrimination by those who serve victims against surviving family members who, contrary to popular stereotype, oppose the death penalty.
"Dignity Denied: The Experience of Murder Victims' Family Members Who Oppose the Death Penalty" was released today by Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation (MVFR). MVFR is a victim-founded, victim-led organization that represents murder victims' families who oppose the death penalty. MVFR Executive Director Renny Cushing, a former New Hampshire state legislator whose father was murdered in 1988, will release "Dignity Denied" at the annual conference of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, scheduled for this week in Nashville, Tennessee. The report can be viewed by visiting www.mvfr.org and clicking on "What's new."
"Too often, family members who oppose the death penalty are silenced,
marginalized, and abandoned, even by the people who
The victims' rights movement of the late '70s gave rise to victims' rights laws and victim assistance programs, with the goal of enabling victims to be "informed, present, and heard" throughout the criminal justice process. But today, Cushing explained, "victims' services usually operate under the auspices of the prosecutor, so rights are granted and enforced only at the prosecutor's discretion."
"Today, as MVFR publishes this account of silencing and discrimination against anti-death penalty victims, we are not aware of a single protocol in the office of any prosecutor in the United States that alerts victim assistants to the possibility that some family members of victims may oppose the death penalty and that they are entitled to the same assistance as those who support it," Cushing said.
Cushing explained that there are three primary ways victims who oppose the death penalty face discrimination:
"Sometimes this denial is made explicit, as when members of a district attorney's office warn families that if they advocate against the death penalty the office will no longer communicate with them," Cushing says. "At other times, the office may communicate with the family but do so in a way that is incomplete, inaccurate or misleading."
"Some advocates see victims who oppose the death penalty as more closely identified with the defendant than with their own status as victims, thus rendering them ineligible for or undeserving of advocates' help," Cushing said. "Such a view disregards the
possibility that survivors may oppose the death penalty for their own reasons, not because of sympathy for the murderer."
"Dignity Denied" challenges lawmakers, the federal government's Office
of Victims of Crime, and leaders within the victims'