In Your Corner: Victim Impact classes drive lesson home

Designed to assess their positive attributes, Teen Court gives its respondents a questionnaire meant to evaluate the offense that’s been committed.

The survey, which is usually presented through a process the judicial system cites as an “intake,” poses such questions as, “Who was harmed or affected by this offense?” When a child writes down, “No one,” we know there is a lot that needs to be taught.

That’s where Victim Impact classes come in. They teach our respondents who was harmed or affected by their offense.

Both Teen Court and Family Court can require their clients take Victim Impact classes. This way, students learn that they don’t live in a vacuum.

If I see “No one” written as a response, I’ll ask, “So whomever took you or met you at the police station wasn’t affected?”

The child usually grins and changes the answer as the parent rolls his or her eyes.

I’ll inquire further.

“What about the person who brings you to your ‘intake,’ and hearing, and classes? Who’s paying for the gas?”

If children hurt someone in a fight, they’ll understand that there was a victim. But they may not identify who the victim is in cases such as shoplifting, when they have had to return the merchandise.

In fact, they may even list themselves as a victim because they had to wear handcuffs, or go to the police station, or come to Teen Court.

When that happens, I present them with some of the following dialogue:

Q: Who discovered that you shoplifted?

A: The security guard.

Q: Who pays for the security guard?

A: The store.

Q: How does the store get its money?

A. From the people who shop there.

Q. With that in mind, who pays for the security guard?

A. The people who shop there.

Q. So who is ultimately affected by shoplifting?

A. Everyone who shops at the store.

Parents might also be victims in such cases, as they might have to pay an additional fee if their children steal from a store.

Last week, two parents whose children had been detained for shoplifting at K-Mart told me that were mailed an additional fine of $75 from an out-of-state law firm to avoid being served with a civil suit.

I called Jarett Chytka, manager of K-Mart, and he told me that corporations are entitled by federal law to enact a civil demand ranging from $50 to $500.

This demand is intended to repay the store for the security guards, damaged property, lawyers’ fees, damaged packaging, etc.

Sears also has this policy.

Chytka added that if adults are caught shoplifting, they have to pay the fine, and will most likely be added to a national Web site listing adult shoplifters. He said that most stores are using it now.

Claire Ueno from the Kaua’i Police Department said to be considered “an adult” in Hawai‘i, you must be 18.

Some of the Victim Impact class curricula teach respondents that victims are affected physically, emotionally, physically or financially, which is concrete enough for most of them to understand.

Video clips shown in the class present an instance in which a man’s car was stolen.

Despite having car insurance, he had a large deductible expenses to pay, and it took a very long time before he was given any money for compensation.

He was moving, so he had irreplaceable items that were lost. He needed his car for work, and had to walk eight miles to and from work. He became angry, discouraged and depressed. He almost lost his job.

As part of the reflection process, in some courts, and the 5th Circuit of Kaua’i is one of them, victims may be asked to write a Victim Impact Statement (VIS).

Victims of crime and their families have the right to participate and to be heard in the criminal justice system through the use of the VIS.

A VIS provides the victim with an opportunity to address the court prior to sentencing.

This opportunity also allows victims to personalize the crime and express the impact it has had on them and their families. This process may also aid victims in their emotional recovery. It can be written or orally submitted.

It includes a brief summary of the harm or trauma suffered as a result of the offense, including the emotional, physical, psychological and financial damage. It also includes what sentencing outcome the victim would like, and reasons to support this opinion.

Teen Court respondents have to write a VIS from their victim’s point of view. We also discuss that they were indeed victims of their own offense, because in more than 90 percent of the cases, they didn’t get what they wanted as a result from their actions — they got a whole lot more than they wanted.

We also learn that empathy is imagining how another person would feel if something were to happen to him or her.

It’s putting oneself in another person’s place. It’s one of those tasks of adolescents that they need some coaching on. They’ll often be very understanding if they stop long enough to consider how another would feel. It is a sign of maturity to be able to consider other people’s feelings as well as one’s own.

We sum it up as, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

• Annaleah Atkinson is the Teen Court manager for Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i. She can be reached at aatkinson@haleopio.org, or Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i Inc., 2959 Umi St., Lihu‘e, HI 96766.

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