Purposing and Repurposing Harms: The Victim Impact Statement and Sexual Assault
Qualitative Health Research 2013, 23(11) 1445–1458 DOI: 10.1177/1049732313507753
14 Pages Posted: 8 May 2013 Last revised: 14 Oct 2014
Date Written: 2013
The purpose of the victim impact statement (VIS) is to inform judges of victims’ crime related physical, psychological and financial harms. Findings from interviews with Canadian sexual assault victims, advocates, victim services workers, and prosecutors (N=37) demonstrated harm descriptions were manipulated by victims and others in keeping with, and contrary to, VIS design. Victims and prosecutors purposed the VIS to inform court outcomes through harms claims, and struggles over those claims. The repurposing of harms claims occurred through practices of strategic disclosure, intended to effect changes in others’ behaviors, and harm peddling, the circulation of the VIS in nonsentencing arenas. Victims, adversaries and criminal justice professionals engaged in harm peddling to obtain compensation, child custody and parole delay. Implications of purposing and repurposing harms claims included novel opportunities and legal pitfalls for victims, varied responses by judges, and an expansion of social control over victims and offenders.
Keywords: victim impact statement, sexual assault, Canada, harms, sentencing, parole, family court
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