Victims' Rights, Law Enforcement Work, and Victims' Experiences

Sarah Goodrum, University of Kentucky

Despite the implementation of victims' rights legislation across the United States, many victims remain dissatisfied with the criminal justice system, and some evidence suggests that victims who work with the system have higher levels of depression and anxiety than victims who do not. This paper examines victims' experiences with law enforcement, and the focus is on a particular group of victims, people who have lost a loved one to murder ("bereaved"). The data for the study come from in-depth interviews with 32 bereaved whose loved ones were murdered between 1994 and 1999 in Center County (pseudonym). In-depth interviews with 7 Center County law enforcement professionals and a participant observation of 6 murder cases in the Center County criminal justice system supplement the bereaved interview data. The findings reveal the hierarchical nature of the law enforcement-bereaved relationship and the obstacles and easements that law enforcement presents to bereaved following their victimization. Some of these obstacles emerge when law enforcement detectives: confiscate the deceased's corpse for autopsy, control information about the status of the investigation, and refrain from offering sympathy to bereaved (to maintain authority over and emotional distance from bereaved).

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Updated 05/20/2006