Justice for Victims of Crime Clinic: Challenging Notions of Victimhood
Our newest clinic is the Justice for Victims of Crime Clinic, which addresses the unmet legal needs of survivors of crime in Baltimore. Led by Prof. Lila Meadows and in collaboration with the Victims of Crime Act-funded Rebuild, Overcome and Rise (ROAR) Center at the University of Maryland Baltimore, the clinic invites students to confront deep-seeded societal beliefs about who is entitled to claim victimhood by advocating for the entitlement of all crime victims to statutory and civil remedies. Students dig deeper into the reasons underlying the disparate treatment of certain victims, and work to eliminate those disparities through direct representation and systemic advocacy.
Crime victims in Baltimore City are among the least likely to seek or obtain statutory remedies through the state Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (CICB) or through the courts. The clinic is building on the interdisciplinary work of the ROAR Center, which this summer conducted a survey of crime victims in Baltimore City and found that many were not receiving compensation through the CICB because they failed to apply or, when they did apply, failed to be viewed as victims worthy of compensation. The CICB statute bars any victim who “contributed to the crime” from compensation, and the Board has interpreted this provision broadly to bar many victims from recovery. As a result, many crime victims are denied the CICB funds that could cover medical expenses, lost wages, lost earning potential, and other expenses resulting from the crime. According to Meadows, “this makes it so difficult for these victims, which in Baltimore City are mostly young Black men, to move forward.”
This semester, students are laying the groundwork for a legislative effort to amend the CICB by uncovering the barriers to recovery and advocating for a less restrictive view of what it means to be a victim in society and under the law.
Clinic students are also grappling with how to remove barriers to recovery through the civil and criminal legal systems, where judges, prosecutors, and juries have long exhibited bias against victims who are not perceived to have clean hands. Clinic students are representing clients to obtain redress in a broad range of matters related to their victimization, such as breach of fiduciary duty and conversion claims; obtaining a T-VISA for a trafficking victim while also advocating for her in the foster care system; expunging the record of a gunshot wound victim; advocating for a juvenile lifer currently being victimized in prison; and seeking criminal prosecution on behalf of an undocumented minor who had been sexually assaulted by a family member. In many of these cases, though the evidence and legal claims are very clear, students face an uphill battle to show that their clients are deserving of redress.
Working with clients who have been both perpetrators and victims has been nothing less than transformative for Meadows’ students. Despite the difficulties of virtual law practice during COVID, Meadows recognizes that “there is no substitution for personal contact with clients who break stereotypes of how you think about victims and perpetrators.” These individual cases have created the foundation for much deeper discussions about cycles of victimization in our society, our shared humanity, and who is deserving of justice. Emily Snydman ’22 credits the clinic with helping her see victims of crime through a lens of intersectionality, and now understands that beyond their specific legal claims, “the needs of victims of crime are simple: the desire to be seen, respected, and understood.” She has built trust with clinic clients through client-centered lawyering and says that has “been inspired by my clients’ ability to trust me as their attorney and disclose information to me in order to obtain favorable legal outcomes.”
In the post-COVID future, Meadows plans for a robust collaboration between the School of Law, ROAR and the University of Maryland Medical Center to comprehensively support victims of violence from the outset of victimization. As Meadows envisions it, a person seeking treatment for a gunshot wound would receive medical care at the Medical Center and almost immediately be referred to the clinic for legal assistance and to ROAR for other services. By attacking this problem early on and from multiple angles, Prof. Meadows and her students hope to challenge the inequitable distribution of victim resources and create meaningful opportunities for recovery for Baltimore City’s victims.