Think Justice Blog

Beyond Innocence

Our media, our culture, and even some of our statutes continually reinforce the idea that in order to be deserving of care, a victim of crime has to be innocent. This idea of “innocence” excludes a wide range of people from services and limits the options and resources available to people who survive serious harm. But the pervasiveness of this framing does not reflect the thinking of victim service providers, many of whom understand deeply the ways this narrative can be harmful to the victims they serve and to their ability to provide services effectively. In this series, they explore the limitations posed by existing frameworks and point to ways forward that better uphold the values of equity, public safety, and human dignity.

All Posts

  • Liz Roberts
    Liz Roberts
October 08, 2015

Series: Beyond Innocence

The unattainable innocent victim standard as a barrier to justice for survivors of domestic violence

In domestic violence training, we sometimes ask participants what makes a “good victim.” I’ve led this exercise dozens of times, with many different audiences—from doctors to high school students. The responses are strikingly consistent. “Good victims” have ne ...

  • Rommell Washington
    Rommell Washington
October 05, 2015

Series: Beyond Innocence

The long shadow of the innocence frame

In 1978, I landed a job as a community organizer for the Florida Clearinghouse on Criminal Justice. I was fresh out of school, with an MSW in tow. My job was part of a larger organization, Southern Coalition on Prisons and Jails, which had similar organization ...

  • Shameeka  Mattis
    Shameeka Mattis
October 01, 2015

Series: Beyond Innocence

Denying victim services to young men of color only adds to their pain

When children are harmed or killed, it kicks us in the gut with a steel-toed boot. “How could someone hurt an innocent child?” we ask. But another important question is whether that empathy would still be extended if the victim was 12 or 22, suspended from sch ...

  • Catherine Shugrue dos Santos
  • Chanel Lopez
September 21, 2015

Series: Beyond Innocence

Trans and gender non-conforming people of color need us to do more

K.C. Haggard, a transgender woman, was stabbed to death in Fresno, California in late July in front of multiple people who did nothing to help her. K.C.’s was the eleventh homicide of a transgender or gender non-confirming (TGNC) person reported in 2015 by the ...

  • Kenton Kirby
September 13, 2015

Series: Beyond Innocence

"Guilty victims" have suffered too, and deserve our care

I learned this summer that New York families devastated by homicide are eligible to have the burial costs for their loved one paid for by victim services, but only if the deceased was an “innocent victim.” This means that if a victim were involved in illegal a ...

  • Amy Judy
    Amy Judy
September 09, 2015

Series: Beyond Innocence

"Innocent victimhood" means justice denied for victims with disabilities

Crime victims with disabilities—who routinely face significant access-related barriers to justice—experience additional and unique obstacles when an unrealistic standard of “innocent victimhood” is applied. The myth that there are expectations of what victims ...

  • Kate D'Adamo
September 02, 2015

Series: Beyond Innocence

Preconceived notions of "innocence" are a disservice to trafficking victims

When speaking about human trafficking to audiences, I often ask them to describe their idea of a victim. I regularly hear the same tropes that dominate media and popular dialogue: cisgendered women (those who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth) ...