Most people don’t want to see the things we’ve seen. Most people don’t want to hear the stories we’ve heard. And most people don’t want to talk about the things we talk about. Not to 12 strangers in a jury box and certainly not with a terrified kindergartener or the bruised and broken mother of three who must steel themselves to finally face their abuser in an intimidating courtroom.
But we are prosecutors. And this is our job. It’s our job to meet people on their worst days, listen to their worst stories and be their champion as they seek justice. And while we can’t fix what happened to these victims of crime, we have committed our careers to not making it worse. We have committed our lives to walking beside them in an attempt to hold their abusers accountable and then allow them to walk away from us as survivors.
We are elected district attorneys. In fact, we are eight of the only nine female district attorneys from across our state. Together, we have personally handled innumerable cases of unspeakable violence against some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. Together we have over 120 years of prosecutorial experience, meeting often with women and children who bear both the visible and the invisible scars of horrific domestic violence and appalling physical and sexual child abuse. Together we have held countless hands and reassured countless victims that they were believed, they were not at fault and they deserved justice. And together we understand the important role the voter-passed mandatory minimum sentencing law Measure 11 plays in giving these victims safety, security, certainty and trust in our criminal justice system. By providing minimum sentencing for the most physically and sexually violent felony crimes, we know Measure 11 provides survivors with the time and space they need to move on from their victimization without the threat of their abuser in their lives.
As our Legislature contemplates the full repeal of this crucial safeguard for victims, we feel it is important the public understands that such actions would make our communities less safe. Repealing Measure 11 will result in significantly shorter sentences for those who prey upon our children and assault our neighbors. Repealing Measure 11 promises less certainty in those sentences as they can be further cut by more than 40%, undermining any faith or confidence victims may have placed in the system. Repealing Measure 11 will only encourage less reporting by victims of intimate and family violence. The rigors of navigating the criminal legal process is deterrent enough. Victims who have no guarantee of fairness and no hope for a reliable sentence will only have increased reasons to continue to suffer in silence. Our criminal justice system can always get better. And while we support smart, responsible policies that can make the process more equitable and fair for all, repealing Measure 11 does not do that. And the victims we serve deserve better.
While the Legislature debates this issue, we ask our communities who care about their public safety, and especially that of women and children, to weigh in with your opinion. We should not return to the days when a rapist would merely receive a probationary slap on the wrist or the man who nearly killed his wife would be simply admonished to “walk away next time she pushes your buttons.” Call your legislator. Send an email. Write a letter. Check in with them on social media.
In the meantime, we will continue to hear the stories nobody wants to hear and fight for justice for victims of these crimes. We will continue to be there on the worst days of people’s lives. Because we are women who are built for this work. We are prosecutors. And it’s our job.
Paige Clarkson, Marion County district attorney and Oregon District Attorney’s Association president
Lanee Danforth, Lincoln County district attorney
Rebecca Frolander, Wallowa County district attorney
Beth Heckert, Jackson County district attorney
Gretchen Ladd, Wheeler County district attorney
Kelsie McDaniel, Union County district attorney
Patty Perlow, Lane County district attorney
Carrie Rasmussen, Hood River County district attorney