Victim Impact Statement
A. What is the purpose of the Victim Impact Statement (VIS)?
A Victim Impact Statement is an opportunity to express to the court and the offender the effect the crime has had on you. A VIS can be written or presented orally after conviction and before sentencing. It does not replace court testimony but serves the purpose of giving victims a sense of control over the outcome. NPA studies have found that victims often felt like outsiders to the court process, a VIS allows victims to be acknowledged and be a part of court proceedings.
B. Who gets to see or hear your Victim Impact Statement (VIS)?
Should you wish to write a VIS, or address the Court, inform the investigating officer or prosecutor. Your written statement is handed to the court and becomes part of the court record. In the same way, your address to the court is transcribed by the court stenographer.
C. Who can assist you in writing the statement?
Writing a VIS or reading one in front of the court in the presence of can be intimidating. For this reason, even if you get help with writing it down, your VIS should be written in your own voice (the way you write and talk), doing this will make it less stressful when you stand up in front of the court to speak.
You can write your own VIS or get assistance from an organization like SAPS Victim Empowerment Programme.
D. How do I write a victim impact statement?
Any information you believe relevant should be included.
In a sense a VIS is similar to an affidavit, so you can include your name and ID number if you are comfortable doing so.
It is important to remember that you will be speaking, or the judge will be reading, the VIS ahead of sentencing so it is important that you speak about the full effects of the crime including financial, social, emotional, psychological, and physical harm done or suffered by you or your family.
If the crime has resulted in a death, write about the emotional effects of the loss on you and your family. You may also want to write about the loved one who was killed. In that instance, explain who that person was to you, the life they led, your relationship, and how your life has now changed. A written VIS gives you an opportunity to submit a photograph of your loved one and it becomes part of the record of the trial.
If you were injured, describe the injuries and how they have affected your life and your relationships with family and friends. Describe how your lifestyle has been affected – for example: are you unable to walk or stand for long periods or are you scared of going out.
The intent of a VIS is to help the court understand how being a victim of crime has affected you. So, feel free to include the economic cost of the crime, including medical expenses or lost income and even the cost of replacing lost or damaged property.
There are no formal rules on the form a VIS must take. Some victims simply want a photograph of a deceased victim included with the court record.
There are however guidelines on what not to include. Avoid a detailed description of the crime. In finding the accused guilty the court has ruled on the presented details of the crime, your memory may differ, even slightly, creating an alternate version.
Avoid offensive language and abuse or vilify the offender. Remembering a crime is an emotional exercise, but be considered when writing the VIS. It is also not advisable to comment on the police or justice system or share an opinion on the sentence the court should impose.
Finally. It is important that your VIS is accurate where you state facts especially. You might be asked questions stemming from your statement by the Presiding Officer or the offender’s lawyer.
Assisting Children and Youth to Complete a Victim Impact Statement
Younger victims very often require assistance when compiling their VIS. Someone the young victim trusts, or a trained social worker can assist. It is important that the VIS expresses their experience of the effects of the crime. Leading or coaching young victims is not permitted.
As with an adult’s VIS, a young victim should not deal with the merits of the case. The child should still tell the Judge or Magistrate in their own words on paper how they feel about what has happened to them. The purpose of the VIS is to explain how the child feels (emotionally and psychologically) about what has happened to her/him. It also explains how their life has been affected by what has happened such as change of school, going to hospital, change of friends, how she/he feels about her/ his caregivers, etc.
Young victims, who want to address the court, but still fear the offender are permitted to address the court from a remote location (often in a room in the courthouse but separate from the trial court) and accompanied by a social worker or medical professional.