What About the Victim?
Learning about the criminal justice system process often leads to the question, “What about the victim’s role here?” Our criminal justice system is grounded in robust protections for those accused of crimes, the defendants. As explained in the following pages, victims of crimes are not parties to the criminal case.
Party: Persons who are directly interested in the subject-matter in issue, who have a right to make a defense, control the proceedings, or appeal from the judgment.1
In general, only the government (represented by the prosecutor) and the person(s) accused of the crime (defendant, usually represented by a defense attorney) are parties to the criminal case. The prosecutor is not the victim’s lawyer. Victims are only witnesses and thus have no control over the proceedings. This fact in itself can sometimes be disconcerting to sexual assault victims as this aspect of the process can make a victim feel like an outsider to their own victimization and trauma. Victim advocates with an accurate understanding of the criminal justice system can help ensure that victims' voices are heard throughout the process. The fact that crime victims are not parties to a criminal case does not mean that victims have no rights at all during the process. The rights of crime victims within the criminal justice process will be explored in Module 3.