Guest commentary Crime victims deserve equal rights

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Magdalena Kozikowska

EDITOR'S NOTE: Magdalena Kozikowska of Beloit is a sex assault survivor, working with a statewide group advocating for victims' rights. Normally, the Beloit Daily News does not publish the names of sex assault victims, but Ms. Kozikowska is identifying herself to help promote her cause. Her story is told in front page articles today. - WRB

By Magdalena Kozikowska

I have always been a strong woman, standing firm on my own two feet. Unfortunately for me, I was sexually assaulted twice in the last 10 years, experiences that tested my strength - but never took it away.

Both times I took the initiative to report it, regardless of the obstacles and stereotypes I'd have to face. Both times, I encountered a justice system that left me feeling afraid and in danger. And both times, I became living proof of why we need equal rights for victims of crime in our state, to give more people the strength to stand up and help stop violence and abuse in our communities.

THERE is an effort in our state to provide these rights called Marsy's Law for Wisconsin, which would provide equal rights to crime victims by updating our state Constitution. I've decided to tell my story of survival because I'm living proof of why we need to fight for these rights.

The first time I was assaulted, my attacker was arrested on two counts of sexual assault and false imprisonment. When it came to this case it was all new to me. I didn't know what to expect, how to fight for my rights, or how to make sure my voice gets heard. Even with all the evidence, my attacker was given a plea bargain resulting in nine months in Huber. Everything was done so quickly I felt confused and assaulted by the system.

Nine months passed, and he was a free to taunt me in public places - at my job, even driving by my house. I had to fight for a restraining order against a man who should have been in prison, and even then he only had to stay 50 feet away.

EIGHT years went by, during which time I fought hard to regain my sense of security. Things were going good until Nov 17, 2015 when I was sexually assaulted and nearly killed by someone I trusted.

My original reaction was, "I'm not going through this again! The system failed me before, my voice didn't matter then, why would it now?"

I was so angry because I knew once I reported it I'd have to deal with the system, but I promised myself this time, "I am not going to bend." I would fight for my rights and my voice to be heard. After a few hours of contemplating what to do, I decided to report it.

I soon learned he was a serial rapist and I was his last victim. That fueled me enough to fight for my rights as a human being. For two years it was a constant back and forth as the authorities investigated and worked to hold my attacker accountable - including a struggle to ensure that he could be convicted as a habitual offender.

I HAD the opportunity to address the court and read my victim statement to the judge and describe the impact this man's actions had on my life. On this day I felt my voice was only thing that mattered in this case and I had to make it count.

After I spoke to the court the judge was fair and took everything I said into consideration, sentencing my attacker to 12 years in prison. And so, on May 24, 2017 I got my life back.

The fight was definitely worth it, and most of all so empowering to me. But it was challenging and terrifying, and I later had to work through the difficult process of getting compensation after missing work because of the trauma.

My life would have been different under Marsy's Law for Wisconsin, which would provide rights like being able to speak up at several crucial points in the legal process, not just disposition, to ensure a victims' voice is heard and they can stand up for their safety at times like bail. And it would make sure all victims' rights - respect, privacy, freedom from unreasonable delay - wouldn't be automatically overruled by those of their attacker in court.

WITH this law, my first attacker might have faced true justice, and my second might not have been able to put me through a two-year painful court battle. Maybe both of them would have been stopped sooner.

Reporting a rape is the only way to get your life back. Marsy's Law for Wisconsin is the only way to ensure victims have equal rights when they take that step. Please, call your state lawmakers and ask them to support Marsy's Law for Wisconsin.

Magdalena Kozikowska lives in Beloit.

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