Five years ago, when my two-year-old son Amari was murdered, my employer gave me just five days off.
A week later, I was still emotionally devastated, but I returned to work because I couldn’t afford to lose my job.
When we talk about victims of crime, we often overlook how survivors can be traumatized not only by the incident itself but also by what comes next.
This is why I and other Florida crime survivors are calling upon state leaders to give victims more support — including a reasonable period of time off — following a criminal or violent incident.
In my case, shortly after I returned to work, a lost child close to my son’s age ran to me and grabbed my legs, calling “Mommy, mommy!” I returned the boy to his mother, but I subsequently experienced an emotional breakdown that forced me to stop working altogether.
It was the darkest period of my life, filled with suffering that no human being should ever endure.
Had I been given the opportunity to take the leave I needed to bury my son and grieve, I know I could have returned to my job full time.
Sadly, many other Floridians have been placed in the same terrible situation as I was: traumatized by crime and retraumatized because they were not granted an appropriate period of unpaid leave after the fact.
Studies show that survivors of crime or violence often need to take a short break from working in the wake of their victimization. In some cases, they may fear for their personal safety and need to plan ways to avoid experiencing additional harm. In other cases, they may need to care — or grieve — for themselves or a loved one who has been harmed or killed.
When I lost my little boy, I badly needed to grieve and care for myself. Yet, an indifferent employment policy gave me hardly enough time off even to plan Amari’s funeral.
Our network of 5,000 Florida survivors, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, firmly believes that state policy should provide up to 30 days of leave for those who need to access services, or take measures to ensure their safety, or grieve the loss of a loved one as the result of crime or violence.
Locally, there needs to be more investment in effective responses to the post-pandemic increases in violence in our community, by dedicating a fraction of the $7.3 billion in federal funds that local governments are getting to tackle pandemic-related crises under the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) to support more violence prevention and victim’s services.
Jacksonville, where I live, for example, is getting over $163 million in ARP funds from the federal government. Some of those funds should be used to prioritize violence prevention and intervention, victim support and trauma recovery that will make our communities safer and more stable.
But more can be done.
Crime victims like me, seeking more effective approaches to public safety, are urging state and local lawmakers to prioritize victim-supported criminal justice policies and support the newly released National Crime Victims Agenda.
Victims of the worst scenarios imaginable should not have to choose between keeping their job, and their mental and physical health. Survivors of all types of violent crime in Florida should be granted a reasonable amount of time off to grieve, heal and provide care.
No one should have to go through what I did.
Nakesa Barnhill lives in Jacksonville and is a member of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a network of 46,000 crime victims nationally, with 5,000 members in Florida.