Nakesa Barnhill: Crime survivors deserve better support in Florida

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Five years ago, when my two-year-old son Amari was murdered, I thought my life was over. Shortly afterward, I returned to work – still emotionally devastated, but unable to afford to lose my job. 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 hurt my ability to effectively work at my job. It was the darkest period of my life, filled with suffering that no human being should ever endure.

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.

When we talk about victims of crime, we often overlook those who lose family members to violence. This includes the parents, siblings, and children of individuals who die as a result of crime or violence. The loss of a loved one in this way is traumatic enough. But in the fog of grief that follows such tragedies, people often lack time to make funeral and burial arrangements.

If survivors like me are given the opportunity to bury their loved ones and grieve, they have a better chance of getting back to their job and being ready to work. Sadly, many Floridians have been placed in a terrible situation: traumatized by crime and retraumatized because they were not able to complete burial and funeral arrangements as well as they would have liked and juggle work at the same time.

That’s why I support HB 949 and SB 1306 – legislation that would grant the immediate family of homicide victims three days of unpaid leave to make final arrangements for the person they have lost, secure other family members’ safety and meet with law enforcement.

In 2007, Florida passed legislation allowing victims of domestic violence three days of unpaid leave to address logistics like relocating to a safer home or working with law enforcement to secure orders of protection. It makes sense to extend the same accommodations to survivors who are dealing with the traumatizing aftermath of a homicide.

Studies show that people who have experienced crime or violence often need to take a short break from work 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.

I am one of nearly 8,000 Florida crime survivors who are advocating for the needs of crime victims through a national organization called Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. We support this legislation because it recognizes the reality that we, and people like us, have experienced. By creating space to help crime victims meet their immediate family needs, it also creates an opportunity for healing, which helps to interrupt cycles of violence that have impacted far too many.

It is not enough for the criminal justice system to hold people accountable for the crimes they have committed. Florida must also expand the ways it works to keep its residents secure.

Helping crime survivors meet their immediate, practical needs following the loss of a loved one to violence is a first step toward creating that greater sense of safety. Providing families of homicide victims three days to bury their loved ones without fear of losing their job is the least that we can do to provide a greater sense of security—not only for them, but for us all.

Please join me in asking Sen. Ed Hooper and Rep. Bob Rommel to allow these bills to be heard in committee.

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Nakesa Barnhill lives in Jacksonville and is a member of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a network of 70,000 crime victims nationally, with 8,000 members in Florida.

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