Marsy’s Law PA holds presentation on campus safety

Cabrini Rudnicki, Co-News Editor

Marsy’s Law PA held a tele-townhall on Sept. 21 for National Campus Safety Awareness Month.

The event was a call-in press conference for college journalists.

Two speakers, Jennifer Storm and Jennifer Riley, spoke about the importance of Marsy’s Law and its relationship to National Campus Safety Awareness month.

Marsy’s Law PA hopes to elevate victims’ rights to the state constitution. After creating the law in 2008 in California, efforts were spread to other states including Kentucky, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Idaho, Oklahoma, Maine and Pennsylvania.

“While criminals have more than 20 individual rights spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, the surviving members of murder victims have none,” says the Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania website.

Jennifer Storm, the Commonwealth Victim Advocate, works to represent the rights of crime victims before the Board of Probation and Parole as well as the Department of Corrections.

“What most people don’t realize is that when [criminals] become incarcerated, the victim still has a lot of rights that they are required to receive and afforded to receive by law,” explained Storm.

“What’s so amazing about Marsy’s Law is that it is going to take the rights of those victims and codifying them in the Constitution, which for us is just going to strengthen those rights and make sure all victims understand and appreciate the ability to engage those rights.”

Jennifer Riley, Director of Marsy’s Law for PA, spoke about the importance of National Campus Safety Month.

“From a Marsy’s Law perspective, every time someone is assaulted, that is a crime, and that is when Marsy’s Law comes in.”

Marsy’s Law organizations hope to eventually extend the law to federal jurisdiction.

“Here in Pennsylvania, we are one-third away from changing our Constitution,” she said. “We need to pass the next legislative session.”

The constitutional amendment was voted on unanimously in June by the state House and Senate. The next legislative session begins in January 2019.

In November of 2019, if the law passes the next two legislative session, the law will be on the Pennsylvania state ballot for voters to vote on.

“Similar to the Miranda Rights, a victim of crime is given their rights as well by law enforcement,” said Storm. “You have the right to be notified on everything happening in this case, you have the right to know if/when your accused are arrested, incarcerated, make bail. You have the right to be at any court events.”

Also included is the right to a victim advocate, or as Storm puts it, “the right to not be alone.”

“[Victim advocates] are there as navigators, to answer questions, and to explain the confusing jargon that happens in court cases.”

The speakers then went into analyzing campus safety. 

“You think back when you are growing up and you are told don’t talk to strangers, but then you are thrust into a college environment and it’s all you do because you want to make friends,” explained Riley “That’s one of the reasons the first six weeks are called the red zone, because you are surrounded by people you don’t know. This is the first time you are living on your own, and you may forget to lock your door.”

“The other factor that really impacts the college environment is alcohol,” continued Storm. “Most college freshmen are only 18, so they are not of age to drink in Pennsylvania, but that doesn’t mean alcohol is not available to them.”

Sergeant Edwin Weidow, of Wilkes University Campus Public Safety, explained specific tips for Wilkes.

“Being aware of your surroundings is the most important thing,” he explained. “Walk in pairs or in a group, especially later at night.”

Public Safety is putting together campus-wide Safe Training, a situational awareness class. Contact [email protected] for more information.