Donna Pollard dares to believe in a world where young girls can be free from abuse and exploitation. A native of Kentucky -- a state burdened with thousands of cases of abuse and a history of child marriage -- she is leading the charge for change. Donna successfully advocated for improved legislation in her home state that put an end to child marriage through parental consent and continues to advocate for this protective change both nationally and internationally She most recently traveled to Finland as the keynote speaker for the Zonta International Centennial Conference, shedding light on the devastating implications of child marriage. As a survivor herself, Donna realizes the need for healing, support, and empowerment for past victims. She has founded Survivors’ Corner, a non-profit that encourages those ready to share their survival experiences. Her journey through the trauma of child marriage and exploitation can also be accessed through the A&E Documentary, "I Was a Child Bride," interviews and articles in Good Housekeeping, Glamour, NPR, Stateline, Fox News, US News and World Report, PBS, CBS News, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, and the Louisville Courier-Journal, among many other and international outlets, such as The Guardian and Daily Mail. She is a frequent panelist, speaker, and trainer, and has given numerous keynote speeches as well as testimony before legislative committees. Donna is a mother of two girls, a business professional, and an avid advocate for child welfare.
As someone who works with survivors, how do you believe Marsy’s Law will help current victims and survivors of crime?
From the moment a crime occurs, the perpetrator paradoxically becomes the one granted rights of due process and appointment of an attorney (pro-bono in the cases of financial restriction,) leaving victims often in the dark about their rights and their ability to participate in public proceedings of the criminal justice process. Marsy’s Law provides meaningful constitutional rights to the victim that are equal to that of the perpetrator and clear notification of these rights to minimize confusion and knowledge disparity related to navigating these proceedings. Though this doesn’t erase the trauma from victimization, it does promote validation and acknowledgment of the importance of including survivors’ voices in the pursuit of justice.
In discussing the criminal justice system with victims and survivors, what have you found to be common themes/frustrations for those navigating the system?
Many survivors we work with are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and victimization exasperates this cycle. The mental health implications of the trauma suffered as a result of the victimization impact all aspects of the survivor’s life, including employment retention and work performance. Having one’s voice muted by inaccessibility to participation in the criminal justice process – including a lack of notification of hearings – further traumatizes the victim, extending the long-term implications of victimization. Two of the most common phrases we hear at Survivors’ Corner in our day to day interactions with survivors are: “I just want to feel seen” and “I want to use this to help/protect other people." Validating the experience of the survivor through inclusion in the prosecution process of the offender not only helps their own healing but creates an opportunity for their voices to be elevated to make our communities safer overall.
Which component of Marsy’s Law for Kentucky stands out most to you and why?
Violent crimes impact not only the direct victim but often the entire family unit. The constitutional rights that are extended to family members of the victim under Marsy’s Law are critical for dealing with overwhelming grief and healing direct and secondary trauma. Imagine not only losing a child, spouse, or other relatives, but also not being able to advocate on their behalf to bring the offender to justice – Marsy’s Law addresses this current barrier.
Why are constitutional rights necessary as opposed to current statutes dedicated to crime victims’ rights?
Implementing constitutional rights for crime victims is necessary to strengthen and ensure permanence and enforceability of victims’ rights. As opposed to statutes, which may more easily be modified by the legislature, constitutional rights provide a solid framework for ensuring equality and equity between offenders and victims in navigating the criminal justice process.