The Baker Family
Kristin Baker's daughters, Eva and Emily, were sexually assaulted as children by their paternal grandfather who is currently being considered for parole. Along with her daughters, Kristin is fighting his release after he has served only nine years of a twenty-two-year sentence.
What would you say is the toughest obstacle currently for victims of crime navigating the justice system in the state of Idaho?
My former husband’s father sexually assaulted my daughters when they were between the ages of 8 and 12. He groomed them for years by having them stay at his house for sleepovers, buying them gifts, and taking them on expensive trips. As soon as my daughters told me what was happening to them, I took action and got them away from their grandfather. We then began the difficult process of negotiating the criminal justice system, where we had great experiences and hellish experiences. In the end, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the crimes he committed against my girls. He has served 9 of those 22 years and is currently up for parole. As a family, we believe that the toughest obstacles victims of crime face are having their voices heard, being taken seriously when they finally get the courage to tell others what they have experienced and having clear and timely communication from criminal justice professionals so they feel less scared.
How have your individual experiences, as well as those as a family, shaped your understanding of the importance of victims’ rights?
What our experiences taught us is that if there are no victims’ rights, there is nopoint in speaking up. When victims are heard and believed, the process of criminal justice is empowering. When they are not heard and not believed, the sense of shame most victims feel because of what happened to them is reinforced and they feel like they are the ones that did something wrong.
Marsy’s Law for Idaho would give a greater voice to victims of crime and their families in the justice system. How important is the voice of a crime victim to their healing process?
A victims’ voice being heard is paramount to healing. Almost nothing is worse when a victim speaks out and is then told that they are lying or that what happened to them was their fault. My girls have been shamed for speaking out. They have been called “spoiled brats” for reporting the crimes their “loving grandfather” committed against them. I’ve been told that, as their mother, I “had to have known what was happening” to my girls and “let it go on.” Comments like these prolong the healing process at best and arrest it completely at worst.
Victim notification can be an important tool for promoting the safety of crime victims in the aftermath of a crime, as well as keeping them informed of trial proceedings. What is the one thing you would change regarding notification procedures for crime victims in Idaho?
We would make certain that every victim of crime was notified for every trial proceeding in any crime that has affected them. Victims should have a right to speak, as Eva, Emily, and I just did at a recent parole hearing. If Eva hadn’t followed our case so closely, we wouldn’t have known it was coming up. She was told by someone working in the criminal system that they had no plans to automatically inform us of any changes in his case, including being released or considered for parole. She was told that it was her job to be proactive in finding out this information. A victim shouldn’t have to track down this information, since the system can be difficult to navigate, especially for those who are still trying to recover from trauma. Information should be provided to victims in a timely manner so they can choose if and how they participate.
What would you tell someone who has never heard or thought of victims needing rights after your experiences during your trial?
We want others to know that they can make a real difference in getting victims the rights they need. Believe a victim who speaks up, and speak out on their behalf. I’ve seen it in my girls’ faces when someone says “I believe you.” I can actually see the healing happening. We all have to step up and protect one another. The primary motivation my girls and I had in speaking up at the parole hearing was protecting the two young children that are currently living in the perpetrator’s house, children he would have access to if he were paroled. We all have a responsibility to look out for one another. Doing so is empowering and simply is the right thing to do. Victims’ rights shouldn’t be in question. Such rights should be a given. We all have to keep thinking about this and speaking out until that is our reality in Idaho and in this country.
As a family, what helps to provide strength as you continue to navigate through the justice system?
What has provided our family the most strength as we have been involved in this case is looking out for one another. The perpetrator in this case wanted to rip our family apart. I remember how he used to try to drive a wedge between me and my girls, long before I learned about the violence. I was going to writers’ groups at the time and he used to tell my girls that it was a waste of time, a useless pipe dream, that I only cared about my own selfish goals and he was the only person who truly cared about them. Instead, we have used the trauma we experienced because of him to grow closer. We are all so protective of each other. Nothing makes me more proud than when I see my kids rallying the wagons to protect and defend each other whenever someone is unkind to one of us. We also celebrate one another’s courage and success, as we just did after speaking at the parole hearing or when I published my first novel! It was very liberating to stand up to him and prove him wrong—he couldn’t tear us apart or destroy our dreams. My girls have also used their strengths—learned through trauma—to mentor and uplift other young victims of abuse.