NYC221 cover image See all stories from issue #221, May/June 2010

A Victim’s Story
Catherine Cosmo

A few months ago, I became engaged in a petty Facebook argument with Sara (not her real name), a friend of a friend. I’d never met Sara, but the way she insulted and threatened me online showed she was volatile and extremely immature. In fact, she sounded criminally insane. By the time the argument was over, she’d made it quite clear that we were enemies.

Two months later, I went to a friend’s party and Sara happened to be there. When she saw me, she lunged at me and started ripping the hair out of my head. We wrestled around the room for a few minutes as I tried to keep her off of me. But when someone got between us, Sara saw her chance and kicked me in the face.

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Instantly, my eye went blood red and the area around it began to swell and bruise. I felt nauseous and dizzy. I was shocked by this display of viciousness; I never thought something like that would actually happen to me. I left the party as quickly as I could.

The next day, my mom took me to the hospital where I was told I had four facial fractures (two on my eye socket, one on my cheekbone, and one on my nose) and several scratches and abrasions on my right eye. I was given antibiotics to prevent infection and painkillers for the discomfort.

Never Been Caught

The hospital said it was mandatory to file a police report since I was assaulted, but even if it hadn’t been, my mom and I still would’ve done so. We went to a precinct in Long Island City where I gladly offered all the information I knew and pledged to work on finding out anything else I could. In return, the police assured me that if they found Sara, who was 19, she would be held accountable for her actions as an adult. “That girl will be locked up. Nobody deserves to be treated like you were,” said the officer who took the information from me.

The detective’s reassurance was music to my ears. I felt completely disgusted knowing that Sara was miles away, probably glowing with pride. I was hurt, bruised, and ugly because of her and I wanted her to suffer behind rusty steel bars.

image by Daniela Castillo

I knew this wasn’t the only time Sara had attacked. After my first encounter with her on Facebook, my friends informed me that she’d engaged in many fights, used stolen credit cards, taken phones and money, and broken into a house and stolen the liquor in it. She’d never been caught for any of this. Since she’d used a fake last name for years, only her closest friends and family know her real one. After she injured me, the friends we had in common either didn’t know her name or weren’t willing to reveal it.

Her efforts to stay incognito apparently make it nearly impossible to track her down: Once in a while, the detective calls me with a question or a phone number request, but they’re still trying to find her. I’m not sure whether to be hopeful, but it’s out of my hands at this point so all I can do is wait.

Matching the Crime

If it were in my hands, I’d make sure that this girl gets punished for all her crimes. Part of that is just my natural desire for revenge. But I also think: If she’s never known punishment, how will she ever learn from her mistakes? Prison gives people the chance to think about the way they’ve been living their lives. If Sara keeps getting away with the things she’s doing, she’s just going to remain another dangerous person that the world could do without.

I feel this way regardless of her age. She happens to be an adult under the law, but even if she were 15 and guilty of the same crimes, I’d want to see her locked up. If a person commits a violent crime, the person has proved to be a danger to others and deserves a strict punishment.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, however, many of the people imprisoned in America today are not guilty of violent crimes. In 2006, only half of inmates in state prisons had been convicted of a violent offense like murder, assault, or rape. The rest had been convicted of a drug, property, or public order offense. In federal prisons in 2008, more than half of inmates had been convicted of a drug offense rather than a violent offense.

Recently there have been moves to treat nonviolent crime—especially nonviolent juvenile crime—less severely. To me, this seems fair. Compare a teen who vandalizes a construction site to a teen who brutally beats someone: It seems wrong to consider treating the two teens similarly by locking them both up. I believe that the punishment for violence should be different, and strong enough to help offenders come to their senses.

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