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The Procreative Power of Dignity: Dignity’s Evolution in the Victims’ Rights Movement


A common theme throughout victims’ rights laws is that crime victims should be treated with dignity and respect. This goal is intuitive and meets very few objections. However, defining the specific scope of a victim’s dignity rights and the role that dignity plays within victims’ rights jurisprudence remains elusive. Some courts treat dignity as merely hortatory language with no enforcement power, while others characterize dignity as a background norm to help give deeper meaning to other more specific victims’ rights. Other courts treat the statutory and state constitutional invocations of victim dignity as a substantive right, which in and of itself, allows for the identification and creation of broader victims’ rights. This Article charts how the former two approaches mirror broader legal discussions regarding how the concept of dignity undergirds constitutional rights. In the constitutional law context, dignity appropriately operates as a background value because it is not specifically codified in the Constitution: it is an unspoken value that helps give meaning and context to other specifically enumerated rights. Conversely, in many victims’ rights laws, dignity has been elevated to a spoken value through its explicit codification in state constitutions and state and federal statutes. In these instances, courts should not limit dignity to a purely background interpretive role. Rather, this Article contends that dignity should function as a substantive right whereby it has the power to identify a broad spectrum of treatment for victims to ensure they are not dishonored in the criminal justice process.