As soon as Kasandra Turner found out her daughters were being sexually abused, she made it her job to protect them at all costs.
But between the criminal court case and hospital visits, it took a financial toll. Turner and her family were going broke.
“I felt like a failure,” Turner says. “You want to provide for your kids. I was a mom who had to deal with my kids being hurt. So I was grieving and dealing with that, as well as wondering how we were going to make it.”
Worried she couldn’t recover from the time she took off work, Turner contacted state Sen. Mike Padden’s office last year. Padden (R-Spokane Valley) pushed for a bill that would allow parents of children who are crime victims to receive benefits under the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program. It passed unanimously, and earlier this year Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law.
The Crime Victim Compensation program can pay for a portion of a victim’s lost wages. But previously, parents of a minor child victim couldn’t recover those wages through the program. The bill, signed by Inslee on April 3, will allow parents to be able to recover up to 30 days of lost wages due to time they spent helping children through legal proceedings or medical and counseling services. Parents can apply for the benefits for up to three years after the crime was reported to police.
“It was something we could do for victims because a lot of other legislation I pass doesn’t always take into account the victim’s perspective or the impact on them,” Padden says.
And it was Turner’s story that sparked the change.
“She was definitely the motivation to look into the issue,” Padden says.
When Turner’s twin daughters told her on June 11, 2019, that they were victims of sexual abuse, she says it turned her “whole world upside down.”
“I turned into a mama bear,” she says.
She contacted the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, which sent out an officer that day to take a report from the girls. Then, she went to file a restraining order against the alleged abuser, who lives in Okanogan County. The officer set her up with an advocate from Lutheran Community Services. She missed the next few days of work, where she’s a customer service representative for a health insurance company. She’s typically passionate about her job, but couldn’t bring herself to work.
“I’m doing what I love to do, and I had no ounce of energy to do it,” Turner says.
She anticipated that over the next several months she’d have to miss more work and run out of paid time off. Turner considers herself resourceful, so she tried to find ways to save money by asking her creditors for extensions and using the food bank. She found out about the Crime Victim Compensation Program and started filling out an application in an effort to recover some of her lost wages. But the questions were for victims themselves, not for a parent of a victim or minor children.
Brigitte Yamamoto, a crime advocate for Lutheran Community Services, says she’s heard similar frustrations from other parents of victims.
“That’s where Kasandra was thinking that gap of service was,” Yamamoto says.
Feeling like she was hitting a brick wall, a friend suggested Turner email Sen. Mike Padden’s office.
“I needed help,” she says.
Padden’s assistant quickly responded to Turner’s email.
“She told me he’s going to take this to his people in Olympia,” Turner recalls.
But it wouldn’t be an immediate fix. And she was taking a harder financial hit than she anticipated. One of her daughters began having gastrointestinal issues, causing her to be hospitalized multiple times. Turner says the doctors told her it was related to stress and trauma, like what happened to her was literally “tearing her apart.” When her daughter was hospitalized, she made sure to be there, causing Turner to miss more work.
Both daughters were already in counseling, and they increased sessions to twice a week, Turner says. Her other daughter — who wasn’t having severe medical issues — was admitted to a local hospital for intensive mental health treatment.
Meanwhile, Turner had to drive back and forth from Spokane Valley to Okanogan County several times to handle the court case, which is ongoing.
In total, she estimates she missed around a month’s worth of work to help her daughters, and she wasn’t able to recover much of that time. On top of that, the family had added expenses from the hospital visits and the travel for the court case.
“I just kind of felt defeated,” Turner says.
In January, she heard from Padden’s office again. They wanted her to testify in support of a bill in the Legislature.
It wouldn’t give her the compensation she needed earlier, but it could help her later on.
“I felt like I won the lottery,” she says. “I had butterflies in my stomach. I felt like somebody wanted to listen, like I could make a difference in other people’s lives.”
The bill had no opposition. Through the process, Turner says she realized it was so much bigger than her.
“So many people out there are in worse situations than myself,” she says.
Padden says he was surprised to find out that someone like Turner wouldn’t have qualified for compensation in the first place.
“Obviously you have to have regulations and rules of who gets it and who doesn’t. I didn’t think it was right that she didn’t qualify, and she’s taking time off work,” Padden says. “I just thought it was good policy to make those changes.”
The bill will go into effect June 11, exactly one year since Turner learned of the abuse against her daughters. The family is still recovering, and still seeking justice, she says. Thankfully, both her and her husband have been able to work during the pandemic.
As she and other families continue to navigate all that comes with being a victim of a crime, she can take some solace in the fact that compensation will be available in the future.
“If this bill would have been in place when I needed it,” she says, “It would have provided so much for my family.” ♦