This week’s story on Amy Mai Huong Wagreich (see page one) and her fight against the injustices compounded, ironically, by the justice system, exposes the core problem with the blanket application of well-meaning laws and illustrates how laws meant to protect can sometimes hurt.
This law exists in a black and white world while we live with shades of gray. Wagreich’s story begs the question: Who failed her? Is a law always right? How do we ensure that laws are not only applied consistently but more important, justly?
Even as we were wrote our original story, in the Feb. 9 issue of the REVIEW, we wondered aloud if the “sex offenders” being arrested throughout Cook County should be grouped into a single, catch-all category, regardless of the crime committed.
Little did we know that this particular story would hit so close to home, as it affected one of our own, and little did we know how prophetic our comments would prove.
The most troubling element of Amy’s story is precisely that it is not unique. Such exceptions have been reported before. Last year, a story was written about a woman who emigrated here with a U.S. soldier who later beat her. Knowing almost no English and being far from home, other men took advantage of her, raping her and forcing her into slave-trade prostitution. That woman was eventually arrested as a prostitute”another case that “fell through the cracks,” producing another felon, just another number, scarred for life.
Women, and sometimes men, who are victims themselves, are forced into plea bargain situations or, faced with language and cultural barriers and fear, are prevented from seeing justice served.
Women like Amy suffer, forced to relive a part of their lives they will never be able to put behind them, thanks to an imperfect law like this one.
Victims of rape have to deal with loss of trust, years of therapy, recrimination, anger and sleepless nights. It takes a victim’s dignity, their self-esteem and, at times, their ability to even recognize they were not at fault.
Amy’s story shows how challenging it is for our justice system to balance the rights of the one against the rights of the many and just how difficult it is to write a just law.
In the end, while the justice system struggles to protect our children from would-be assailants with laws like the 500-foot rule, Amy’s story shows that blanket application of any law can be problematic. Our hearts go out to Amy and her family, and we ask the state’s attorney to show much-needed flexibility in the disposition of her case.