Oklahoma non-profit poised to move “criminalized survivorship” mountain

Collaborator: Brittany Harlow
Published: 07/20/2022, 3:46 PM

(TULSA, Okla.) To this day, the State of Oklahoma has yet to include Battered Woman Syndrome as a legitimate category of defense in court, despite research on the serious mental health condition building since the 1970s. 

Researchers say incarcerating battered women could be costing the state hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and that’s a low estimate stemming from a lack of much needed data. 

Not to mention the generational impacts felt by children who grow up without their mothers, and the repercussions for the criminalized survivors themselves. 

The non-profit Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice describes criminalized survivors as “abandoned by the system and left to fight for themselves” and that only “when they cross the line from victim to defendant, the efficient wheels of criminal prosecution begin to turn”. 

Panic Button”, Oklahoma Appleseed’s new podcast, is just one of the pillars of their advocacy campaign to raise awareness about criminalized survivorship, through in-depth storytelling of the April Wilkens case

Executive Director Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice Colleen McCarty told VNN they’re already trending on four top 100 charts since their June 28 launch: #1 in nonprofit, #10 in Business, #22 in Indie True Crime, and #37 in True Crime.  

“It’s kind of amazing,” McCarty said. “Just based on people being interested in the story. Which I think speaks to how unique and particularly upsetting April’s story is.” 

Wilkens is currently serving the 25th year of a life sentence for killing her rapist and abuser. 

Panic Button releases a new episode every Tuesday. The latest, “Episode Four: Setting The Tone” discusses Wilkens’ confession, arrest, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) exam, and the year Wilkens spent in jail in per-trial detention. 

Another pillar of advocacy Oklahoma Appleseed is pursuing is letter writing events, like the one they held at NEFF Brewing on July 14, in which community members can write letters of support for criminalized survivors. 

Two criminalized survivors were highlighted at the recent event, Wilkens and Trichell Jones

Jones is awaiting trial for first degree manslaughter in Oklahoma County for shooting her abusive ex after he broke into her house. 

“These are the kinds of cases you really wonder about,” McCarty said. “Because it’s like, if she had been a white man and shot a burglar, wouldn’t have ever even faced any charges. But that fact that, you know, she’s a Black woman. It makes you wonder if that’s the reason, or what was the reason?” 

Jones’ trial is slated for October 10. 

State Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, has been working to move a bill on decriminalizing survivors for years to no avail. But those efforts could see a turn in the tide as Republicans take up the issue during an interim study this fall, in partnership with Oklahoma Appleseed. 

McCarty said their legislative goals include a bill for people who have experienced documented abuse and received criminal charges relating to that abuse to receive sentencing relief. 

She told VNN she wants Oklahoma Appleseed to be a beacon of hope.

“It can feel very hopeless to be the person that was victimized for so long,” McCarty said. “And then to be the one who ends up going to prison after you saw your abuser not end up in prison for so long." 


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