“It was recommended by the police as one of the prime tools of intervention,” was how actress iNzodi Anockwu described the structure.
In Maryland, the police serve as go-betweens for disgruntled witnesses and those who feel the courts are too slow to provide justice. They help shield witnesses from reprisals and confirm their story before presenting evidence to a jury. Now iNzodi, 32, is helping “hundreds of women and men” on the Facebook group Whistleblowers Channel.
“Sometimes their stories are heart-wrenching, but I tell them it’s not their fault and that they need to keep fighting to get justice,” iNzodi, a past teacher and beauty product marketing professional, says. “Then I give them my best tips on how to get better with the police, and try to provide them with as much support as possible.”
Up to 80 victims and witnesses of sexual crimes and harassment will appear in a courtroom at any given time in Maryland, according to court spokesperson Dena Gray Thomas. “If you have good evidence against the defendant, you are going to get more justice,” says iNzodi, who is also working on and off as a public defender. “I’m lucky enough to be on both sides of the courtroom and I know what I want and what I need.”
In the past year iNzodi helped an 11-year-old rape victim file her civil suit. She took justice into her own hands when her attacker was an officer of the law and was fired from the state troopers after it was revealed he had sexually assaulted his wife before the assault on her daughter.
In 2018 iNzodi “elevated to the level of investigator” in the case of her boss’s wife, who was found strangled to death in their home. A call from iNzodi resulted in DNA evidence and testimony from prosecutors in the courtroom.
iNzodi has also helped sexual assault victims from eight states. She credits an Upbring New Hope Academy teacher with helping her develop the respect for victims that would carry over to her work with the Whistleblowers Channel. In 2018 iNzodi helped a man testifying against five people at a Montgomery County courthouse in North Carolina prove that one of the defendants, the state’s attorney, set up a false arrest of his wife. iNzodi was on the witness stand and had to protect her client during the scene of the crime to show credibility. At one point the man shouted, “We’re going to keep this place quiet. They don’t want us to talk.” The prosecuting attorney said he was never in the crime scene.
iNzodi says she has noticed an uptick in cases where witnesses are victims themselves or see things happening to their loved ones. Sexual assault survivors, from the girl who was raped to the victim of domestic violence, often point the finger at the system when things don’t go well.
“I feel like the abuse is reinforced by the perpetrators, by some of the DAs, by some of the judges, and by some of the social media and organizations,” iNzodi says. “Even if the rape is recognized, the victim still goes through a slow journey of validation and trust in an organization that is suppose to be there for them. That whole support that was provided to me is largely missing in these cases.”
iNzodi’s office is run out of her Towson apartment. The employees walk up and down the halls swapping stories of the victim-in-shock she has helped and the friend who has her back. She says her job keeps her inspired.
“This is a journey I’m on right now. What keeps me going every day, is the strong female friendships and the support of my clients,” iNzodi says. “I feel like I am enabling the healing. We have such a beautiful legacy of women of all ages, all colors of faces, and that’s what really keeps me going.”