Crime Victims Rights Week is today through April 24

Published 3:25 pm Saturday, April 17, 2010

This week, April 18 to 24, communities throughout the nation will rally to honor and support victims of crime. With the theme, “Crime Victims’ Rights: Fairness. Dignity. Respect,” 2010 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week will recall the ideals that inspired the decades-long struggle of the victims’ rights movement and challenge all Americans to honor victims’ rights.

Community members are encouraged to get involved in helping victims of crime. For additional information about National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and ideas on how to serve victims in the area, please contact the Freeborn County Crime Victim’s Crisis Center at 377-5460.

Only a few decades ago, unfairness, indignities, and disrespect confronted many victims of crime, according to a news release. Victims of Crime in America, the 1984 report of the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, described a “hellish” justice system, focused on offenders and indifferent to victims’ needs. A victim disabled by a crime cashed in his life insurance to pay for heat and food. A sexual assault victim faced taunts and jeers from her attacker when she was forced to sit beside him in a courthouse hallway before the trial. Then she was excluded from the trial. At that time, victims’ only “right,” declared one expert, was “to remain silent” in the face of such inequities.

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In the 25 years since Victims of Crime in America was published, a grass-roots movement began to combat such unfairness and launched decades of progress for victims of crime. As of 2010, every state has passed victims’ rights laws, and 32 states have constitutional victims’ rights amendments. All states have victim compensation funds, and more than 10,000 victim assistance programs exist throughout the country. Such changes have made victims participants, rather than bystanders, in the criminal justice system.

Yet much work remains. Victims’ rights are not always enforced. Some victims receive no notice when a trial is scheduled or an offender released. Some courts deny victims’ right to be heard at sentencing or to be present at trials, or they fail to order restitution or issue protection orders to keep victims safe. Some victims never learn about victim compensation or receive victim services, an increasing reality during our current economic downturn. Such failures block victims’ access to their rights.

“The ideals we celebrate this week give hope to all Americans,” said Joye E. Frost, acting director of the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. “When a victim reports a crime because an officer treats her fairly, it enhances the safety of an entire community. When a court hears an impact statement or issues an order of restitution, victims learn the power of fairness, dignity, and respect. Yet when our nation falls short of these ideals, we fail victims and dishonor the progress we mark this week.”

The Office for Victims of Crime will launch National Crime Victims’ Rights Week in Washington, D.C., with its annual National Candlelight Observance Ceremony on April 15, and its Awards Ceremony, April 16, to honor extraordinary individuals and programs that provide services to victims of crime. The Crime Victim’s Crisis Center will commemorate National Crime Victims’ Rights Week with special events and programs April 18 through April 24.