By Julie Kapsch, Guest Columnist
Hands of Hope Resource Center will be recognizing crime victims, advocates and others who are involved with crime victims during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 21-27. Crime victims endure physical and emotional wounds, financial burdens, an alarming tendency to be blamed for the crimes against them and a confusing criminal justice system.
Before the launch of the victims’ rights movement more than 30 years ago, victims were often excluded from courtrooms, disrespected by officials and afforded few rights. Even today’s media is filled with the latest crime reports from burglaries to homicides, yet at times places little to no emphasis on the actual victims of these crimes.
Despite a few shortcomings, the nation has taken steps and made immense progress in securing rights, protections and services for victims of crime. Currently, every state has enacted victims’ rights laws and 32 states have constitutional victims’ rights amendments. In addition, all states have victim compensation funds, and more than 10,000 victim services agencies have been established throughout the country.
The movement for victims’ rights continues, yet there is still much work to be done to ensure the programs and funds for crime victims remain open and accessible. About 50 percent of violent crimes are not reported and only a fraction of victims receive the help they need.
There are still ongoing investigations to know and find out more about these victims, how to help them in the best way, and how the victims’ services can be targeted to reach every victim. The outreach continues while adapting to funding cuts, globalization, changing demographics, new types of violent crimes and the changes (both good and bad) brought about by technology.
The Office for Victims of Crimes (OVC) has chosen this year’s theme to be: “New Challenges. New Solutions.” The mission of the OVC’s strategic initiative is called “Vision 21: Transforming Victims Services in the 21st Century for the New Millennium.”
Joye E. Frost, the acting director for the OVC, said, “In spite of all our progress, victims’ rights laws in all 50 states, the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, and the more than 10,000 victim service agencies throughout the United States of America — there are still enduring and emerging challenges for victims of crimes in America.”
Victims’ rights were enacted so that victims would not be left in the dark. The annual week-long celebration of victims’ rights honors the evolution of our criminal justice system from treating victims like bystanders to providing statutory and constitutional rights that keep victims informed and able to be present and heard during their cases. While the system isn’t perfect and mistakes still occur, the criminal justice system has come a long way in protecting the interests of victims. They are no longer bystanders. They have the right to information, to be present, to provide input, to receive restitution and to be treated with dignity, respect for their privacy and sensitivity.
Please join Hands of Hope Resource Center in paying tribute to these principles during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
Julie Kapsch is the assistant director of the Hands of Hope Resource Center, Little Falls.