By Amanda Kaping, 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 6-12. 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.
This year we mark an important milestone in the rights of crime victims. Our theme — 30 years: Restoring the Balance of Justice — honors the extraordinary progress we have made on behalf of millions of victims since the passage of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) in 1984.
Before this historic legislation was enacted, the world was very different for crime victims, their families and communities. Local service providers who could meet victims’ needs for support, counseling or shelter were few. The criminal justice system too often failed to recognize victims’ need to be included in the justice process. Crime victim compensation programs were not consistently available and had no source of federal support.
The Crime Victims Fund, which was established by VOCA, has propelled systemic change throughout the nation, helping to create an infrastructure of support for victim services and compensation — one that relies not on taxpayer dollars but on fines and penalties paid by criminal offenders in the federal justice system.
For three decades, the Crime Victims Fund has provided support that is increasingly open, inclusive and flexible. Over the years, the crime victims’ field has opened its doors and customized services to a wider range of crime victims, including victims with disabilities, American Indian and Alaska Natives, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims, children exposed to violence, labor and sex trafficking victims and victims of elder abuse.
Services for victims and survivors have become more inclusive, recognizing that we all have a part to play in recovery, from the role played by multidisciplinary teams and allied professionals to that of the wider public. Service delivery has also become more flexible, meeting victims where they are as they move through the recovery process to rebuild their lives.
Thirty years is not an invitation to rest on three decades of progress — although much has been accomplished — but a reminder of the work still before us to restore the balance of justice to all those harmed by crime.
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.
Join Hands of Hope Resource Center in paying tribute to these principles during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
Amanda Kaping is the general crime coordinator with Hands of Hope Resource Center in Little Falls.