For more years than any of us would like to acknowledge, the plight of the victim of crime has not been unlike that of the Psalmist who cried, "I rise before the dawning of the morning and cry for help. My eyes are awake through the night watches." (Psalm 119:147-148) We only have to pause and reflect to begin to understand the pain of the mother whose child has been molested, or the anxiety of the child herself as she hears those fateful footsteps of dad or the live-in boyfriend coming up the steps to perpetrate yet another confusing, painful and criminal act. We do not have to go to great efforts, but only take a moment to reflect upon the trauma of the rape victim who has been irreparably violated in the most intimate way, or of the battered woman who lives in terror of the next unwarranted and fearfully anticipated "incident."
The Psalmist's "night watches" referred to the three posting of the guards through the night in cities of Biblical time. When one is awake "through the night watches," he or she has not slept all night. How many such sleepless nights has the survivor spent because of a loved one having been ripped away by the cruel brutality of homicide, whether by direct assault or through the senselessness of a drunk driver?
And even in daytime, the night continues, as some insensitive officials ignore, some sensation seeking media exploit, and defense attorneys put the victim, instead of the perpetrator, on trial. It probably does not surprise us to learn that these injustices were as real in Biblical times as today. The great Hebrew prophet, Isaiah, spoke into this darkness, complaining against those who "acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right." (Isaiah 5:23) And again he cried, "No one enters suit justly, and no one goes to law honestly....The way of peace they know not, and there is no justice in their paths...Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us. We look for light, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom." (Isaiah 59:4,8,9)
But, as it has often been said, "It is always darkest before dawn." St. Peter wrote that the prophetic word is "a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns, and the morning star arises in your hearts." (2 Peter 1:19)
There is a phrase in a well known country gospel song that says, "Every time I look into the Book, I want to tremble." And it is true, we can never take an honest look into the "Good Book" without finding something that should be taken very seriously. "Justice" and the "Dawn of a New Day," both strongly emphasized in the Bible, certainly apply to this year's theme for National Crime Victims' Rights Week, "Victim Justice: A New Day Dawns."
Before the late 1970s, there seemed to be but small flickers of light seeking to penetrate the darkness of the unjust experiences of crime victims in America. Yet they seemed to be very few, and very dim. However, when any injustice reaches an intolerable level, a groundswell towards remediation begins to rise. So it was that the unjust treatment of our colonies by England reached the intolerable level that led to the American Revolution.
This incipient groundswell for crime victim justice of the late seventies, led to the formation in 1982 of "The President's Task Force on Victims of Crime," the first effort strong enough to at least send a beam of penetrating light into the crime victims' dark night. This initial torch, and the subsequent Victims of Crime Act, ignited many flames destined to create the first real light, enabling the crime victim to take the first illuminated steps along the path of justice.
The brightest of those flames were the establishment of victim and witness assistance programs in the offices of our prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement agencies; the beginning of compensation to crime victims for injuries sustained; the many direct services to crime victims provided by caring organizations; and the passage of victims' rights legislation both Federally and in many states.
And now victim justice is being seen, not just as the latest passing fad, or a blip on the screen of American jurisprudence. All of the prophetic lights before the dawn are flaming into the sunrise of a new day, a day not only of "criminal justice" in America, which has been around for a long time, but also a day of "victim justice." When the well-worn term "criminal justice" is replaced by "victim/criminal justice," we will know that the new day has dawned. It is coming. In the words of the well known hymn, "Morning Light is Breaking in the Eastern Sky."
As the dawn approaches, and that new day begins, all who have been holders of that flame in the darkness, of the lamp in the night of crime victim injustice, are encouraged to not let it go down. Rather, let us maintain our hard earned victories. Let us respond to the admonition of the Apostle Paul, "Do not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart." (Galatians 6:9)
NOTE: All scripture references are from the Revised Standard Version.
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