This year marks the fifteenth year that, as a nation, we will commemorate Crime Victims' Rights Week in April. When we consider the progress made since crime victims were honored in a White House ceremony for the first time in 1981, it is clear that the crime victims' rights movement has had a profound impact on our entire nation. Of course, no movement for social change starts with a Rose Garden ceremony. Change in our criminal justice system has been decades in coming.
Since the earliest beginnings of the movement for crime victims' rights more than thirty years ago, thousands of laws have been passed, thousands of crime victim programs have become established, and thousands of individuals have joined the ranks as advocates and given so much of themselves to assist victims. Sadly, the strength of the crime victims' movement has been born out of the shear numbers of people who have suffered the trauma of crime, and the second injury and indignity at the hands of our criminal justice system.
As we look back on the history of the crime victims' rights field, we remember the way it was in America for crime victims. The last three decades have not been a journey without pain. But looking back is useful -- it helps to remember where we have been, so that we can keep our focus on the horizon ahead.
When we reminisce, most people enjoy reveling in "the good old days." We look back on our lives, and it's easy to smile at fond memories of everyday occurrences that brought joy to us and to our loved ones, at extraordinary events that shaped who we are today, at landmark events that have long ago turned into anniversaries that are celebrated and cherished.
Yet for so many victims of crime, the "old days" are anything but good. Because to be a victim of crime, traditionally in America, was to be no more than a piece of evidence. To be a victim of crime meant you were blamed for the terrible tragedy that was committed against you, and you were given no opportunity to voice your feelings and concerns.
That was then, and this is now.....
The historical concerns about criminal justice in America are slowly but surely being replaced by equal concern for victim justice. With 44 million individuals in the United States victimized by crime each year, victims are rapidly becoming a majority. And that a vocal majority we are!
We are proud to stand up and say that today, there are over 27,000 statutes that protect and restore victims' rights in our nation. We are proud that in 1996, 20 states have constitutional amendments that grant victims the rights to participate in the criminal justice system. We are proud that the stigma of criminal victimization is slowly being replaced by an understanding that any of us, at any time, in any place, can fall prey to violence without it being our fault.
The accomplishments of our nation's victims' rights movement are simply astounding.
Victim justice: What do these two words mean in America in 1996? They mean, first and foremost, that victims of crime only want to be treated as well as alleged and convicted offenders. They mean that victims should be treated with dignity, compassion and respect, not only by our justice system, but by all individuals with whom they have contact in the aftermath of a crime. Victim justice means that victims are no longer treated simply as evidence in criminal and civil proceedings, but as active participants with considerable stake in the outcomes. They are informed of their case proceedings. They are not only allowed, but encouraged to participate in all stages of the criminal justice process. And their voices are heard, so the system and our society can begin to truly comprehend the devastating effects that crime wreaks on law-abiding members of our community.
Ladies and gentlemen, a new day is dawning for victims' rights and services in America....a day that begins with the sunrise of fair treatment, continues with meaningful participation and involvement in the justice process, and ends with a sunset of dignity, compassion and respect. It is a day that results from the grim fact that countless Americans are victimized by crime each year, Americans who want involvement and information. It is a day when public safety and victim justice become a reality, in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our communities. And it is a day in which we will all take tremendous pride that victims of crime are no longer blamed for the heinous crimes that are committed against them.
It is a day when VICTIM JUSTICE is no longer a dream, but is a precious reality for the millions of people in America who are touched by crime each year.
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