2002 National Crime Victims' Rights Week Banner
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Sample Op–Ed Column

Bringing Honor To Victims: What September 11 Teaches
Us About Helping Those Harmed By Crime

September 11 has heightened this country's awareness of the harsh and tragic impact of crime on its victims. How, in a single moment, one's life can be turned upside down and completely altered through an act of human cruelty.

Although nearly 26 million crimes occur annually in the United States, most of us never stop to think about the people harmed by each of those crimes—the victims. Nor do we consider what these victims might need to rebuild their lives, to recover from what may have been a profoundly traumatic experience.

And, what about the ripple effect of crime? Each family member, friend, and loved one of a victim is, to some extent, touched by the event. They, too, must awaken to find a different world from the one they knew before the tragedy. Their new reality is something they must come to terms with and the difference that will always be there. They, too, must rebuild their lives.

The horror of September 11 gives us an opportunity to reconsider our response to victims of crime generally. We have witnessed unparalleled generosity, from individual acts of kindness to historic levels of charitable giving. Neighbors helping neighbors. Communities reaching out to victims and survivors. Federal legislation, enacted at breakneck speed, compensating victims for their losses. Such a societal response to crime victims is unprecedented.

As we move beyond and learn from the horrific events of the past year, this week—National Crime Victims' Rights Week—seems a particularly poignant opportunity to commemorate the progress that has been made to secure rights and services for crime victims.

More than 30 years ago, pioneering victim advocates fought for something previously inconceivable—the provision of basic rights within the criminal and juvenile justice systems for innocent victims of crime. Today, every state and the federal government provides for at least some level of participation by victims in the criminal justice system, helping to make individuals and communities safer and making our justice system stronger.

Laws have been passed at the federal, state, and local levels giving victims certain legal rights, such as the right to be notified throughout the criminal justice process; the right be consulted before a plea agreement is entered; the right to be present during court proceedings; the right to speak at sentencing; and the right to restitution from a convicted offender. [Describe the victims' rights your state/community, or other signs of progress.]

Other progress has been made. Thirty-two states [including yours, if applicable] have provided even more protection for these rights by enshrining them in their state constitutions. Thousands of local service organizations and offices within criminal justice agencies exist today to provide direct support to victims of crime. And more and more victims of crime are asserting their right to seek redress through civil justice.

But, this week is also a time to recommit ourselves to making sure all crime victims have the help they need, that none fall through the cracks in systems established to protect them. A time to bring honor to victims. How do we do that?

  • When we help them access the resources they need—from financial resources such as crime victim compensation or restitution, to emotional support and counseling—we bring honor to victims.

  • When we help them to plan for their own safety, we bring honor to victims.
    When we give them the information they need to make their own choices, we bring honor to victims.

  • When we make sure they have the opportunity to participate fully in the criminal justice process, we bring honor to victims.

  • When we validate their experience, when we listen to them describe how their lives have been changed by an event out of their control, and how they have learned to cope, we bring honor to victims.

  • And, we bring honor to victims when we ask them what they need, and we commit ourselves to doing everything we can to help.

Victims' voices speak to us plaintively through the tragedy and pain. We only need to listen. And, in the process, we learn about life and facing hardship. These lessons can teach us all compassion and perspective.

April 21-27 is an opportunity to listen to the voices of victims of crime, and to those who help them. Throughout the week, our community will sponsor candlelight vigils, commemorative walks, public awareness campaigns [describe your own activities].
With National Crime Victims' Rights Week as a springboard, every person in [your community] can join in our crusade for victims' rights, victim services, and victim justice. Our individual and community safety depends on such involvement, and our journey towards honoring victims, and helping them heal, cannot be completed without the involvement and commitment of everyone. You can join our many initiatives that bring honor to victims and, in turn, make a positive difference in someone's life and most likely your own. These are the lessons of September 11.

Every crime has a victim. And, every victim needs our help.

Consider this sample op-ed a starting point in developing your own. Make it relevant to your own community by adding state or local crime statistics and/or by discussing an issue of particular concern within your community. The length of this document is approximately 810 words. Call your local newspaper to find out its editorial guidelines, such as length and deadlines. Remember to include the author's name, title, and organization name. Sharing additional information about your organization and its programs also can be helpful.

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National Crime Victims' Rights Week: Bringing Honor to Victims April 21–27, 2002
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