Sample OpEd Column
Bringing Honor To Victims: What September
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 crimesthe 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 weekNational Crime Victims' Rights Weekseems
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 inconceivablethe 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 needfrom financial
resources such as crime victim compensation or restitution, to
emotional support and counselingwe bring honor to victims.
- When we help them to plan for their own safety, we bring honor
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
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.
to Samples, Additional Resources
|National Crime Victims'
Rights Week: Bringing Honor to Victims