2003 National Crime Victims' Rights Week Banner

Sample Speech

I am delighted to join you today to celebrate the 23rd annual commemoration of National Crime Victims' Rights Week. It is our special time to honor those who bring honor to victims; to pay tribute to our many accomplishments as a profession over the past 31 years; and to remember the very reason that victim assistance and allied programs exist: that is, to provide support and services to victims of crime.

Indeed, we have much to celebrate, as the field of victim assistance is strong, vibrant and committed as ever to easing the suffering of those hurt by crime. There are over 10,000 community—and system—based victim assistance programs in the United States today that help victims in our nation, as well as American citizens who are victimized abroad. Over 32,000 federal and state laws are on the books today that define and protect victims' rights. But we also face many challenges, today and in the future, that will require even greater doses of courage, of compassion, and of commitment to justice for all people who are hurt by crime.

The theme of this year's National Crime Victims' Rights Week—"Victims' Rights: Fulfill the Promise"—encourages us to consider not only what we can promise to victims of crime, but also what we can't due to a lack of policies, programs and resources that are needed to adequately address the wide range of victims' needs. So today, what can we promise victims to help them cope with the aftermath of crime? Without a doubt, we can promise

  • To treat them with compassion and dignity.
  • To help them identify and meet their most important needs related to their physical, emotional, financial and spiritual losses.
  • To provide them with information about their statutory and constitutional rights, as well as advocacy to help them implement those rights.

This is what victim assistance is all about. And you don't have to be a victim advocate to fulfill these promises. You only need be a caring and compassionate person who recognizes when someone is suffering, and who stands ready to do whatever is needed to ease his or her pain. Often, crime victims' basic needs can be met by a family member, a friend, or a neighbor who takes the time to ask, "What do you need?," and "How can I help?" This simple act of reaching out can be the very key that opens a door to a victim's recovery. This act of compassion can help victims truly understand that they are not alone, and that someone is there to help them.

When I ask average folks to help us "fulfill the promise" to victims of crime, I am simply asking them to

  • Be aware that many people we know and love may be victimized, and not disclose to anyone what they are going through. Often, the best support you can offer is to just let them know you are there for them if and when they need you.
  • Recognize that nobody asks or deserves to be a crime victim, and anybody hurt by crime has needs that you can help meet.
  • Be aware of the many victim assistance programs available today to help victims cope with their trauma and loss, and understand their rights.
  • Be aware that if you or someone you know is a crime victim, you have rights — to be notified of the status and location of the offender; to participate in criminal or juvenile justice proceedings; to be afforded protection from further harm; to have a voice in justice proceedings through a "victim impact statement"; to restitution from the offender to help you recover financial losses endured as a result of the crime; and in violent crime cases, the right to apply for victim compensation to pay for crime-related expenses and losses.
  • Volunteer for and support these programs that are dedicated to helping crime victims — they rely greatly on our communities and concerned citizens to continue their valuable and vital work.

These five steps will help you help us "fulfill the promise" to victims today. Yet sage advice offered by author Anthony D'Angelo, "Promise a lot and give even more," holds great meaning for anyone who is in a position to help a victim of crime today and in the future.

What would we like to promise victims?

We would like to promise victims that the scales of justice are truly balanced — that their needs and rights will receive equal consideration to the needs and rights of their accused or convicted offenders. Yet this will not be a reality until the U.S. Constitution is amended to include rights for victims of crime. An instructive activity is to review our nation's founding document on a computer and "word search" for one key word: "victims." The universal response from our nation's Constitution will be: "victim' not found." And until we can actually find the word "victim" in our Constitution, we cannot promise equal justice to them. The victims' rights amendment currently pending in the U.S. Congress needs your support to fulfill the ultimate promise of "equal rights for victims."

We would like to promise victims that their statutory rights will always be enforced but, sadly, this is not the case. A significant focus today and in the future must address victims' rights compliance — that is, that the more than 30,000 victims' rights laws are implemented on a consistent and comprehensive basis. This will require a commitment to "rights, not rhetoric" — a commitment that says laws passed to provide victims with assistance, support and remuneration will be implemented on a daily basis.

We would like to promise victims that we can address their most important needs — for safety, for counseling, for information and notification, for restitution from their offenders, and for the right to participate in all proceedings related to their cases. This promise demands that we secure more resources — human, financial, and legislative — to meet victims' increasing needs in a comprehensive and consistent manner.

How can we fulfill these important promises? Surely we can't do it alone. But in a nation where nearly everyone knows someone who has been victimized, or they themselves have been touched by crime, we must pursue avenues that engage and involve everyone across our nation — in communities large and small, urban, suburban and rural, of every culture and race, religion and ethnicity — to join us in our efforts. Because when one person is hurt by crime, we are all touched by its effects.

The aftermath of the terrorist acts of September 2001 taught me an important lesson: When Americans are faced with unspeakable acts of trauma and tragedy, they rise up in unison to confront them. Today there is a universal bond among everyone who lives in this nation, who cherishes and values the freedoms and liberties that make us Americans. That bond — comprised of courage, and compassion and commitment — is what it will take to fulfill the promise to crime victims. . . . that their needs and interests represent our needs and interests, as individuals, communities and a nation as a whole. And that bond is what gives me hope that our promise to victims — who daily across our nation endure trauma and tragedy — will ultimately be fulfilled.

Thank you very much,

(Include in your speech any state or local initiatives that are relevant
to the 2003 NCVRW theme: "Victims' Rights: Fulfill the Promise.")

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National Crime Victims' Rights Week: Fulfill the Promise April 6–12, 2003
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