Two hundred and twenty-eight years ago, the struggle to live free
from persecution began with the signing of Americas Declaration
of Independence. The values of our ancestors freedom, justice
and equality have guided the principles that, today, make
America a beacon of hope for people around the world who have none.
It is these same values that have provided the force for and foundation
of crime victims rights and services.
For the past 24 years,
America has joined together annually to recognize the needs and
rights of crime victims. Countless crimes against innocent individuals,
community crises and terrorist acts have taught us that a victim is
not simply somebody else but somebody we know and love;
and that we are all vulnerable to increasing threats of
violence. It has also raised our awareness of our shared values
of justice, of equality, and of our right to be free from violence.
During 2004 National Crime Victims Rights Week, we share
the opportunity to engage in a national dialogue about what it means to
be a victim of crime, and what it means to effectively identify
and address victims needs.
The dialogue begins with the voices of victims and survivors.
The power of their personal stories which tell us of pain
and suffering and inequality, but also of heroism, healing, and
inspiring journeys toward justice drive us to new heights
in our efforts to provide comprehensive, supportive services. Crime
victims tell us of their most basic needs for respect and
for the essentials to get through a devastating period, such as
safe housing, food, support for their children, transportation,
and counseling and medical services. They tell us they need to understand,
in order to demand their rights for information, to participate
in justice processes that will have a profound impact on their
futures, and for accountability from those who harmed them. Yet
they can only tell us these things if we take the time to listen,
to value their input, and value their role not merely
created as an obligation required by law, but as an opportunity to
listen and learn from their experiences.
Our dialogue continues with the voices of those in a position
to make a difference. Public policy makers across America have
spoken loudly and clearly through their passage of
thousands of laws that define and protect victims rights.
However, such discussions become empty rhetoric without efforts
to take victims rights beyond paper to practice.
Justice officials have a significant role here, and have helped
propel us from the days where victims and survivors were viewed
merely as evidence in criminal cases, to today where they
are beginning to be seen as having an integral role in our collective
efforts to pursue justice. This role is one in which we value victims suffering,
struggles and loss, and value them as our family members and friends,
neighbors and coworkers who have been harmed by crime.
The voices of our communities are also vital to this national
conversation. The domino effect of crime has an often
devastating impact on our families, neighborhoods, schools and
our Nations economy. It is only when we recognize this impact
that we can truly see our potential roles in victim assistance.
Each of us can contribute with a kind word, an offer to listen
and help with compassion and concern that assist victims not only in
the immediate aftermath of crime, but far into the future to support
their efforts to heal. Each of us can help a victim in need, if
we only try.
While the solo voice of one victim in need has been a significant
instrument for change, it is not enough. What is needed
is the echo of our collective voices that stand up for our shared
values of safety in our homes, peace in our communities, and justice
in our nation that includes and involves crime victims.
This will require the commitment of people like all of you here
today, who share the common value of victim justice. This
also requires a commitment to care and be there for
victims and survivors of crime.
This week, we have much to celebrate. Two decades ago, the Office
for Victims of Crime was established to provide leadership and
a vision for our field. Since 1984, the Crime Victims Fund has
collected $5.5 billion dollars from fines and fees assessed against
Federal criminal offenders to support comprehensive and compassionate
victim services. There are over 10,000 community- and system-based
organizations that help victims in the aftermath of crime. And
over 32,000 laws have been passed at the Federal and state levels
that define and protect victims rights.
Yet there remains much work to be done, and many challenges that
will put our shared values to test. In the words of Judge Lois
Haight, Chair of the landmark 1982 Presidents Task Force
on Victims of Crime: Be very vigilant in whats going
on in your counties, sit in your courts, talk to your District
Attorneys, talk to law enforcement. Find out whats going
on because people change, things go on, new people come on board
that have no idea....be very vigilant of whats going on and
keep fighting, because its not over.
It wont be over until the values of our forefathers and
foremothers over two centuries ago reach fruition and that
we remain vigilant in our efforts to guarantee the same values
that offer help and hope to victims of crime:
- When you value our right to live in peace in our homes, neighborhoods
and communities, you value victims rights and services.
- When you value our children and their hopes for a life of
opportunity that is free from violence, you value victims rights
- When you value justice for all people who live in America, you
value victims rights and services.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wisely told our Nation that if we
are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious
values that all reality hinges on moral foundations,
and that all reality has spiritual control. The moral
foundation of the victim assistance field is one of compassion
and caring, justice and equal rights. The bricks and mortar we
have used to create a Nation that values justice, individual and
community safety, and the fair and equitable treatment of people
and communities hurt by crime are the commitment and compassion
that have fueled our efforts for over 30 years. These values are
our vision for a future where rights and services for victims and
survivors of crime are not the exception to the rule, but
rather the rule itself. As the father of the victim
impact statement James Rowland once said, Justice will
not be served until victims rights are not just observed annually,
but practiced daily.
|National Crime Victims' Rights
Week: Victims' Rights: America's Values
||April 1824, 2004