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National Crime Victims' Rights Week: April 18-24, 2004 banner

Sample Speech

Two hundred and twenty-eight years ago, the struggle to live free from persecution began with the signing of America’s 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 Nation’s 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 President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime: “Be very vigilant in what’s going on in your counties, sit in your courts, talk to your District Attorneys, talk to law enforcement. Find out what’s going on because people change, things go on, new people come on board that have no idea....be very vigilant of what’s going on and keep fighting, because it’s not over.”

It won’t 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 and services.
  • 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.”

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National Crime Victims' Rights Week: Victims' Rights: America's Values April 18–24, 2004
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