March 20, 2009
Robert Grayson, crime victim: To be a victim at the hands of the criminal is an unforgettable nightmare. But to then become a victim at the hands of the criminal justice system is an unforgivable travesty.
Judge Lois Haight, Chairman, President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, 1982: For quite some time, we had a criminal justice system that focused on the criminal. It focused on the attorneys and focused on the judges and just ignored and mistreated and blamed the victim.
Steve Derene, Executive Director, National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators: Victims became removed from the system where it became pretty common to refer to victims as "the forgotten people."
Ronald Reagan: I'm signing today an executive order establishing the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime.
Judge Lois Haight: We realized that we needed to hear from victims of crime, so we went around the country and had hearings, and that was how we got a lot of the information. We never stopped listening to their stories.
Man: When I wanted to talk about my son, I soon found that murder is a taboo subject in our society.
Woman: But to add insult to injury, we were required to pay nearly $200 for the rape kit and emergency room treatment.
Woman: Shouldn't we be notified if the killer is out on bond or if he is about to come up for a parole hearing? Had my son lived…
Steve Derene: The task force report really put a human face on the victim of a crime as a person and not just as a statistic.
Judge Lois Haight: I was asked to come brief the cabinet on victims of crime and when I got to the part on funding, the OMB director said, "Mr. President, Mr. President, she just wants money for victims! This is an entitlement!" I started to respond and I looked at the president and he went, "I don't think people get themselves bashed over the heads and go to the hospital to get money from the government." I mean, it was a real turning point!
Steve Derene: When VOCA was passed, it was a very bipartisan effort. The chief sponsors in both the senate and in the house represented as far extreme apart on the political spectrum as you can imagine, and they came together, and they came up with a compromise bill. By October of 1984, that core recommendation to create the Victims of Crime Act was enacted into law.
Judge Lois Haight: VOCA started the ball rolling and it came pretty fast because the victims finally had their movement, had some power in it.
Steve Derene: Not only did it establish a statutory basis for victim rights, but it provided funding for services. And you can see in the first couple of years an explosion almost of new services, of new benefits.
Judge Lois Haight: I got calls from everywhere saying, "Guess what? We're getting funding for our advocacy." "Guess what? We're getting funding for our shelter."
Woman: They took me to a shelter. They were great people. That's why I'm here now because they really, really helped me.
Man: Parents of Murdered Children kind of saved my life at the time because it gave me an opportunity to talk about what had happened. And venting became somewhat of a catharsis for me.
Man: I wouldn't miss a counseling session to save my life. This is the best thing that's ever happened to me.
Woman: For my victim impact statement I tried to, in my words, bring her to where the judge could know her.
Woman: Once I had that experience of knowing that I was no longer alone in this, I really took very seriously the fact that I was not going to be a victim; I was going to be a strong survivor.
Judge Lois Haight: VOCA is the base for funding, for these programs that fund our advocates, that fund our services.
Steve Derene: This is not taxpayer money. This is a separate fund that comes entirely from federal criminal fines. In the first year they collected $68 million. And in 2007 the Fund collected over $1 billion.
Woman: Without the money that comes in from the crime victims fund, many victim assistance programs probably would not be able to exist. It's helped thousands of people, one individual person at a time.
Woman: Kids need people to be there and believe in them and guide them through this, to be brave and keep their heads up.
Woman: If we didn't have this center, I probably would not have my son back.
Man: I think it goes a long way to look face to face, eye to eye, human being to human being, to know that people care. You know, this is terrible and we support you.
Woman: You need a lot of care, every step of the way. I got that from the system.
Steve Derene: If you look at how people felt in 1982 when they spoke before the task force and you look at people today, I would say the measure of the success of VOCA is the extent to which people feel differently than they did then... that the system is treating them better. I think that's the mark of its success.
Judge Lois Haight: We're 25 years down the line. We've made big changes. There's lots more to come, but we ought to be very proud that we have really redressed a terrible wrong.