Examples of Community Involvement
Over the past two decades, the viability of community activism by crime victims has been demonstrated at the local, state and national levels. In general, victim activism has focused on three objectives: victim assistance, victims' rights advocacy, and violence prevention. (See appendix for more detailed descriptions of programs.)
If crime victims have sufficiently recovered from their own traumatic experiences and have received appropriate training, they often are well-suited to help other crime victims because of their capacity to empathize. Facilitating victim support groups (such as the Families of Homicide Victims or the nationwide Parents of Murdered Children (POMC)), accompanying victims through the criminal justice process, or becoming in-court advocates are practical, valuable services. The Youth Empowerment Association in New York City trained teenagers recovering from sexual assault to work as peer counselors with youth victims who were at earlier stages of recovery. Victims also have played large roles in establishing and staffing rape crisis centers.30
Victims' Rights Advocacy
Having experienced poor treatment from the criminal justice and social service systems, some victims choose to advocate for social change. By speaking to government officials, legislators, or the press and by campaigning for reform, victims often find that they are accorded greater respect than service professionals and that their words carry weight with decision makers. When Victim Services staff travel to Albany, New York, accompanied by crime victims, to talk with state legislators, they usually are met by the legislator; when they go alone, they are more likely to be met by staff. Victim Services offers public speaking training to crime victims, as well as to agency staff, and maintains a Crime Victim Speakers Bureau. Another good example of the effectiveness of this kind of victim advocacy is the Stephanie Roper Committee, which has contributed significantly to the passage of three dozen victims' rights bills in Maryland since 1983.
Some victims may work to ensure that the criminal justice system functions as it should and that offenders are brought to justice. The Roper Foundation, the direct service component to the Roper Committee, operates a Courtwatch program that places volunteers, many of them victims, in courtrooms to monitor whether victims' rights are being respected. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID) developed Victim Impact Panels, through which victims speak directly to offenders about the devastating impact of drunk driving. POMC's Truth-In-Sentencing program mobilizes its national membership to make sure that those convicted of murdering their children serve at least the minimum sentences; when an offender comes up for early parole, the network launches a letter-writing campaign to oppose the offender's release. Taking another approach, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, a national group based in Virginia, campaigns against capital punishment.31
Victims often say that what they want most is for the crime never to have happened. Accordingly, some focus their efforts on crime pre- vention through public awareness and education campaigns or by creating programs for at-risk youth and self-defense training.
In its public education work, MADD launched the national Designated Driver program. The California-based Teens on Target (TNT) trains at-risk youth and young victims to be anti-violence advocates. Based on their first-hand experiences, these advocates talk to their peers about the causes of violence and suggest alternative approaches for resolving conflicts. In a new TNT project, "Caught in the Crossfire," advocates visit young gunshot victims who are still hospitalized to dissuade them from seeking revenge. In New York City, P.O.W.E.R. (People Opening the World's Eyes to Reality), a group of victims of gun violence who use wheelchairs, visit young people to show what can result from a life of drugs and violence. The group also has advocated for stricter state legislation against assault guns, and has testified in Washington, D.C. at a hearing on gun control before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice.
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