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National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 21-27) provides an opportunity to increase awareness of the challenges faced by crime victims and to highlight the long struggle to establish victims’ rights, according to Victims Assistance Program (VAP) officials. This year’s theme, “New Challenges. New Solutions,” summons the nation to confront and remove obstacles to achieving those rights.
Only 30 years ago, crime victims had no rights, access to crime victim compensation, or services to help rebuild their lives. They were often excluded from courtrooms, treated as an afterthought by the criminal justice system, and denied an opportunity to speak at sentencing. Yet through decades of advocacy and hard work, we have come a long way.
Today, all states have enacted crime victims’ rights laws and established crime victim compensation funds. More than 10,000 victim service agencies help victims throughout the nation. Every year, states and localities receive millions of federal dollars to support these services. But National Crime Victims’ Rights Week reminds us that many challenges remain. Crime victims’ rights are not universal and are often not enforced. Only a small percentage of victims receive crime victim compensation, which is usually limited to victims of violent crime.
According to last year’s National Crime Victimization Survey, more than 50 percent of violent crimes were not reported to police in 2006-2010. In addition, a 2011 report called the “Use of Victim Services Agencies by Victims of Serious Violent Crimes” showed that only 9 percent of violent crime victims received needed services in the 1993-2009 timeframe. Advocates also face a host of new challenges as they strive to provide culturally competent services for increasingly diverse populations (e.g., seniors, teens, immigrant populations) and victims of newly prevalent crimes (e.g., trafficking and technology-related stalking and identity theft). As funding sources decrease, providers must target their services even more strategically.
“‘New Challenges. New Solutions,’ captures our mission in the 21st century,” said Joye E. Frost, Acting Director, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), U.S. Department of Justice. “As reflected in OVC’s major strategic planning initiative, Vision 21: Transforming Victim Services, we must craft a new vision for reaching all victims of crime. We can achieve this only by substantially broadening our thinking, strategically planning our future, and creatively expanding our resources and tools.”
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week will be held April 21–27 in communities throughout the nation. In Washington, DC, the U.S. Department of Justice will hold OVC’s annual Service Awards ceremony that month to honor outstanding individuals and programs that serve victims of crime.
Additionally,Akron, Ohio is another example of a city hosting beneficial events. Akron hosted a candlelight vigil on April 21. The annual vigil was an opportunity to recognize those whose lives have been impacted by violent crime. Also this week in Akron, Ohio, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor will be the keynote speaker at the Victim Rights Week Luncheon April 23. For more information on this event, visit www.victimassistanceprogram.org.
Submitted by: Nancy Foye-Cox