National Crime Victims’ Rights Week: Out in the Nevada County cold no longer |

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week: Out in the Nevada County cold no longer

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. – In 1982, President Ronald Reagan formed a Presidential Task Force to focus on the victims of crimes, a group which had been largely ignored in the past by our system of justice. In fact, the Task Force described the response of the American criminal justice system to victims of crimes as “appallingly out of balance,” and the neglect of victims of crime “a national disgrace.”

When President Reagan appointed Lois Haight Herrington to chair the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime on April 23, 1982, he led the nation into a new era in the treatment of victims of crime. Never before had any President recognized the plight of those forgotten and overlooked by the criminal justice system – the innocent victims of crime, whose pleas for justice had gone unheeded, and their wounds, personal, emotional, and financial, had gone unattended.

The Honorable Lois Haight Herrington, who is now a California Superior Court Judge for the County of Contra Costa, recently related a story to me regarding President Reagan’s commitment to create an Office for Victims of Crime. When questioned by a journalist that creating such an agency would merely be creating another “entitlement” program, President Reagan responded with an emphatic reply “no woman is entitled to be raped.” With this simple but direct response, the U.S. Office for Victims of Crime soon became a reality.

President Reagan was the first President to declare a week in April as National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and each year since, every President over the years has followed his lead. This year, the week of April 10-16, is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and the 2011 theme – Reshaping the Future, Honoring the Past – pays tribute to the millions of crime victims over the decades who have summoned the courage to rebuild shattered lives, families, and communities one step at a time. Similarly, it honors the victim service community whose members have walked alongside these victims, responding to their courage with unwavering commitment and skillful guidance.

We, who have worked in victim services, have been forever changed by the victims we have met, by the experiences they have shared, by the wisdom sprung from their suffering, and by the courage they have demonstrated. The best tribute to those victims who have experienced trauma and tragedy is to learn from what they have taught us and to fold that into how we do business tomorrow. Being willing to reshape and rethink the way we do things is absolutely critical to improving our system’s response to victims.

A great many advances have been made as the victim’s rights movement has developed during the past 30 years. Using Reagan’s original leadership, the Task Force outlined goals guaranteeing crime victims would be informed, present, and heard in their cases. Victim services professionals and crime victims throughout the country secured victims’ amendments in 34 state constitutions. California was one of the first states to pass a constitutional amendment for a Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights in 1982. Then, in November 2008, the rights of crime victims were significantly enhanced when the voters of California passed Proposition 9, The Victim’s Bill of Rights of 2008: Marsy’s Law. This citizen-led initiative enumerated 17 specific constitutional rights for crime victims. While the push for a U.S. Constitutional Amendment has been unsuccessful, the Congress approved Senate Bill 2329, outlining the basic rights that must be granted crime victims.

The victims of crime know no one political party, no one financial status, and no one racial or ethnic background. They are you, and they are me. By his actions, Ronald Reagan provided greater protection for all of us as he conducted his on-going charge to ensure the rights of crime victims are furthered and enforced with the same vigor as the rights of the accused.

As the Presidential Task Force learned in 1982 and Chairperson Lois Haight Herrington implored, please take the time to learn the depth and the human aspect of this grave social problem. She wrote:

“The depth of the trauma associated with being a crime victim will not be clear unless you first confront the human reality of victimization. Few are willing to do so. Unless you are, however, you will not be able to understand. During our hearings we were told by one eloquent witness. ‘It is hard not to turn away from victims. Their pain is discomforting: Their anger is sometimes embarrassing; their mutilations are upsetting.’ Victims are vital reminders of our own vulnerability. But one cannot turn away.

You must know what it is to have your life wrenched and broken, to realize that you will never really be the same. Then you must experience what it means to survive, only to be blamed and used and ignored by those you thought were there to help you. Only when you are willing to confront all these things will you understand what victimization means.”

There has been no quick remedy to the innocent victim’s plight. Although much progress has been made, too many individuals, families and communities still suffer from the reality of criminal victimization. Only through the sustained efforts of federal, state, and local governments, combined with community acknowledgment and action, can we assist in the restoration of the victims’ dignity, health and resources. Please join with me this April as we honor all those who have been victimized, and pay tribute to them as we recognize April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the week of April 10-16 as National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

“Together with the other members of the Community Support Network, Nevada County Victim/Witness is working to strengthen our families and create a safe community. Find out more about resources that support parents and promote healthy families. Call 211 for assistance or visit”

– Rod Gillespie is a Deputy Probation Officer with Nevada County and has had the privilege of assisting crime victims for more than 14 years.

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