Have you ever been a victim of a crime?
Sadly, crime has touched most all of our lives in one way or another. For many people, they themselves have directly experienced criminal victimization or they have had a loved one or family friend who has been victimized. The emotional trauma that a crime victim experiences as a result of his or her victimization is frequently not recognized by others, sometimes minimalized, often misunderstood, or even ignored. The recovery from a traumatic victimization can be overwhelming and lifelong. It is extremely important for those who have been impacted by crime to be emotionally supported, afforded the opportunity to receive immediate crisis intervention, offered therapeutic treatment, as well as a wide range of other ongoing supportive services.
The American criminal justice system is quite complex and can be quite baffling to the average American citizen. Victims of crime are thrust into a criminal justice system involuntarily by the events of the victimizing act. If you are a crime victim who has experienced an incomprehensible violent act, it can be a nightmare. As Victor-Hugh Schulze, a Deputy Attorney General for the state of Nevada writes, “The most relevant fact from the standpoint of the victim about his (or her) forced entry into this strange environment is that it comes at a point when he or (she) is least able to handle it.” Too often, the players who make up the system forget this fact.
In 1982, the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime described the response of the American criminal judicial system to victims of crime as “appallingly out of balance,” and the neglect of victims of crime “a national disgrace.” Victims historically have been given no meaningful opportunity to participate in the legal process, and most often, have been ignored, until their utility as witnesses was needed. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardoza recognized this need for a balance in the scales of justice well before the modern victims’ rights movement. In 1934, he wrote: “Justice, though due the accused, is due the accuser also. The concept of fairness must not be strained till it is narrowed to a filament. We are to keep the balance true.”
Fortunately, today the modern victims’ rights movement, developed during the past 30 years, has seen the outgrowth of four trends: the realization by courts that victims must be given a place at the criminal justice table, the growth of social research into the process and effects of victimization, the resultant need for victim advocacy services, and the spread of victim service agencies and self help organizations led by victims themselves.”
The restoration of a victim’s physical, mental and emotional health, dignity and resources of those who have experienced a violent crime should be of utmost importance to each member of our community. For those who commit crimes of violence, the community and the courts must send a loud and clear message that these criminal acts will not be tolerated. The offender must understand that he or she will be sufficiently punished and held fully accountable to the victim and the community for his or her wrongdoing. And, ideally, they need to make amends, to the degree possible, to the persons they violated.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month and this week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. This year’s national theme, “Justice Isn’t Served Until Crime Victims Are,” focuses attention on the victims’ needs for justice, for comprehensive victim services to help them cope in the aftermath of crime, and for the right to be treated with dignity and compassion by our criminal justice system and society. If we are going to be successful in carrying out this year’s theme, we must, first and foremost, not forget the victim.
Locally, multiple community agencies have joined together to increase the community’s awareness of the devastating and far-reaching effects that child abuse, sexual assault and other types of criminal victimization. These organizations have selected as this year’s local theme, “Light of Hope and Honor: Hope for a Crime Free Community and Honor for Our Victims.” to engage individuals and communities to come together in crime prevention and safety initiatives.
Join us at the 7th Annual Candlelight Vigil at 5:30 p.m. Thursday on the steps of the Courthouse in Nevada City as we “Honor Our Victims.” A brief march to the courthouse will begin at 5 p.m. from Calanan Park on Broad Street.
Rod Gillespie is a Senior Deputy Probation Office with the Nevada County Probation Department. He also oversees the County’s Victim/Witness Assistance Center as the Project Coordinator. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the California Victim/Witness Coordinating Council and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition in Nevada County. He serves as the coordinator for the County’s Sexual Assault Response Team, and the Child Multi-Disciplinary Interview Team and oversees the coordination of the Elder Abuse Multi-Disciplinary Team.
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