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.
National Crime Victims Rights Week, which ends today, reminds us that many challenges still 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 years National Crime Victimization Survey, more than 50 percent of violent crimes were not reported to police in 2006-10. In addition, a 2011 report called the Use of Victim Services Agencies by Victims of Serious Violent Crime showed that only 9 percent of violent crime victims received needed services in the 1993-2009 time frame.
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.
This years theme New Challenges,New Solutions reflects the increasingly complex mission of victim advocates today. Over the past year, a number of high-profile crimes across the nation have highlighted the scope of the challenges we face.
The impact on victims and the inadequacy of the tools to meet their needs has shown the public what we see every day. Our work to ensure the rights of child abuse victims, prevent future violence and reach all victims has never been more urgent!
To learn more about how you can help victims in St. Lawrence County, please contact Renewal House at 379-9845.
Ilene J. Burke
The writer is executive director of Renewal House.