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Thirty 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. However, National Crime Victims’ Rights Week reminds us that many challenges yet remain. I know from firsthand, personal experience as a victim of violent crime that occurred here in the Mad River Valley in June of 1992 that violent crime can occur anywhere and at any time. I also know of the services available in the aftermath of crime, including, the victim advocates in each state's attorney's offices, who help walk a victim through the maze of the criminal justice and court systems and other services such as victims compensation.
The Vermont Victims Compensation Program helps crime victims pay for non-insured expenses that are related to the crime. The victim’s compensation program receives $23.75 out of a $41 surcharge on each traffic ticket and criminal conviction in Vermont; in other words, offender's fines help support it. For example, if you get a speeding ticket, a portion of your fine goes into the fund. Other funding comes from the national Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which, thanks to our Senator Leahy and Representative Welch, has passed this year before sequestration. All these things, including a supportive caring community, help a victim become a survivor and then perhaps even an activist such as myself.
I also know the true meaning in terms of victims’ rights being denied and being unable to appeal or have the agency or persons responsible be sanctioned for not adhering to victims’ rights. Crime victims’ rights are not universal and are often not enforced. This, sadly is especially true in Vermont, in which we are one of 17 states who have yet to place our victim’s rights statute into our state constitution. This act alone would strengthen enforcement mechanisms. However, there is a committee, of which I am a member, working in Vermont to find ways to include enforcement mechanisms into our current victim’s rights statutes. It has been almost 17 years since Vermont enacted the Victims Bill of Rights (1996) and while it has been massaged and worked on these past 17 years there is still much to do. Sadly, too, is the fact that only a small percentage of victims receive crime victim compensation, which is limited to the victims of listed crime found in Vermont statutes.
As funding sources decrease, providers must target their services even more strategically. “This year’s NCVR week theme, ‘New Challenges. New Solutions,’captures our mission in the 21st century,” said Joye E. Frost, acting director, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). “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.”
Russell lives in Warren.