The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) of the U.S. Department of Justice leads communities throughout the country in the annual observances of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW) April 7-13, 2019. This year’s NCVRW theme is Honoring Our Past. Creating Hope for the Future. During this season, we honor the work of the achievements of the trailblazers who spearheaded the crime victims’ movement and champion the resilience of survivors and their courage to persevere.

In honoring NCVRW, two victims of crime, former and current residents of the Mad River Valley, have come together to share their stories and honor the importance of this week.

Sue Russell: My husband Rob and I experienced the support of community firsthand countless times in the 25 years we lived in Warren. In 1992, I became the victim of violent crime when Richard Laws kidnapped, raped and nearly killed me. He was arrested, tried and served 23 years in prison. When Laws was released in April 2015 his only condition was that he had to register with the Vermont Sex Offender Registry. The community took action, held safety planning meetings, revised neighborhood watch committees and rallied around me to ensure my safety. Though safety action was in place, Rob and I decided to move to New Zealand in October 2015.

We thought New Zealand to be one of the safest places in the world. However, we awoke today to the sharp realization that there really is no safe place in the world. As I write this it is the day after New Zealand’s first and deadliest terrorist attack. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said March 15 was clearly one of New Zealand's darkest days. She is right. Amid this, though, we saw the Christchurch community, including the various faith communities, fellow New Zealanders and the world at large, sending us messages of love and posting pictures on social media stating, “This is not who we are New Zealand Kia Kaha (Stay Strong) Christchurch.” We are also aware that many, from the police, victim support, mental health professionals, various faith communities to the homeless, are stepping up to help those impacted by this terrifying hate crime. I know we will all do our part to help all those impacted by this crime. We will champion the resilience of survivors and their courage to persevere, not just during NCVRW but throughout the year ahead.

In March 2018, I was introduced to Anna Nasset and we quickly became pen pals. We shared a remarkable number of commonalities and were thrilled to meet and discover our Mad River Valley connection. Our bond is unique in that we are both victim/survivors of crime that resulted, in despite having amazing community support, in making drastic relocations for our personal safety and ability to live our fullest life.

Anna Nasset writes: For the past seven years, I have received and continue to receive incredible assistance and support from victim services providers from across this country and here in Vermont. I moved to the Mad River Valley in May 2016 to create a life of safety and freedom for myself. I am an ongoing victim/survivor of stalking. The offender, a male whom I do not know, has a rare form of schizophrenia which manifests as erotomania and has put my safety and life in extreme danger for many years. He has been prosecuted, convicted and served time in jail for this crime. I have a lifetime restraining order against him. He is currently incarcerated in Washington state and I am preparing to testify against him in the next few months to hopefully see conviction on two felony stalking charges in which I am the victim.

The concept of relocating for one’s safety is one that very few understand – the emotion that comes behind a choice to leave community, family and home is brutal. I was very fortunate when making this choice to be able to relocate here within my country, to have the resources (limited as they were) to afford such a drastic change. At this time in our country’s history and as we look further out into the global lens we see thousands and thousands leaving their homes to find safety and peace. They leave with no possessions to move where they are met with intolerance, hatred and judgment. As we see in the mass shooting in New Zealand, so many people who have already lived a lifetime of being victims of crime become casualties of crime. The quest for peace, safety and to create a new home is shattered by actions of hatred and bigotry.

As I continue my work in victims’ rights and services I am committed to creating space and acknowledgement to survivors and victims of all crimes, not just this NCVRW week but every day of the year. In doing this work I am honoring my past and changing it to create hope for the future for all.

Our stories not only link us together, but we also represent the millions of people who are victims of crime. Most victims do not have access to receive services from providers or agencies. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, only 9 percent of victims of serious violent crimes receive direct assistance from a victim service agency. We urge you as a community to take to heart and task this year’s theme of NCVRW, to expand the circle so that all victims of crime have access to assistance and services. Crimes such as stalking, rape and domestic violence are far too often dismissed due to the way Hollywood and society have depicted them. With the Me Too movement and shifts in dialogue we are moving toward a time where victims aren’t having to defend themselves and are being taken seriously, but we aren’t there yet. We ask that you take seriously the words or cries for help from your neighbor, friends and community members and stand together to honor all victims of crime.