National Crime Victims’ Rights Week was April 19-25, 2020.
The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) of the U.S. Department of Justice leads communities throughout the country in their annual observances of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW). We have been co-authoring NCVR’s articles for several years now. This year's theme is “Seek Justice – Ensure Victims' Rights and Inspire Hope.” Now more than ever as we challenge this new way of being in our world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Seeking Justice – Ensuring Victims' Rights and Inspiring Hope is key in helping victims live in the new normal. Many of us are currently in lockdown, self-isolation mode. In New Zealand, where Sue resides, the borders are closed – and the message from their leader, Jacinda Ardern, is “Stay Home – Stay Safe and Be Kind to one another.” However, for victims and survivors of domestic violence, including children exposed to it, being home may not be a safe option – and the unprecedented stress of the pandemic could breed unsafety in homes where violence may not have been an issue before.
In Vermont, the response has been clear from the beginning, you are not alone. Governor Scott, state police, local law enforcement, domestic violence centers and the Vermont Network for Domestic and Sexual Violence have taken an aggressive approach from the beginning of the pandemic to ensure that all victims can be served safely during this time. As we begin to see the rise in domestic violence, we encourage you to be aware, be kind, stay safe and know there is assistance if you are in need.
To help these vulnerable populations during the pandemic, psychologists and social service organizations are banding together to provide emergency domestic violence and child abuse resources in response to the expected rise in cases. In several European countries, those in abusive situations are being told by the government to report the abuse to their local pharmacist, using the code word “mask 19” if they can’t speak openly.
Another vulnerable group are our elders who often do not have access to technology.
Aging and the changes that come with it can make our seniors particularly vulnerable to crime, abuse and neglect, but crimes against older adults are not as well studied or understood as crimes against other vulnerable groups. The most likely place for older adults to experience victimization is where they live, and the perpetrator is most likely to be a family member or someone they know. If we add in self-isolation or remaining in your family bubble and consider the intimate nature of many of these victimizations, it means that older victims are less likely to report offenses committed by someone close to them. We can’t address these crimes effectively until the victims are more widely recognized and until older adults receive the support they need to report crimes, seek services and pursue justice.
So how do we help these vulnerable groups during this time to seek justice, ensure their rights are met and inspire hope? By working together across all social services and keeping the lines of communication open and being agile to change. Let’s all work together and build a better new normal for victims and survivors.
Due to the current pandemic, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) is postponing the 2020 National Crime Victims' Service Awards Ceremony, which was originally scheduled for April 24, 2020, in Washington, DC. However you can go to https://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw/events.html for more information on the awardees and to keep updated. The OVC site has a list of resources and contacts for information for victims, survivors and those that serve them.
If you or a loved one is currently experiencing violence or been a victim of sexual assault, know that you are not alone. Services are available to support you. Visit Vermont Network for Domestic and Sexual Violence for help at www.vtnetwork.org/get-help. Call the statewide Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-228-7395, or the statewide Sexual Violence Hotline, 800-489-7273.
Russell is a former Warren, Vermont resident and Nasset is a current Warren resident.