By Anna Nasset and Sue Russell
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is April 8-14, 2018.
This year’s the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW) theme is “Expand the Circle: Reach all Victims.” 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 by promoting victims’ rights and honoring crime victims and those who advocate on their behalf. This year’s theme highlights how the investment of communities in crime victims expands the opportunity for victims to disclose their victimization, connect with services and receive the support they need. The theme also acknowledges the many barriers facing victims of crime especially those with disabilities, LGBTQ victims, older adults, speakers with limited English proficiency, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and others from historically marginalized communities. One way proven to achieve this is through the support of community members such as yourselves. The Mad River Valley has a great deal of knowledge and experience in supporting victims/survivors of violent crimes. 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.
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 Richards Laws kidnapped, raped and nearly killed me. He was arrested, tried and served 23 years in prison. Throughout the years this Valley supported us in various ways from presence in court, community education, fundraisers and meetings. When Laws was released in April 2015 with his only condition that he must be registered on the Vermont Sex Offender Registry, this community took action steps. The Valley 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 moved to New Zealand. However, this has not stopped me from continuing my advocacy work in New Zealand. I am involved with a national campaign – “It’s Not OK.” This campaign is designed to help educate our New Zealand communities on action steps community members can take to help victims/survivors of family violence.
In early March 2018 a mutual acquaintance of Sue Russell and Anna Nasset introduced them via email and they quickly became “pen pals.” They shared a remarkable number of commonalities and were thrilled to meet one another as well as discover their Mad River Valley connection. Their bond is unique in that they are both victim/survivors of crime that resulted, despite having amazing community support, in them making drastic relocations for their personal safety and ability of live their fullest life.
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 my new home of Vermont. I moved to the Mad River Valley in May of 2016 for myriad reasons; the biggest driving force was creating 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.
Moving here to Vermont I thought I would be able to disappear and create a new and quiet life for myself, to hide away and “live in the shadows.” However, if you had met me in my old life you would know I don’t do anything quietly! After a lot of reflection and acceptance I came to realize this is part of my life; therefore, what am I going to do with it? I now work to change the story, to step out and speak up around my experience to assist other victims of crime and service providers. I am currently enrolled in the Vermont Victim Assistance Academy and recently started my own business called Stand Up Resources that provides communications, development and public speaking to victim service providers. I am passionate about my new community and spreading the latest information about how to support victims and survivors in this state and nationally.
We are representative of the millions of people who are victims of crime. A majority of victims do not have access to receive services from providers or agencies. In fact, 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.
Russell lives in New Zealand. Nasset lives in Warren.