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“We never know how far-reaching something we may think, say, or do today will affect the lives of millions tomorrow.” –B. J. Palmer (1882–1961)
As I began to write this article the news of the St. Johnsbury, Melissa Jenkins’ murder and the capture of the suspects in this case are fresh in my mind. This was such a senseless and brutal act of violence, but one unfortunately in which I can relate to in a very personal way, because I am a survivor of violent crime. While driving home late one night, I was kidnapped, raped, beaten and left for dead in a remote wilderness area. Fortunately for me and perhaps divine intervention, I was rescued by five teenagers who were camped nearby. My assailant was caught, tried and sentenced to 25 to 30 years. This event happened right here in the Mad River Valley in 1992 and serves as a sharp reminder that no one is really truly safe from crime, that crime happens here in Vermont and has a deep impact in our lives and the lives of our families, communities and even statewide.
It is with all this in mind that I write to announce National Crime Victims’ Rights Week which is April 22 to 28, 2012. This is a time to honor crime victims and our nation’s progress in advancing their rights. This year’s theme – Extending the Vision: Reaching Every Victim – celebrates the vision behind that progress and the ideal of serving all victims of crime.
The vision that launched the victims’ rights movement emerged more than 30 years ago. Then – as now – crime victims endured physical and emotional wounds, costly financial burdens, an often hostile criminal justice system and an alarming public tendency to blame them for the crimes against them. Victims were often excluded from courtrooms, disrespected by officials and afforded few rights. They began organizing to confront these challenges and to promote fair, compassionate and respectful responses to victims of crime.
Since the 1980s, the nation has made dramatic progress in securing rights, protections and services for victims of crime. Every state has enacted victims’ rights laws, and 32 states have constitutional victims’ rights amendments. All states have victim compensation funds, and more than 10,000 victim service agencies have been established throughout the country.
Yet, there is still so much to do. Victims’ rights are not universal and are often not enforced. Only a fraction of victims receive crime victim compensation, which is usually limited to victims of violent crime. More than 50 percent of crimes are not reported, and fewer than 20 percent of victims receive needed services. The victim services system is fragmented and uncoordinated, and agencies are struggling to keep their doors open in the face of budget cuts.
Yet victim advocates have not lost their resolve. “Our commitment to ‘extend the vision’ and ‘reach every victim’ will overcome every challenge that confronts us now. The vision, determination and passion for justice that inspired our history will help us transform the future for every victim of crime.”
Vermont will celebrate National Crime Victims’ Rights during the week of April 22 to 28. The Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services will be celebrating its 20-year anniversary and holding its annual award ceremony on Friday, April 27, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Chapel located in Montpelier. For more information please contact the Center at (802) 241-1250 or visit www.ccvs.state.vt.us/.
April is also National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. There are many events taking place in and around Vermont all month long. Check your local listing of events for more information.
Russell lives in Warren.