This year marks the 40th anniversary of the inception of National Crime Victims' Rights Week. Every year millions of people fall victim to crime in the United States. While crime can vary, its impact affects not only the victim but also their family and community. In addition to the trauma of the actual crime, participating in the criminal justice system can be incredibly confusing and stressful for victims of crime. For this reason, the work of victim advocates and other allied professionals is so important.
These systems of support, however, were not always in place. Less than 30 years ago, victims were not active participants in the criminal justice system. They had few legal rights and were not notified of court proceedings, or arrest or release of the defendant, could not attend the trial or make a statement to the court, and had no assistance programs to support them in the process. Victims remained on the sidelines and were limited to reporting the crime and providing support to the prosecution as witnesses.
The movement behind victims' rights started alongside work to raise awareness of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other crimes against women and children. In April 1981, Ronald W. Reagan became the first president to proclaim National Crime Victims' Rights Week and then in 1982 formed the Task Force on Victims of Crime, creating national attention to the needs of crime victims. The taskforce's final report sparked a national movement to focus on constitutional amendments in states to test whether this could improve a victim's place in the criminal justice system without any adverse or unintended consequences.
Arizona voters agreed that a Victims' Bill of Rights (VBR) was needed to recognize that victims of crime deserve fair treatment and play a central role in criminal proceedings. On November 6, 1990, Arizona voters approved Proposition 104, amending the State Constitution to include a VBR. Arizona was one of six states to adopt a VBR, and after its passage, several states modeled their amendments after Arizona. Constitutional amendments are essential in ensuring the permanence and the ability to enforce victims' rights. By incorporating a VBR into the State Constitution, Arizona voters ensured that victims of crime would always have rights.
The specific rights in the VBR can be grouped into four general categories:
- Rights that protect the victim from harassment and abuse throughout the criminal justice process.
- Rights that allow a victim to participate in, contribute to, and request information from a criminal prosecution.
- Rights to receive restitution from the person or persons who committed the crime.
- Right to preserve the VBR on behalf of the crime victim by the legislature.
Today, every state in the United States has fundamental rights, protections, and assistance programs for victims of crime. This change has made a significant difference in providing justice for victims and ensuring criminals are held accountable. When victims can participate in the criminal justice system, they can take control and share their stories. This National Crime Victims' Rights Week, join us in honoring victims of the past and supporting survivors and their families.
Learn more about National Crime Victims' Rights Week at, ovc.ojp.gov/program/national-crime-victims-rights-week/overview