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Get involved - before you're a victim

March 25, 1997

Imagine one night you are at home watching television. Your teenage daughter left the house hours earlier to see a movie with several friends. The phone rings. You are slightly irritated because you assume it is your daughter calling to ask to have her curfew extended. Instead it is a police officer calling from county hospital to tell you that your daughter was shot at point blank range while someone was attempting to steal her car.

He calmly requests that you drive to the hospital as quickly as possible because your daughter is in critical condition and is not expected to survive. Fortunately, your daughter does survive, but requires extensive reconstructive surgery, counseling and physical therapy.

Your daughter's medical bills are enormous and are only partly covered by mledical insurance, causing your family to go deeply into debt. You take time off from work to attend the first court date only to find that the case has been continued.

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You, your daughter, and your entire family are subpoenaed as witnesses and are not allowed to attend the court proceedings. Meanwhile, the defendant has every imaginable relative supporting him throughout the trial.

The call for victims' rights has continued ringing throughout the halls of Congress this year. A constitutional amendment that was introduced by Senators Kly (R-Az) and Feinstein (D-CA) guaranteeing victims the rights to be informed, present, and heard is on the way to becoming the law of the land. The week of April 13 through April 19, marks the observance of National Crime Victims' Rights Week. During this commemorative week, organizations that assist victims of violent crime join together to promote greater public awareness about crime victims.

All states and the District of Columbia have enacted statutory provisions for crime victims. Forty-seven states have victims' bills of rights on the books, and 29 states have ratified constitutional amendments to guarantee victims' rights. Victims, advocates and other supporters across the nation joined forces to support the introduction and passage of the Crime Victims' Rights Federal Constitutional Amendment in 1996. The proposed amendment will give crime victims basic constitutional protections, including the rights to be informed of, present and heard at key criminal justice proceedings; the right to an order of restitution; the right to a final conclusion free from unreasonable delay; and the right to reasonable protections from the offender.

As states begin to face the music and pass much needed victim legislation, you too should be concerned about the fair treatment of victims. Crime victims should be treated with sensitivity and compassion. We need to make services available to assist victims throughout the grieving process and during the criminal court case. Be a responsible citizen and productive member of society. Support a victim organization, domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center in your community. Don't wait until you or a loved one has become a victim of crime. Start now. You can make a difference in someone's life. Resolve to get involved.

Jill Ritter

Victim/Witness Coordinator

Washington County

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