Gaining perspective during Crime Victims’ Week

John J. Choi
Ramsey County Attorney

Each year crimes such as murder, domestic violence, sexual assault, identity theft, auto theft and credit card fraud harm millions of Americans on a variety of levels, including physiological, physical, emotional, cognitive, financial, social and spiritual.

During National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. April 21-27, we remember the toll that crime takes on victims as well as their families and rededicate ourselves to preventing crimes while helping victims as they heal and rebuild their lives.

2013 has not started out to be an encouraging year for crime victims and the advocates who serve them. There have already been four homicides related to domestic abuse in Ramsey County alone. So far there is no indication that any of these victims interfaced with any community victim service programs. These agencies are busier than ever trying to reach out and connect with victims before it is too late. Their worthy efforts deserve our help.

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is a time to pause to consider that crimes are offenses against our community as a whole and that the plight of crime victims is everyone’s concern. Simply put, when crime victims aren’t safe, we aren’t safe.

Victims of crime are important and often critical participants in the prosecution of criminal activity. Prosecutors’ ability to proceed to trial often depends upon the victims’ courage to come forward and their strength to relive the crime in front of the very people who caused so much harm and suffering. They usually need support and assistance in order to do so. We can honor these victims by recognizing the professionals who serve them.

The Minnesota Comprehensive Crime Victims’ Rights law (M.S. 611A) guarantees the rights of victims to fair and open treatment by the state criminal justice system.

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office created a Victim-Witness Services Division in 1985 and currently has 11 advocates who work to ensure that crime victims’ rights are upheld once a case is charged. In 2012, we redesigned the V-W Division to better connect with victims with respect to what happens at the sentencing phase of cases.

Throughout the duration of each case, advocates help victims understand court proceedings and make sure victims know of their right to be heard. Advocates help victims travel to the courthouse and guarantee a safe waiting place before testifying. They sit with victims during hearings and stand with them as they address the court. They go a long way to advocate for people who are experiencing some of the darkest hours of their lives and to help them cope with a complicated adversarial system. They work long and tireless hours.

And they don’t do it alone. Ramsey County has the gift of many agencies who serve victims, such as Sexual Offense Services of Ramsey County, St. Paul Intervention Project, Tubman Center, Bridges to Safety, Women’s Advocates, Casa de Esperanza and Breaking Free to name just a very few. These agencies assist victims both inside and outside of the court system. Long before cases are charged, such agencies may be the first advocates victims encounter. They also provide assistance to the many victims who don’t wish to report their crime to the police and they continue to nurture the relationship long after court cases are over.

Many of these agencies offer tremendous services and dedication to victims on very small budgets, and thus many appreciate volunteers. Please consider showing them some encouragement at a time when the news about victims is so troubling and hard to take.

Last year, I stood with law enforcement, Ramsey County Project Remand and survivors of domestic violence to announce an offender GPS tracking program to better protect victims from further abuse. Instead of “pieces of paper” we now have a tool which will put some “teeth” into domestic violence protection orders.

This is a time for us to reflect on the terrible damage crimes inflict on so many, from our young children to our elderly parents. It’s a time to renew our vigilance to watch for crimes in our neighborhoods and to help the victims of crime we know in our everyday lives.

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