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Annual Ceremony Scheduled for April 23rd at Noon in the State Capitol Rotunda
The theme of this year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is “New Challenges. New Solutions.” The annual week-long celebration of victims’ rights honors the evolution of our criminal justice system from treating victims like bystanders to providing statutory and constitutional rights that keep victims informed and able to be present and heard during their cases. Wisconsin is considered a national leader in the victims’ rights movement because our laws provide not only rights but also remedies for violations of victims’ rights. Victims’ rights aren’t simply “nice” things we do to support victims; they are legal mandates passed by the citizenry of this state as a constitutional amendment in 1993. Four years later, the state legislature passed the victims’ rights statute, which further delineated the rights for crime victims in Wisconsin.
Law enforcement and prosecutors have the duty, for example, to let victims know what their rights are and how to exercise them. As one victim put it, “For most people the process is unknown. You don’t even know what questions to ask. If a person is a victim and you aren’t given information about anything, it’s like you are a victim twice. You lose the chance to go to hearings and to know what is happening.” In Wisconsin, victims have a statutory right to receive notice of court proceedings upon request so that they can attend if they wish and get information firsthand.
The father of a homicide victim sat through a lengthy trial during which his murdered son’s name was rarely spoken, but he endured with the hope that justice would prevail and he’d be able to address the court through a victim impact statement. On that day, the court would hear his son’s name, how much he was loved and how his murder greatly impacted those who knew him. “It was our day,” he recalled, “You are waiting through the hard parts for the chance to speak, because you’re not really heard until you’re heard in court.” In Wisconsin, victims have the right to make a victim impact statement at sentencing in order to share a perspective that is uniquely theirs.
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: someone betraying trust to sexually assault their children. When two young girls bravely told their parents about the crimes that had been committed against them, the family contacted law enforcement immediately. The offender was identified and the case was referred to the district attorney’s office. Months passed without a word about the case. Calls were not returned. The daughters worried about what would happen next and the parents grew more and more distressed. “They never told us what was happening,” reported the victims’ mother, “and an interesting thought that continued to go through our minds at this time was that [the defendant] was surely being well informed by his attorney about how things were going. He knew what was happening and we were in the dark.”
Victims’ rights were enacted so that scenarios like the one described above would not occur and victims would not be left in the dark. While our system isn’t perfect and mistakes still occur, the criminal justice system has come a long way in protecting the interests of victims. Victims are no longer bystanders. They have the right to information, to be present, to provide input, to receive restitution and to be treated with dignity, with respect for their privacy and with sensitivity. We pay tribute to these principles during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 21-27, 2013.
Please join me, the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the Wisconsin Crime Victims Council for this year’s Crime Victims’ Rights Week Ceremony in the State Capitol Rotunda (balcony level) on April 23, 2013, at noon as we present the 2013 Champion of Victims’ Rights Awards in honor of many who have gone above and beyond in their support of victims’ rights in Wisconsin. More information about victims’ rights and services is available online at: www.doj.state.wi.us/cvs.
Click below for an audio clip of this column.