North Carolina Department of Correction News - June 1999

Victims gather to share pain and celebrate accomplishments

Sharing their pain and celebrating their accomplishments, North Carolina crime victims met on the state capitol grounds in Raleigh April 29 to commemorate National Crime Victims Week.

This year’s event had special importance in North Carolina, as victims' rights will be guaranteed by Constitutional mandate to be enacted into law July 1, 1999

"The significance of how this law will change the way the criminal justice system works is profound," said Karen Taylor George of Correction Victims Services. "It requires that victims be recognized, notified and informed during each stage of the criminal justice system. This is not just providing rights but changing a way of thinking for the justice system: victims are important, they are an integral part of the system and they must be heard."

The ceremony began with the pealing of a church bell. It was joined by the bells of other downtown Raleigh churches, ringing for a full minute to honor crime victims. The Wake Christian Academy bell ringers echoed the beauty of the church bells with special music.

Survivors and crime victim advocates spoke about the importance of the day. None were more eloquent than nine-year old Chelsea Wood.

"I was four years old when my dad was killed. I miss him very much. I wish my dad were still here and that a man didn't kill him," Wood said, choking with emotion as she recalled a father-daughter dance at her school this year and how much she missed her father. "I wish everyone had a whole family. And I wish my dad were still here. I love you Daddy!"

Wood’s father was killed five years ago in Raleigh. Her older brother Michael urged legislators to remember victims and survivors and continue to improve laws to make victims rights better.

For Catherine Gallagher Smith of the North Carolina Victims Assistance Network, the ceremony marked 22 years of work by victim advocates that had brought about important changes in the way victims were being treated and focused attention on important work for the future.

"We must embrace a campaign of crime prevention that explicitly starts in our homes and schools that teaches youngsters not to hit and not to hate, a campaign that educates teens in the prevention of partner abuse and homicidal violence, that instructs adults as often as it takes that violence in the home is as serious a crime as violence in our streets," she said. "Second, our harvest must include the mature understanding that for a great many victims things will never be the same again and they need support in their adjustment to that fact…And because things will never be the same, we must have safety nets of victim assistance and victims' rights in place to help victims construct new lives."

The ceremony closed with the planting of an oak tree on the capitol grounds. As the ceremony’s speakers shoveled dirt around the tree, Taylor George explained the tree's symbolism. Like a tree, the state’s victims’ advocacy has strong roots and will continue to strengthen and branch out to help others.

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