North Carolina Department of Correction
Victims Voices: Silent No More
National Crime Victims
Catherine Gallagher Smith
A celebration of victims'
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|Comments of Catherine
This week marks a celebration of some 22 years during which victim advocates have accomplished incredible feats on behalf of victims of crime and their survivors
The change is recorded in the establishment of over 30,000 programs serving victims in the United States--
It is recorded in the development of a victim assistance profession whose members number in the scores of thousands--
And this change is recorded in the enactment of laws in NC that protect the constitutional rights of crime victims.
The change is also marked in President Reagan's 1982 Task Force on Victims of Crime which made 68 recommendations--that added up to a revolutionary document for change. The Task Force Report was the single, powerful force in the passage of the Victims of Crime Act of 1984. This act also started the eventual movement to amend state constitutions to better guarantee victim' rights. North Carolina is among 32 of our 50 states that have already amended their constitutions to recognize victims of crime.
In that revolution of services, laws and attitudes--we do--have much to celebrate.
But for we--who celebrate our progress during Crime Victims' Rights Week--this is also a time of commemoration. The U.S. may justly claim to be a world leader in the field of victims' rights--but we as a society must also acknowledge--much to our shame--to be a world leader in the victimization of our citizens. Because the progress of victims' rights over the 20 years--was accompanied by the unabated--destruction of human life at the hands of the criminals among us.
America today is over 12 times more violent than it was twenty-five years ago. And the violence we witness today--is becoming more terrifying in its brutality--more complex in its causes--and has become more accepted--as a way of American life.
If Crime Victims' Rights Week is to have meaning--it must honor the call for celebration as well as the call for commemoration. But commemoration and celebration are not enough. Perhaps the most important reason to come together here today--is to prepare ourselves for the challenges of the future.
We come here today to make a statement by planting a tree with a theme: Victims' Rights: Planting Seeds to Harvest Justice." This reflects the understanding that--just as farmers have known--we must plant every year--for the year's harvest.
So, let us consider our challenges in that context. As we prepare for the future--what is the nature of the soil on which we plant? From where do we gather our seeds? And what do we hope to harvest?
I believe that the soil for planting is rich in experience and understanding--thanks to the lessons we have derived from victims of crime in the past. They have taught us well.
We have learned and relearned of the ever-present disbelief that confronts victims--when they realize they have been violated. We have also learned that--despite such disbelief--victims survive terrible trauma as best they can--and with remarkable resilience.
We have been made uncomfortable--by the humiliation of victimization. There is shame in being rendered powerless--subject to someone else's control. We have been made uncomfortable--even when we were not the victim of a crime. Because victim's expose those who have not yet been victims--to their own vulnerability--and that is indeed uncomfortable.
But we have also learned that survival means reasserting our power--our control--and our helpfulness to the victims who have fallen prey to senseless violence.
And, finally--there is the lesson of grief. Oh, what a lesson of sadness of irretrievable loss. Someone has grabbed something that belongs to you. At first--many folks may have thought of the obvious; a stolen purse--the loss of physical integrity--the death of someone who is loved--those are obvious and deep losses. But now we know there is more: the loss of faith--trust--intimacy--security--identity--and even--the loss of hope.
These are the lessons that have enriched the soil in which we can plant the seeds for the future.
The seeds are there. They come from all of us who gather here today. It is your interest--your strength--your commitment and dedication--that will help us achieve the harvest of justice. They also come from the hundreds of other victims and advocates--around this state--who are celebrating and commemorating with us this week.
But, once again--just as the farmer knows--the seeds--once planted--need care to germinate and grow. They also need direction: just as the daffodil bulb will not grow if its tip is pointed to the darkness--tomato seeds do not sprout unless they are placed in the sun and given water--and morning glories need a rope--on which to climb.
Therefore, nurtured in the grounding of our knowledge and seeded by our determination to build a more just society, what may we hope to harvest?
I hope we can reap the following:
First, that we as a society decide to stop the violence around us. 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.
It is a campaign of violence prevention--that reaffirms hope--and reestablishes a sense of future. Every day--just like what happened in Littleton, Colorado last week and in Montreal yesterday--too many of our children face violence in their schools--their homes--and in their streets. They show us their despair--by the violence they do to each other. We must offer them a brighter alternative--or we will flip the switch on the time bombs of violence--that will blow up long into our own futures.
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. Things are never the same after a victim has witnessed the brutalized body of a loved one. Things are never the same--for victims who have faced the destruction--of a family or the loss of a home.
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. that indeed--is the essence of crisis intervention, supportive counseling--and advocacy through the criminal justice process.
We need to resurrect an old and respected thought--that thought is "that THE doing of justice is the result of common people agreeing to common values--and providing equitable enforcement of those values in a fair and just manner.
Crime Victims' Rights Week is a time for celebration, a time for commemoration and a time for reflection and commitment. This State has planted the seeds for victim justice in a rich soil. Therefore, it is time for us to gather in that harvest and to take seriously the symbolic meaning for which we gather today and plant this oak tree.
John F. Kennedy once said, and I paraphrase:
"For those--to whom--much is given--much is required. And, at some future date--when the high court of history sits in judgement on each of us recording whether--in our brief span of service--we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state--our success or failure in whatever office we hold--will be measured by the answers to four questions:
First, were we truly people of courage.
Second, were we truly people of judgement.
Third, were we truly people of integrity.
Finally, were we truly people of dedication.
I believe I am in the company here today--of people with courage, judgement, integrity and dedication to the cause of justice--people who are uniting this week to commemorate the sacrifices of the victims we seek to serve--people who are celebrating the seeds of kindness and vindication we have planted--and to commit ourselves--to harvest victim justice and victims' rights for the next generation.
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