NEED FOR VICTIM ASSISTANCE
The criminal justice system developed over the course of the last 250 years as a response to the persecution and oppressiveness experienced by our founding fathers in Europe. It is a legal system whose origins are deeply rooted in protection of the accused. An individual is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by an unbiased jury of their peers. Our system is without guarantees for those who have been harmed and it cannot promise protection.
The victim of a crime involved in the criminal justice process can potentially experience a wide range of feelings - anger, frustration, intimidation, fear, etc. Without a doubt, the process can be disillusioning, disappointing and disturbing.
Because of the mandates specified in our laws, the emotions and personal circumstances of the case cannot be considered. The victim's plight is not a factor in determining the guilt or innocence of an accused. In turn, victims see the criminal justice system as a bureaucracy with many rules and few exceptions - something that can be totally unresponsive to their needs. Law, for victims, can be tedious, inefficient and time-consuming.
A victim's sense of frustration with the system, and perceived rejection by the very system he turns to for assistance and support, can make it very difficult for the victim to recover in the aftermath of him victimization.
THE EXPERIENCE OF VICTIMIZATION
It is difficult to accept that almost everyone's life will be touched by crime, even though we all think "it can't happen to me". Over 6 million Americans are victims every year of report crimes. If we include crime that goes unreported, the number of victims would double, and perhaps triple, this figure. The National Institute of Justice reports the following statistics:
- Every 23 minutes - someone is murdered
- Every 6 minutes - someone is raped
- Every 48 seconds - someone is assaulted
- Every 8 seconds - a home/business is burglarized
- 1 home in 6 experiences domestic abuse
- 3 homes in 5 experience child abuse/neglect
- 1 of every 6 to 10 boys and every 3 to 4 girls will be victims of sexual assault/acquaintance rape by the time they are 21
Victimization produces crisis because it is a sudden, unanticipated, random and arbitrary act. It shatters one's sense of self and his ability to function with others. The pain of violation is isolating and destroys one's sense of trust and one's sense of control. Repairing the damage is a very individual process that can be hindered by the criminal justice process - a process that can foster a sense of isolation and inability to make choices and take charge of one's own life.
VICTIM ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
To minimize the negative impasse the crime and the criminal justice system can have on the victim, Victim Witness Assistance Units began to be established in prosecutor's offices in Colorado during the mid 70's. Their general function is to provide information, education, support, referral and advocacy services for those who suffer physical, emotional and financial harm as the result of the commission of a crime. These units provide information about case status, education about the criminal justice process, referrals to other resources to meet specific needs, and support during the pending of a case.
Education about the criminal justice process is an important function of the Victim Witness staff. Most people have only a minimal knowledge at best of how the criminal system works and what all the terminology means. Taking the time to let people know what to expect in terms of process and procedure is important in restoring a victim's sense of balance. Other services provided by the Unit include:
- Provide emotional support to crime victims and their families.
- Provide referrals to other community agencies for additional help.
- Advocates for victims' rights.
- Acts as a liaison between victims/witnesses and the criminal justice system.
- Provide employer intervention and transportation assistance.
- Assists in the prompt return of property used as evidence.
- Provide information about and assistance with filing for victim compensation.
Legislation enacted in 1984 specifically recognized certain rights victims should have. Victims are entitled:
- To know the status of the case in which you are involved.
- To be free of intimidation and threats of harm.
- To have your property returned as quickly as possible.
- To be informed of available victim services and compensation funds available to you.
- To be informed of witness fees.
- To submit recommendations and be informed of bond and release conditions.
- To have employer intervention services in order to minimize losses resulting from court appearances.
- To receive a speedy disposition of the case in order to minimize the stress of involvement in the criminal process.
- To receive appropriate restitution from the defendant.
- To proceed with possible civil remedies available outside the criminal action.
- To be provided a secure waiting area during court proceedings.
- To be present at sentencing hearings, to testify and/or provide a victim impact statement concerning the harm sustained because of the crime.