CHARLESTON - Having 25 years of protecting victims' rights under their belts, organizers of and participants in National Crime Victims' Rights Week want the public to remember that "Justice Isn't Served Until Crime Victims Are."
During April 10-16, the silver anniversary of National Crime Victims' Rights Week will be observed across the nation by victims and survivors and the professionals and volunteers who assist them.
The local observance will be early, however, with a ceremony scheduled for 1:
30 p.m. Wednesday at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, according to Mary Anne Clayton who has served as the victim advocate for Mississippi County for nearly four years after retiring from the sheriff's department.
The Mississippi-Scott County Victims' Services Partnership scheduled the early ceremony because the national observance falls during Charleston's Dogwood-Azalea Festival, she explained.
The partnership includes the SECC, the Mississippi County Sheriff's Department and Prosecutor's Office, victim advocates for Mississippi and Scott counties, area probation and parole offices, and the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center along with other area criminal justice and law enforcement officials and victims' services agencies.
Speakers at the event will include a representative from Mothers Against Drunk Driving who was paralyzed in an accident with a drunk driver; and Darren Cann, Mississippi County prosecuting attorney, according to Clayton.
"Of course the public is invited - the purpose is to raise awareness for crime victims," she said.
"It definitely helps bring awareness to people of the crimes that happen in our community here," said Scott County Victim Advocate Taryn Merideth. "And it helps to give crime victims a voice - it's their time to speak out."
Since becoming a victim advocate in November 2001, Merideth has seen the positive effects of observing National Crime Victims' Rights Week. "It's kind of a forum for area victims to come together, speak out about what has happened to them, talk to other people who have experienced the same thing," she said.
This year's theme, "Justice Isn't Served Until Crime Victims Are," emphasizes the importance of providing support and assistance to victims as a critical component of justice in America.
"I've certainly learned that victims are an important part of the criminal justice system and if they aren't being served the system isn't working properly," Merideth said.
"Anyone who is truly concerned about justice should also be concerned that victims and survivors are treated with dignity and compassion, educated about their rights under law, and offered services to help them cope in the aftermath of crime," John W. Gillis, director of the Office for Victims of Crime, said in a recent press release. "Only when we consistently serve victims in our communities are we truly serving justice."
It was 25 years ago that President Ronald Reagan declared the first National Crime Victims' Rights Week to pay tribute to crime victims and to recognize the devastating impact of violence on individuals, communities and our nation as a whole.
Clayton said much of the emphasis in the justice system over the years was on protecting the rights of defendants. With the establishment of National Crime Victims' Rights Week, the system not only considers victims and their rights, but also recognizes them as survivors. "We're just celebrating their courage," said Clayton.
Since 1981, the field of victims' rights and services has made contributed to many accomplishments that have enhanced individual and community safety. Today there are over 10,000 justice system- and community-based programs to inform and educate victims about their rights and provide services to help them cope with the physical, emotional, financial and spiritual impacts of crime.
Over 32,000 state and federal laws have been passed that define and protect victims' rights including constitutional amendments in Missouri and 31 other states.
Victim service programs offer a wide range of services that include crisis intervention, counseling, safety planning and advocacy throughout the criminal or juvenile justice system; and state victim compensation programs help victims recover from the many costs associated with criminal victimization.