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Guest column: Finding justice for victims is justice for all

POSTED: April 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.
"There was nobody there to tell", said an elderly victim of the abuse she received from her caregiver.

"I really thought he was going to change this time", comments a victim of domestic violence.

"He told me no one would believe me", confesses a victim of child molestation.

Quotes like these are all too common in our society as we are faced with daily reminders that any one of us can become a victim of crime.

Imagine living in a society that did not recognize the rights of crime victims. Imagine being the victim of a violent crime and not receiving notification that the offender had been released from jail, not knowing that services such as counseling and compensation were available, and not being given the opportunity to come to court and voice your opinion.

It is common knowledge that accused criminals have rights. Within the past few decades, there has been dramatic progress in the recognition that crime victims have rights as well. In 1995, the Georgia Crime Victims Bill of Rights was enacted through the Georgia Legislature to assure that victims of certain crimes would have specific rights.

These rights include things such as the assurance of notification at each stage of the judicial process, the ability to offer input on bond and sentencing hearings, accompaniment to court if the victim wishes to be present, and referrals to services such as counseling and compensation.

Victim Advocates at the Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office (serving Hall and Dawson County) strive to ensure that each victim is informed, protected and supported through the criminal justice system. Advocates' duties include anything from sitting with a rape victim during a court hearing that forces her to relive a terrifying moment to educating a murder victim's family of their right to express opinions regarding the possibility of parole for their loved one's killer.

Advocates are also available to answer questions regarding the often-confusing court system. Last year, nearly 2000 victims were served by the Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office. In addition to our prosecutor's office, our community is fortunate to have a number of other agencies that provide needed services such as counseling, shelter and emergency support.

Local agencies are not the only ones who can support crime victims. We should work as individuals and together with our neighbors in an effort to make a difference for people who fall victim to crime. Take the time to check on an elderly neighbor who may be an easy target for financial exploitation. Don't be afraid to reach out to a woman who is isolated by her husband and may be a victim of domestic violence. Pay attention to sudden changes in the behavior of children and teens that may be victims of abuse but are afraid to tell an adult. Only by working together can we really ensure that the rights and needs of crime victims will be met.

April 13-19 is recognized as National Crime Victims' Rights week. During this week, we strive to raise community awareness of crime victims' rights, protections and services.

This week's theme, "Justice for Victims. Justice for All." asserts that because anyone can become a victim of crime, every citizen has a powerful stake in victims' rights. If we fail to honor these rights, the ideal of justice for all is tarnished. This week, as well as throughout the year, let's not forget the people who work daily with crime victims. Voice your appreciation to our local law enforcement for the sacrifices they make to ensure that justice is served.

Many times shelters that house children have specific needs such as school supplies or toys. Go through things that you are no longer using and donate them to someone who is in need. Serve as a volunteer so that a victim who has no one to turn to will have someone to listen to their story. The possibilities are endless but the bottom line is that by working together, we can make a difference.

The ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tse, said "The longest journey starts with a single step." A lot has been accomplished but we still have miles to go. During this week, let us be mindful of the struggles crime victims face and work together to make sure that justice is achieved for all.

Bethany Foley is director of the Victim Witness Assistance Program for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit. She can be reached at 770-531-6965.


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