CRIME VICTIMS: THE FORGOTTEN AMERICANS

The following is a fictional scenario extracted from the annals of true crime.

On a warm summer evening in North Miami, Mary Smith and her daughter, 13, were invaded by three house robbers. The mother was held at gunpoint while the criminals raped the child. The three subjects were apprehended, tried and convicted. Justice, so to speak, was served. But was it? The child was left with severe psychological trauma, nightmares and major phobias not to mention three forms of permanent sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, Mrs. Smith and her daughter were subjected to frequent appearances and interrogations via the justice system, a nightmarish ordeal in itself. Mrs. Smith lost her job and her house, unable to pay for the humongous costs.

The three criminals all had prior arrests and convictions for violent crime and had been given light sentences and/or had served a part of their sentence before being paroled. The bottom line: Representatives of the state (judges and parole boards) erred in their judgement which, post facto, resulted in these crimes. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but this tragedy would never have occurred had the criminals been given the hard time prescribed by statute. They should have been sentenced to the maximum with no probation and served their full terms. Law enforcement did their part. They identified, arrested and prosecuted the criminals. Yet, the system still failed Mary Smith and her daughter.

Oh well, Mrs. Smith. We’re sorry.

Victims of crime are often forgotten and/or treated as just another cog in the wheels of criminal justice. Yet, many victims of theft, robbery, rape and other physical assaults, are relegated to reliving those horrid moments for the rest of their lives, in terms of financial ruin, physical and mental disability, or by the death of loved ones. Too many of the perpetrators of those crimes had already been through a justice system which failed to keep dangerous criminals off the street, or at the least, correct their behavior. If we are a government whereby a citizen can be awarded millions of dollars from a restaurant because the coffee was too hot; If we are a government who rewards illegal aliens with billions in benefits and social services; If we are a government who sends billions of dollars overseas to assist citizens of other countries; If we can afford to spend billions more on sending space ships to Mars and beyond, we certainly can do a little more to assist the victims of crime in our own communities, especially when the system dropped the ball.

The tiny nation of Iceland passed a compensation program that provides financial relief for all victims of crime (Icelandic citizens) who suffer financial and/or physical loss. It’s the law. Not bad.

Besides the long range effects, crime victims, and/or their family members, are often required to spend considerable time at trials or other legal proceedings in a major case. Most are not paid for being away from their jobs. Some not only lost wages, they lose jobs. State legislatures should pass laws that protect victims of crimes or families of deceased victims by allowing up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work during any 12-month period to attend court proceedings.

As part of the terms of parole and/or probation, perpetrators should be required to pay restitution — at least in part — to victims that have suffered financial loss from their crimes. Inmates who work at paid jobs while in prison should provide some degree of restitution to their victims.

There are several victim advocacy organizations who work hard at bringing these issues to the attention of government leaders and who have strived toward introducing a constitutional amendment that would read (or similarly) as follows:

“A victim of a crime shall be treated with fairness, compassion and respect by the criminal justice system. A victim of a crime shall not be denied the right to be present at public judicial proceedings except when, prior to completing testimony as a witness, the victim is properly sequestered in accordance with law of the rules governing the courts of the state. A victim of a crime shall be entitled to those rights and remedies as may be provided by the legislative branch. Victim of a crime is defined as: a) a person who has suffered physical or psychological injury or has incurred significant loss or damage to personal or real property as a result of a crime or an incident involving another person operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and b) the spouse, parent, legal guardian, grandparent, child or sibling of the decedent in the case of a criminal homicide.”

Texas passed a Crime Victim Compensation Program that allows for up to $50,000 paid to victims of violent crime. This is a good start, but not nearly enough in cases where permanent injuries, physical and psychological, can spiral lifetime costs ten times that amount. Consider a victim who has been shot in the spine and relegated to a wheelchair for life, after major surgery.

The National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards has been advocating for victims of crime, boasting $444 million dollars in assistance to victims in 2006. Good for them. But that’s a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the losses incurred by victims of crime.

If I could wave the magic wand, I would want all states passing legislation that would provide for financial assistance to victims who suffer physical/mental disabilities as a result of a crime, providing they are not involved in the offense. And if a U.S. Senator, Congressman or even a president, cared enough to push through a bill, the federal government could chip in to help the funding . Who deserves it more?

If Iceland can do it, why not the USA?

Crime victims are the forgotten Americans, out of sight, out of mind. Until…that is…it happens to you or me.