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Do Victim’s Need More Rights?

When I was a child my best friend, Rosie, and I would play at each other’s houses and we would walk each other half way home at the end of each day. Ashburn Village, the neighborhood we lived in, was an upper class development and it was considered safe. On October 14, 11 the people of this neighborhood found that it was just the opposite. At four o’clock that afternoon Rosie and I were playing school in my basement when the phone rang. It was Rosie’s brother calling to tell her that her parents wanted her home. As usual we procrastinated, thinking of every possible reason to slow down the process of leaving my house. I think it took her ten minutes to put her shoes on and tie them. After twenty minutes of this procrastination the phone rang again. This time it was Rosie’s father trying to hurry her up. It was half past four when I began walking her halfway home. At the end of Alta Vista Drive, the street I lived on, we said goodbye. At the end of my street there was a lot of shrubbery. I had just gotten past it when I realized that I was still wearing one of her bracelets she had loaned me. I walked back up the street and by the shrubbery when I saw Rosie talking to two men in a big truck. It looked like she was answering a question they had asked her. Something kept me from continuing to walk toward the truck. I believe now that I had an angel with me that day, because the man on the passenger side of the truck grabbed Rosie and pulled her into the truck, Rosie was screaming, and they drove away. I ran home to tell my parents. I had lost my best friend that day.

Daniel McGillis and Patricia Smith, authors of Compensating Victims of Crime An Analysis of American Programs, reveal that as early as 180 legislative goals of victims’ rights groups focused on improving civil rights and women’s rights in victimization. Victims’ rights groups demanded restitution and compensation for victims of crimes. These lobbyists argued primarily for African American’s rights and women’s rights in victimization. They believed that African Americans and women were not treated fairly within the justice system (). Emilio Viano, author of Victims’ Rights and the Constitution, states that victims’ rights groups positioned themselves on the side of the issue that portrays a “revictimizing” justice system. Lobbyist groups believed that the system “revictimized” the original victim through mistreatment by the police, attorneys, and judges throughout judicial proceedings (48). Robert Elias, author of The Politics of Victimization, states that some groups felt that the reason for some victim’s poor treatment was due to the “classes” of the victims (4). Most early supporters of victims’ rights movements were women, minorities, or highly educated liberals, according to the American Bar Association Section of Criminal Justice.

The 180s brought about federal attention towards the victims’ rights groups and the creation of the President’s Task Force on victims of crime. The task force reported that more than sixty recommendations were made concerning the rights of victims after its creation (Presidents Task ). The National Organization for Victims’ Assistance is a nonprofit organization of victim and witness assistance programs and practitioners, criminal justice agencies and professionals, mental health professionals, researchers, former victims and survivors, and others committed to the recognition and implementation of victim rights and services. It was founded in 175 and is the oldest national group of its kind in the worldwide victims’ movement. According to National Organization for Victims Rights (NOVA), by 180 there were only seven principle rights for victims of crime. Victims had the “right to protection from intimidation and harm, the right to be informed concerning the criminal justice process, the right to reparations, the right to preservation of property and employment, the right to due process in criminal court proceedings, the right to be treated with dignity and compassion, and the right to counsel” (). These seven principles were not enough for the victims’ rights groups. They were determined to “translate these principles into policies and practice”(NOVA ).

Custom Essays on Victims' Rights

The United States Department of Justice reports that by the mid to late 180s, many changes occurred regarding victims’ rights. Presently the majority of states have passed some sort of victims’ rights legislation, and almost 0% of the states have crime compensation legislation (). The federal government has also made some changes since 180 regarding victims and their rights. According to NOVA, the U.S. government created the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 18, the Victims of Crime Act of 184, the Victims Rights and Restitution Act, the Child Victims’ Bill of Rights in 10, and the Victim Right Clarification Act of 17. A Declaration on Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power was enacted by the United Nations in 185 (5). Today, victims can influence sentencing. Victims can make an impact statement or an allocution, which allows them to make presentation of their loss, in some states. “The number of states with comprehensive victims’ rights legislation increased from just 4 in 18 to 1 in 186 (U.S. Department of Justice 1).

Victims’ rights groups are still not satisfied. NOVA supporters believe that the rights that victims have been given must also have remedies. For example, the victims’ right to “protection should include the rights to privacy, the effective enforcement of protection orders, safety and security in criminal justice proceedings, the establishment of safe havens and peace zones, special protections for highly vulnerable victims, and violence prevention” (1). In other words, these laws and rights must be implemented and enforced (NOVA ).

Is there a need for more compensation to victims of crime? According to the Victims of crime have an obvious interest in the American criminal-justice process”, but do crime victims need Congress to ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to gain more rights?

Victims’ rights refer to the right of victims to have a role in the prosecution of the perpetrators of crimes against them. Victims experience difficult and painful stages throughout their ordeal. Victims’ rights typically ensure that victims receive respectful and compassionate treatment, that they are informed at critical stages of the criminal prosecution, and that their courtroom attendance and comments are accepted when appropriate.

Victimization and its aftermath can be a devastating experience. NOVA reports that most victims of crime suffer similar crisis reactions and categorizes these crisis reactions into the physical response of a crime on its victim and the emotional reaction its victim has to the crime (4). NOVA reports, “the physical response to trauma is based on our animal instincts.” This physical response to victimization includes “physical shock, disorientation, and numbness” (1). NOVA refers to this stage as “frozen fright.” The second stage of a victim’s physical response is the “Fright-or-Flight or Adapt” reaction. In this stage the victim’s “adrenalin begins to pump through the body, the body may relieve itself of excess materials like ingested food, one or more physical senses may become more acute while others shut down, the heart rate increases and hyperventilation and sweating may occur.” The final stage of the physical response is “exhaustion.” Due to this physical response “emotional reactions are heightened.” There are also three stages in a victim’s emotional reaction. The first stage leaves the victim feeling “shock, disbelief, and denial”. The second stage of a victim’s emotional reaction results in a “cataclysm of emotions.” This stage stirs up emotions such as “anger or rage, fear or terror, sorrow or grief, confusion or frustration, and self-blame or guilt.” The third stage of a victim’s emotional reaction is the “reconstruction of the equilibrium.” In this final stage the victim who was on an “emotional roller-coaster” becomes balanced (1).

Dealing with this crisis reaction is extremely difficult for victims. Dean Kilpatrick, a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, after surveying ,000 victims of crime, concluded, “victims of crime suffered more psychological problems than non victims.” A table prepared by Elizabeth Stark, a NOVA member, shows that many victims, whether they are victims of rape, attempted rape, molestation, attempted molestation, robbery, attempted robbery, or aggravated assault, have higher occurrences of nervous breakdowns, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts (). With this in mind many victims, researchers, professionals and politicians alike believe that legislation is needed to provide victims with more rights.

Advocates of victims’ rights agree with the simple idea that victims, along with perpetrators, are entitled to rights in the criminal process. In the PBS special, Making Amends Victims’ Rights, President Clinton states, “Two hundred twenty years ago, our founding fathers were concerned, justifiably, that government never, never trample on the rights of people just because they are accused of a crime. Today, it is time for us to make sure that while we continue to protect the rights of the accused, government does not trample on the rights of the victims.” For example, President Clinton believes that victims should have these basic rights “to be told about public court proceedings and attend them, to make a statement to the court about bail and sentencing, to attend and speak at parole hearings, to be informed when the defendant or convict escapes or is released, to receive reasonable protection from the defendant, and to receive restitution” (). According to the Wall Street Journal’s article, “Making Amends to Crime Victims,” the rights stated by President Clinton would reestablish the victims’ rights to defend themselves. Unfortunately, often the victims’ rights that have already been established by individual states are being denied. Proof of this point is found in the article “Making Amends to Crime Victims” in the Wall Street Journal, where a study by the National Institute of Justice found that “large numbers of victims are being denied their legal rights” ().

Federal legislation is needed to support victims of crime because the state legislation is being denied to some victims. For example, President Clinton agrees that victims should be notified of judicial proceedings. Roberta Roper’s case, found in the Washington Post, denied her the right to sit in the court room at the trial of her daughter’s murderer. A similar situation occurred when many of the victims and surviving family members of the Oklahoma City Bombing were denied the right to attend those legal proceedings (). President Clinton also states that victims and victims’ families should have the right to make a statement, known as an impact statement, to the court. In the Ladies Home Journal, Amanda Robb, an attorney states, “In our system, victims don’t have a voice; the amendments to our Constitution protect the rights of the accused.” Robb’s statement is inspired by her personal experience with the judicial system. Her fianc� Keith was shot five times point blank for the $5 in his wallet. Robb states, “When I took the stand, the jury got to see, hear, and feel the profound loss of this shooting. They convicted Keith’s killer of murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison” (4). Robb was one of the fortunate people who were allowed to make an impact statement and helped to put her fianc�’s killer in jail.

The impact statement is not only important to the court proceedings but is even more important to the victims and their families because in some cases it gives them a sense of closure. Not all victims are this fortunate. In the case histories found in the NVCAN, some cases violated the victim’s right to an impact statement. One such case was the State v. Lawrence Horn, in which victims were encouraged to prepare impact statements and then denied the opportunity to read them at the trial (). President Clinton’s final victims’ rights suggestion was that victims be notified of the offender’s release or escape for the safety of the victims. In the case of State v. John Smith, according the NVCAN, the sexual assault survivor was held in an assistant’s room in the courthouse for eight hours while a plea bargain was being made without her knowledge or consent. Only eight months later, the victim was subjected to more harassment from this predator (1). According to the Wall Street Journal “Make Amends to Crime Victims,” “less than forty per cent of victims were notified of a defendant’s pretrial release.”

Bob Dole is quoted in the PBS special, Making Amends Victims’ Rights, as stating, “At least twenty states already have state constitutional amendments, and we ought to have a federal constitutional amendment, and it seems to me that we’ll have one and we’ll have one because the American people will demand it” (). States can amend as much victims’ rights legislation as they want, but the legislation must be enforced. According to statements from the Presidential candidates in the NVCAN, both Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore have spoken out strongly in support of the need for a constitutional amendment to protect victims’ rights. Federal legislation may be the answer, but it, too, will need to be enforced before victims’ rights advocates will be satisfied.

Skeptics of victims’ rights movements have valid arguments. According to skeptic Larry Yackle, a constitutional law scholar at Boston University’s law school, passing federal legislation in support of victims’ rights may take away the rights of criminals to a fair trial (1). This argument is important. Criminals should have equal rights. Senator Jon Kyl, representative of Arizona, states that adding an amendment to the U.S. Constitution in support of victims’ rights is not to take away criminals rights, but rather give them equal rights. For example, an amendment should give the victim or victim’s family basic rights. These rights are simply to keep them informed, present, and heard (1). “Extending basic rights to victims’ will not take away any right of the accused. It will merely give courts the ability to balance legitimate interests. This can only be accomplished by giving victims constitutionally protected rights, equal in weight to those of the accused (). According to Kim Vandervorn, a lawyer with eight years of experience, another argument of victims’ rights legislation is that of many defense lawyers. She says that many defense lawyers argue that allowing victims to attend trials may taint their testimonies as witnesses. They also feel that families of victims may inflame the jury, making them sympathetic to the prosecution. This is also a valid argument, but defendants and their families may be witnesses in their own trials, and they still have the right to remain in court. Victims’ rights protagonists are not asking for special privileges, they are asking for equality.

My best friend, Rosie, was found two days later on October 16, 11 in a neighboring development. She had been beaten, raped by both men, and suffocated by the duct tape stretched over her mouth and nose. The men dumped her off under a bridge that was located on a bike path only five miles from our houses. She was ten years old. I was also ten years old, but I remember the trial, the truck, and the faces of the two men that killed my friend. Fortunately, the state where we lived informed her family of the trial and they were able to attend, but they were never allowed an impact statement. The two men that killed Rosie are free today. They were released because of their good behavior. A year shy of ten years and they are on the street to rape and murder another child. Imagine your child, family member, or friend brutally beaten, raped and murdered and you don’t have the right to influence the trial by presenting your loss to the jury or the defendant. For many survivors and families of victims, going to the trial of the accused and presenting their losses, regardless of the verdict, is a vital step in closing the most painful portion of their lives. Many of these people are denied the right of showing emotion, excluded from proceedings, or banned from giving testimony during sentencing. The federal government has statute intended to establish victims’ rights, and twenty states have amended their constitutions to protect victims. Unfortunately, cases prove that a state law or a federal statute does not equal the weight of the Bill of Rights.

Works Cited

“Basic Rights Revisited”. National Organization for Victims Assistance. (000) 6pp.

Online. Internet. http//www.try-nova.org/. 18 Oct. 000.

Elias, Robert. 186. The Politics of Victimization. New York Oxford.


Robb, Amanda H. Ladies Home Journal. “I Speak for Victims.” (Oct. 000) 6pp.

Academic Search Elite. Online. EBSCOHost. 18 Oct. 000.

“Make Amends to Crime Victims”. Wall Street Journal. (0 July 1) A.

Wall Street Journal. Online. 18 Oct. 000.

Making Amends Victims Rights. Public Broadcasting Systems Transcript. (5 June 16)

pp. Online. Internet. http//www.PBS.org/. 18 Oct. 000.

McGillis, Daniel, and Patricia Smith. 18. Compensating Victims of Crime An Analysis

of American Programs. Washington DC U.S. Department of Justice.

National Organization for Victims Rights. 000. Online. Internet.

http//try-nova.org/. 18 Oct. 000.

National Victims Constitutional Amendment Network. Victims Rights Case Histories.

(Mar. 17) pp. Online. Internet. http//nvcan.org. 18 Oct 000.

President’s Task Force. 18. President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime Final Report.

Washington DC U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Department of Justice. 186. Four Years Later A Report on the President’s Task

Force on Victims of Crime. Washington DC U.S. Government Printing Office.

Viano, Emilio. 187. Victims’ Rights and the Constitution Reflections on a Bicentennial.

Crime and Delinquency 48-51

“What the System Owes the Victim.” Washington Post. ( July 1) A.

Washington Post. Online. 18 Oct. 000.

Yackle, Larry. “At Issue Victims’ Rights.” (Nov. 000) 4pp. Academic Search Elite.

Online. EBSCOHost. 1 Nov. 000.

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