Crime Victims’ Rights Week
By Shannon Graham, LSW, and Molly Hunt, LSW
Each April there is an event of great importance: National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Since the early 1980’s this has been a week dedicated to learning the impact of victimization and the promotion of laws and rights that help people recover. Individuals, loved ones, communities, and organizations across the country all celebrate and honor the work that has been done before us to highlight the rights of victims and the services they need to recover. It is important for us here at CARIE to acknowledge and celebrate National Crime Victims’ Rights Week because of our dedicated work in victim services. Our Victim Advocates in the PAVE Program (Providing Advocacy for the Victimized Elderly) assist older adults who are victims of abuse and exploitation with navigating the criminal justice system and getting connected to resources in their community.
This year’s theme is “Seek Justice” and will take place April 19-25. The theme of 2020 aims to celebrate the work of those throughout history who worked so hard to create the laws, programs, and policies which currently benefit victims, as well as an even more inclusive, accessible, and trauma-informed future. This theme is especially important in the context of older adults, as their age and limited access to resources make them exceptionally vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Various movements and advocacy efforts throughout the years have aided to the creation of older adult organizations such as Adult Protective Services, The Aging and Disability Resource Center, and the National Center on Law and Elder Rights. These institutions, among many others, work to protect the rights and autonomy of older adult victims of crime and further increase the accessibility of community resources for seniors.
Victim rights vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but there are some rights that are guaranteed in almost every jurisdiction, including but not limited to:
• Victims have a right to protection; in some places this is called the “right to be reasonably protected from the accused.”
• Most jurisdictions give victims the right to be notified about proceedings in a criminal case. The specifics may vary by state or jurisdiction, but in effect, a victim who is not aware of proceedings is not able to participate in the criminal case.
• Every state and federal jurisdiction guarantees victims the right to attend court proceedings.
• Every jurisdiction provides victims with the right to give input into the sentencing decision.
• The federal government and every state give victims a right to restitution. Restitution is an order by the court directing the offender to make payment to the victim for losses incurred due to the crime.
• Many jurisdictions give the victim their right to privacy, which can include things like limited access to medical records, enhancing safety by keeping location confidential, and other avenues of protection.
Residents of Pennsylvania can find information on the Victim Bill of Rights here. Other individuals should take care to find out their rights as a victim in their jurisdiction.
How can you support older adult victims of crime? Most importantly, believe someone when they say that something has happened to them. Reduce the stigma around getting help and being victimized. No one deserves to be the victim of any crime, and it takes courage to reach out for help and tell someone. Get familiar with the resources in your community and help connect folks who may need them. Advocate to your elected officials that crime victims deserve help and programs need funding to provide services.
For older adult victims of crime in Philadelphia, please reach out to CARIE at 215-545-5728 and ask to speak to a Victim Advocate. Victims elsewhere in the United States can get a confidential referral through Victim Connect 8:30am-7:30pm EST at 855-4-VICTIM. Victims can also reach out to the National Organization for Victim Assistance at 800–TRY–NOVA. We encourage anyone who is having trouble connecting to resources to reach out to a Victim Advocate at CARIE who can make every effort to provide additional resources.