April 6 marked the beginning of National Crime Victim's Rights Week. Berks County will join communities throughout the nation and rally to honor and support victims of crime. Local social service agencies will commemorate National Crime Victims' Rights Week with special events and programs from April 6 to April 12. Among these activities is a Community Awareness Expo. The details of this event can be found on the attached flyer. Community members are encouraged to join us at this event.
Only 30 years ago, crime victims had virtually no rights and no assistance. The criminal justice system often seemed indifferent to their needs. Victims were commonly excluded from courtrooms and denied the chance to speak at sentencing. They had no access to victim compensation or services to help rebuild their lives. There were few avenues to deal with their emotional and physical wounds. Victims were on their own to recover their health, security, and dignity.
Today, the nation has made dramatic progress in securing rights, protections, and services for victims. Every state has enacted victims' rights laws and all have victim compensation programs. More than 10,000 victim service agencies now help people throughout the country. In 1984, Congress passed the bipartisan Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), which created a national fund to ease victims' suffering. Financed not by taxpayers but by fines and penalties paid by offenders, the Crime Victims Fund supports victim services, such as rape crisis and domestic violence programs and victim compensation programs that pay many of victims' out-of-pocket expenses from the crime, such as counseling, funeral expenses, and lost wages.
Victims' rights advocates have scored remarkable victories over the last 30 years. But there is still a lot of work to be done. As we move forward, we are increasingly expanding our reach to previously underserved victim populations, including victims of color, American Indians and Alaska Natives, adults molested as children, victims of elder abuse, and LGBTQ victims. Over three decades, VOCA pioneered support efforts for victims of once-hidden crimes, like domestic and sexual violence. Today, we are shining a spotlight on other abuses that have long been unreported and often not prosecuted --hate and bias crimes, bullying, and sex and labor trafficking, among others.
For additional information about 2014 National Crime Victims' Rights Week and how to help victims in your community, please contact the Berks County District Attorney's Office, Victim/Witness Unit at 610-478-6000 or visit our website at www.berkscountyvictims.com. For more ideas on how to volunteer to help crime victims, visit the Office for Victims of Crime website, www.ovc.gov.