The recent tragic death of one of our colleagues from the Police Department reminded us that crime can strike anyone — anywhere. Thirty three million Americans become victims every year, and violent crime is on the rise in many areas throughout our country.
This week we observe the 25th anniversary of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week to consider the life-changing impact crime has on victims and their loved ones and to make justice for all victims an urgent priority for our community.
As families confront the impact of the current economic crisis, social service agencies across the U.S. are seeing an increase in crime, especially a rise in cases of domestic violence and child abuse. The correlation between financial stress and the growing incidence of such cases is shown in increased calls to hotlines, visits to emergency rooms and the utilization of social services and shelters.
I want to emphasize that tough economic times are not a justification for any crime or domestic violence. Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling abuse and exploitative behavior by one person against a partner or a family member that occurs on a variety of levels and can be physical and/or mental in nature. The decision to batter is just that, a calculated choice, and cannot be excused due to financial reasons, stress, substance abuse or mental illness.
Through our criminal-justice system, it is our duty to prevent and stop these crimes by identifying perpetrators, holding them accountable and enforcing victims’ rights. Victims’ rights — to a speedy trial, to receive restitution and to be heard at sentencing — can help keep communities safe. Speedy trials ensure swift justice, remove offenders from the street and minimize opportunities for witness intimidation. Court-ordered restitution recognizes and redresses the harm done to victims, forces offenders to directly compensate victims and discourages further crimes.
But the real answer is to engage our community in a campaign to end this tragic and appalling issue and to bring about real social change. We must stop blaming the victim, or perceiving them as somehow deficient or deserving of abuse. Supportive services that enable a survivor to safely leave a violent relationship are crucial. We must ensure that victims —particularly women who leave — have the resources necessary to support themselves and their children and are not forced to engage with the batterer. We need to raise and support our children to be caring adult partners in healthy relationships based on respect and equality. The community must send a collective message that violence perpetrated by one person against another will not be tolerated.
No one law, no one organization will stop crime and end domestic violence. It’s up to all of us. Even if we don’t work in law enforcement or with social service agencies, we can spot the signs of abuse and offer emotional support to its victims.
May Denis Law can be reached at email@example.com.