By Keith Wallington
April 22 is a very important week as it recognizes victims from all over the country. This week also serves as a reminder that too many times we ignore the real needs and concerns of victims in a rush to advance other agendas. In order to truly recognize victims we need to invest in the needs and concerns of victims to help them heal from whatever ordeal they have experienced. In many cases, victims simply want to be recognized by the justice system and not utilized. Despite a growth in victim involvement since the early 1980s, research has shown that victims may not believe that justice has been served in their case, and may be left feeling re-victimized by the process. Additionally, there has been a propensity by those on the left to use victims to achieve a less retributive justice system and by those on the right to use victims to promote a more retributive justice system; both with damaging effects on the system.
According to a 2010 roundtable discussion of victim advocates, academics, victims, justice system professionals and justice system reform advocates examining the role of victims in justice reform, there is no one definition of a victim; each victim is unique and has unique needs. In order to support victims we need to strengthen funding for services that already exist and broaden the scope of services that are available and make them appropriate for people in different stages of their healing.
The justice system cannot, and should not be the sole provider of these services, so more must be done to help communities provide a range of services to victims. Victims need and deserve holistic treatment that spans the healing process with a coordinated system of care that facilitates their unique needs. We must also stop trying to define victims in cookie-cutter terminology because the reality is that most victims don’t look like who the mainstream media portrays. Victims hail from all walks of life and services must reach where those victims are –regardless of where they are.
Keith Wallington is project manager for the Justice Policy Institute.