April 22-28 is National Victims' Rights Week, a time to honor those who have been hurt by crime and to celebrate the many successes of the victims' rights discipline in the United States.
Our field has, for years, consisted of eternal optimists — activists who wouldn't take "no" for an answer when victims' rights and dignity were at stake; who believed victim safety, information and involvement in the justice system could provide a strong foundation for our pursuit of justice and offender accountability.
A quarter century ago, most courtroom doors were shut to victims, their voices unheard, their pleas for information unanswered. There were no victim-assistance programs in the justice system and the few community-based programs struggled to keep their doors open. Domestic violence was considered a "family matter," rape victims were blamed for the violence they endured and drunken driving was not even considered a crime.
It was 25 years ago that the first victim impact statement was heard in court, in Fresno County. Since then every county in California has implemented a victim/witness assistance program. The Imperial County Probation Department opened the doors to it victim/witness program in January 1986. Since then hundreds of crime victims have been provided information and support and have had their voices heard throughout the system.