According to the United States Department of Justice, 1.6 million violent crimes were committed throughout the country in 2020. This was a decline—there were 2 million such crimes the year before. While there has been some improvement in levels of crime, that still leaves many individuals who have been victimized to deal with the trauma associated with those crimes. And that doesn’t include the victim’s loved ones and family members who may also suffer as a result.
That begs the question: What rights do violent crime victims have within the justice system?
In the 1970s and ’80s, the U.S. began to embrace programs and legislation that considered the needs of crime victims. Victim-impact statements were read in court. Feminists worked to limit the legal tactic of questioning rape survivors about their sexual history.
On a federal level, the 1984 Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) established a Crime Victim’s Fund, which provides financial assistance to crime victims.
Today in the U.S., the federal government, all 50 states and Washington, D.C. have established some victims’ rights. These vary by location, but in general victims have the right to be treated fairly, to be notified of court proceedings and to speak with prosecutors.
After a gun went off on the set of the film Rust, resulting in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, the district attorney handling the investigation told Vanity Fair, “In New Mexico, there’s a Victim’s Rights Act that’s part of our constitution, and [the Hutchins family] have an absolute right to be at all court hearings, to give their opinions on whether a plea should be offered and then to speak at sentencing.”
It’s become standard practice for crime survivors and the loved ones of murder victims to deliver impact statements in court, where these victims can say, in their own words, how the crime has affected them. At the sentencing hearing of gymnastics coach and serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar in January 2018, 156 women shared victim-impact statements.
Read the full story at A&E.