When crime victim advocates gather this week for National Crime Victims' Rights Week events, it is practically certain the events will bring together a new group of victims or their families who have suffered through a traumatic occurrence in the past year.
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is recognized April 7-12.
“So many people are unaware what a victim’s family actually goes through when they have lost a loved one due to violent crime,” said Shelly Linderman, director of the Wiregrass Angel House. “Then you have victims who have survived a violent crime. Those victims are truly survivors. Not only have they survived living through a violent crime, they also have had to deal with everything related to that crime. That’s why this week is so important. This week allows everyone time to reflect on victims of violent crimes, whether it is a homicide victim, a domestic violence victim, or a child abuse victim.”
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed the first Crime Victims’ Rights Week Proclamation.
“Prior to 1984, victims had no rights such as sitting at the prosecutor’s table, or to be present for all court proceedings, or to give a victim’s impact statement, just to list a few,” Linderman said.
In 1984 Alabama was one of the first states to recognize victims’ rights and to pass a Crime Victims Bill of Rights, and Wiregrass resident Miriam Shehane played a large part in recognizing a victim’s rights.
“In 1976, Shehane’s oldest daughter was raped and murdered by three assailants in Alabama,” Linderman said. “It was five days before Christmas and her daughter had gone to a local convenience store for a bottle of salad dressing. As she came out of the store, she was abducted and eventually murdered. For five years, Shehane and her family had to endure many hearings, trials and re-trials. She knew her daughter would not be the last victim in the state of Alabama, and she wanted to change the system to make it less traumatic for the victims and their families.”
Shehane organized a group known as Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL) which is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established in 1982. VOCAL is an advocacy group for victims’ rights consisting of concerned citizens, victims of crime and their families, law enforcement officers, attorneys, and others interested in reducing crime and improving the plight of its victims.
Linderman, along with many other advocates who fight daily to help victims of violent crimes and their families, thank Shehane for her determination in helping the victims have a voice.
The legal system is not perfect, Linderman said, but it has improved.
“We have to remember when it comes to a jury trial, we have no idea what has been discussed in a jury room,” Linderman said. “A victim or a victim’s family must learn, no matter what the verdict in case may be, we don’t give up. We keep fighting for the victim. Even if someone was sentenced to death, that defendant’s death will not bring the victim back. So, this week I urge everyone if you know a victim who has lost their life to a violent crime, take time to celebrate the life of that victim, not their death. Remember, judgment will come one day. Justice may not have been served here on earth, during the trial. But there will come a time where justice is served not on earth.”
Linderman also urges anyone who has a family member who has survived a violent crime to remind that person they are never alone. Someone else has been through what they are going through, and someone does care.
For more information available on the services available at the Wiregrass Angel House, call 334-702-7010.