Victims' Rights Caucus



Madam Speaker, I appreciate the gentleman from Ohio yielding.

Madam Speaker, victims of crime are real people. They are our friends, our relatives and our neighbors, and unfortunately, because of our culture, they have been for many years overlooked in the criminal justice system. Well, I think those days are over because they are as important as defendants, because the same Constitution that protects the rights of defendants in the courtroom, that same Constitution protects the rights of victims of crime.

Since 1981, this country celebrates National Crime Victims' Rights Week in April. Local communities hold rallies and candlelight vigils and a number of other activities to honor the millions of crime victims and survivors in the United States and also to recognize those many individuals that work with crime victims.

This week is National Crime Victims' Rights Week, and this year's theme is ``Justice for Victims, Justice for All.'' It is a very appropriate theme because we cannot achieve justice for all until there is some justice, total justice, for victims of crime.

The victims' right movement has come a long way. The days when a victim was just a mere witness in the courthouse are not far gone.

While we are always sure to safeguard the rights of defendants, our justice system must also safeguard the rights of victims of crime.

The victims' rights movement dates all the way back to 1965 when the first crime victim compensation program was started in the State of California. Five States enacted similar legislation by 1970, and then we saw that organization, what we call the MADD mothers, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, come into being to advocate on behalf of victims of crime who had been hurt by those people who drink and drive.

In 1975, activists across the country united and formed the National Organization for Victim Assistance to expand victim services and promote the rights of victims.

In 1978, three more important organizations started: the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and a group of somber individuals called Parents of Murdered Children, all of them advocating on behalf of crime victims.

President Reagan in 1981 proclaimed the first National Victims' Rights Week in April, and that was also the year that 6-year-old Adam Walsh was abducted from a department store and later murdered, prompting a national campaign to educate the public on missing children and to pass better legislation--Federal legislation, to protect our greatest natural resource, the young that live among us.

In 1982, the Federal Government created the Office for Victims of Crime, or OVC, within the Department of Justice, a tremendous organization that sees after the victims of crime in our country.

Then, in 1984, the Congress passed the Victims of Crime Act, what we call VOCA, one of the most novel concepts that Congress has ever adopted. What it does is require that people convicted in Federal courts, those defendants, once they are convicted, they pay moneys into a fund, and that fund is used to help crime victims throughout the United States. It is a tremendous idea, making defendants pay for the system they have created, pay the rent on a courthouse as I like to call it. And today, Madam Speaker, that fund is over $1.7 billion, contributed not by taxpayers but by offenders, that goes for the specific purpose of helping victims, helping victims' organizations like rape centers, domestic violence shelters, and victim advocates that help victims throughout the turmoil of being a crime victim.

In 2005, my first year in Congress, I was honored to form the Victims' Rights Caucus with the gentleman from California (Mr. Costa), who was a long-time victims' advocate in the State of California before he ever came to Congress. And this bipartisan, but yet nonpartisan,