Forum marks National Crime Victims’ Rights Week

By Stuart Hedstrom 
Staff Writer

    DOVER-FOXCROFT — Womancare, a Piscataquis County-based organization working to end domestic violence, marked the end of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week with a forum celebrating the advances made over the history of the extension of legislated rights to the victims of crime. The April 26 session in the Piscataquis County Commissioners’ Room focused on the 2013 week theme of “New Challenges, New Solutions” as a panel discussion examined how more still needs to be done to bring about greater rights for crime victims.

    “On behalf of the Piscataquis County Commissioners I would like to welcome you here,” Commissioner Jim Annis said to begin the forum. “Any support that the County Commissioners can offer I am sure we would be glad to.”
    Art Jette of Womancare explained National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is an extension of a number of movements that have developed over the last few decades. “One of the things that strikes us particularly about the movement for victims’ rights is the Constitution guarantees defendants 23 constitutional guarantees and if you look for the rights of victims there are none,” he said.
    Jette said during President Ronald Regan’s first term in the White House he declared the first National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and in 1982 commissioned a task force to look into an amendment to guarantee the rights of crime victims — an amendment that today is not in place. Jette said the U.S. has an “enviable criminal justice system” compared to most of the world, but the country should also have “an equally enviable victims’ justice system.”
    Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Bob Young and Victim Witness Advocate Corina Tibbetts of the county district attorney’s office both said in their jobs they deal with the victims of crime. These crimes can range from assault to burglaries, but each time there is a victim from the action.
    “The three of us work quite often as part of a team, we have developed a rich relationship,” Jette said. “Since I believe not enough emphasis is placed on victims’ needs or victims’ rights it is up to us people who deal with victims; what we need as a society is to make victims have a right not to remain silent,” he said, mentioning that those being arrested have the right to remain silent under their Miranda Rights.
    Young was asked about the perspective of the victim in the criminal justice system, and he said the criminal justice system is weighted to the defendant and this often becomes the priority. Tibbetts said there has been a change as “they are not just a witness anymore, there is an emphasis that there has been an impact on their lives. We are beginning to get better at realizing this person who has been a victim of crime still has questions and fears.”
    Tibbetts said many of the region’s residents choose to live where they do because they feel they have a sense of security, but once they have been victimized by crime they never get the same sense of security back. She said she keeps in touch with crime victims she works with to keep the lines of communication open, as she feels these victims need to be taken care of.
    Jette asked Young what types of crimes require following up with the victims, and Young mentioned domestic violence, sexual abuse and assault and also burglaries and similar types of crimes. Young said the day before he had a conversation with the victim of a property crime, telling them where the individual arrested was at the present time and what was happening with the court system.
    “A theoretical arrest has been made, it could be a home invasion, there is time between with the investigation and maybe the charge,” Jette said. “In this gap how do we keep in touch with the victim to inform them they have rights?”
    “I really want you to know you can call me anytime,” Young responded. “In law enforcement you are constantly putting out brush fires,” he said as incidents are constantly happening and this results in time going by until the officer can get back to the specific investigation but they will do whatever they can to keep the victim apprised of the situation.
    “We get calls ‘have you got this case yet?,” Tibbetts said. “As soon as we get a case in I’m making photocopies and sending letters and then sending out information on rights. We want them to feel like they do have someone they can talk to.”
    Young said the criminal justice system can often be intimidating for victims, and he said procedures can be delayed. “That’s really, I think, very frustrating for victims and frustrating for everybody,” he said.
    “We have to prove beyond a doubt this happened,” Tibbetts said. She said proving guilt can be difficult, especially if a victim does not testify in court and/or if the victim happens to be a child. Tibbetts said sometimes victims want to forget what happened to them, and having to speak about the incident in court, and be subject to questioning, does not allow for them to put the incident behind them.
    “I would like to see something put in place so children do not have to testify in court in front of their abuser,” Tibbetts said. She said this is her most desired change, as often in abuse cases involving children the alleged perpetrator is a family member.
    Young said he often tells crime victims “don’t look to the justice system to bring about peace.” He said a conviction is not going to end the situation, as more healing will often be needed.
    “Whether or not there is an arrest or there is a successful prosecution, someone is a victim of crime and nothing can change that,” Jette said. He mentioned how a retired police officer living in the area had their home broken into, and the burglar ended up serving time in prison. “They still feel a sense of insecurity when they pull into their driveway and they still feel a need to check around their house before they go in,” he said.

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