Each April, we pause to celebrate the many advances in crime victim support in our nation: victim engagement in the criminal justice system, increasing availability of services, and recognition of rights for all victims and survivors. We also seek to ensure justice for those victims whose voices have yet to be heard.
At the end of March, I was sworn in as the Director of the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 spread, so you could say it has been an unusual start for me at OVC. However, the silver lining has been the opportunity to see, through these difficult times, how resolutely our staff fulfills OVC's mission of helping crime victims. Further, we at the Office of Justice Programs are fortunate that we can work remotely while we continue to support those who are in the field delivering vital services to victims. I recognize that many organizations are having to develop innovative solutions to victim outreach and care while balancing the safety of their staff. I applaud and thank these organizations for their continued hard work and dedication in this difficult time.
While the challenges are extraordinary, we recognize victims' continued need for support, recovery, justice, and most of all, a sense of hope for their future. Many victims struggle with health issues, challenges to accessing services, and social isolation factors that are likely exacerbated by the current situation. Victims of domestic violence may not feel safe at home. Children living in abusive or unstable homes are more likely to be exposed to intimate partner violence or abused themselves during these times when most schools are closed. In addition, seniors can be cut off from seeing family and may be at greater risk of falling victim to financial fraud and neglect.
Therefore, it is with a sense of determination and unwavering purpose that we once again observe National Crime Victims' Rights Week, on April 19–25. The theme—Seek Justice | Ensure Victims' Rights | Inspire Hope—commemorates the individuals and groups whose advocacy has propelled victims' rights forward. I think it is appropriate that this year's theme ends with a call to inspire hope.
This year’s commemoration began yesterday, 25 years to the day when a truck bomb exploded in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, taking the lives of 168 people, including 19 children, as well as injuring hundreds of others. The mass murder remains the worst act of domestic terrorism in our nation’s history and led to the establishment of the Antiterrorism Emergency Reserve, which is administered by OVC, and has been used to provide direct services to hundreds of victims of mass violence and terrorism.
As the Director of the Office for Victims of Crime, I am dedicated to elevating the survivor voice by listening to victims, survivors, and service providers directly, and to seek opportunities for their experiences to inform our programming. Last week, I began participating in listening sessions related to child trafficking and exploitation. This week, I will hear from survivors and advocates about how they have navigated the justice system and victim support networks for themselves and for others. These are invaluable opportunities that I look forward to engaging in throughout my time as Director.
Finally, as National Crime Victims' Rights Week commences, I am pleased to present the 2020 Resource Guide designed to support your efforts to raise awareness, build new partnerships, and reach victims during National Crime Victims' Rights Week and the rest of the year. I particularly encourage you to watch the theme video, which shares moving perspectives from victim service providers and victim advocates on what victims' rights means to them and where they find hope.
On behalf of the Office for Victims of Crime, thank you for your efforts and steadfast dedication to all victims of crime. I look forward to working with you all.
Jessica E. Hart
Director, Office for Victims of Crime