Good evening and thank you for joining us for the 2023 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Candlelight Vigil.
It’s wonderful to see all of you here. I want to welcome Amy Solomon, OJP’s newly confirmed Assistant Attorney General, representatives from the White House, Members of Congress, U.S. Attorneys, my fellow leaders at the Office of Justice Programs, DOJ colleagues and all of our esteemed guests, both here in person and watching online.
I want offer a special welcome to all of the victim advocates, victim specialists, the forensic nurses, and the victim/witness coordinators all across the country who give so much of themselves to ensure that crime survivors and their families receive the care they need to rebuild and heal after violence.
I welcome the crime survivors who are joining us this evening – those who identify openly as survivors, and the many who never tell a soul, but are here with us just the same.
The theme of Crime Victims’ Rights Week this year is Survivor Voices: Elevate. Engage. Effect Change.
We selected this theme because we must—we must—include survivor voices everywhere decisions are made that could impact them.
Each pillar – Elevate, Engage, Effect Change – has a different call to action and our guest speakers tonight will tell you what each means to them as they introduce our videos.
We are honored to have many of the individuals featured in our videos here with us tonight. Let me take a moment to recognize them: Anna Nasset, Jerome Brown, Roberta Roper, Abrianna Morales, Lisa Daniels, Max Schachter, Ricardo Wiggs, Timothy Jones, and Richard Collins.
If all of you are willing and able, please stand and be recognized.
It takes a lot of courage to share your story on such a national platform, knowing your words will be heard throughout the country at state and local events this week.
Thank you for trusting us to elevate your voices tonight.
You know, when we listen to survivors, we open ourselves up to a new understanding of justice and what it means to them.
For some, justice is being believed. For others, justice is reading a victim impact statement in court or being invited to a meeting with policymakers on criminal justice reform. Sometimes, justice is as simple as having options and choices and opportunities to be heard and understood.
At the Office for Victims of Crime, our job is to help victims and survivors find their justice.
In my tenure at OVC, I have had the privilege of traveling all across this country, bearing witness to the grit, fortitude, and leadership of crime survivors.
Last week I visited with the staff of the 10.27 Healing Partnership resiliency center at the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh. The Partnership was created to serve the survivors and families of those who were killed and injured nearly 5 years ago at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
The resiliency center, supported by an OVC grant, is guided by a steering committee that includes survivors of the shooting. As you can imagine, there was an outpouring of support from around the world. They were so touched by this, that they wanted to pay-it-forward. So, they formed a group called “Families Bridging Kindness.” They reach out to other communities that have experienced hate crimes to offer comfort and assistance.
This is what victim advocacy looks like.
Survivors who have faced, endured, and overcome adversity can provide that peer support and encouragement that only someone who has been through it can offer.
And just this week, I was at the University of New Mexico for the launch of the first Youth Advocacy Corps, an OVC grant recently awarded to the National Organization for Victim Assistance (or NOVA).
The Youth Advocacy Corps is much like how the Peace Corps is structured, only on a much smaller scale and focused on victim advocacy. College students from minority-based institutions will be selected to participate in a paid victim advocate fellowship program. They will be trained and certified to work with victims and survivors in communities where resources and assistance are scarce, yet violence is ever-present.
The Youth Advocacy Corps will develop a new generation of young leaders who both reflect the diversity of crime survivors and who are passionate and committed to meeting the needs of this moment and being the voices for change.
This is what the future of victim advocacy looks like.
Each one of you, whether you are here in person or watching us online has made a conscious decision to gather with us in community to remember and to pay tribute to crime victims, survivors and the people who care for them.
This is not a small thing. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your presence. Thank you for making the choice tonight to be present for those impacted by crime.
For the remainder of our program, we are going to focus on the 3 pillars of this year’s theme: Elevate. Engage. Effect Change.
To elevate survivor voices means making certain crime victims are seen and heard.
When we say engage survivors, we mean invite individuals with lived experience into your conversations about research, policy, and services. Ask them about their experiences and all the “what ifs.” Your efforts will be better for it.
And in taking both of those actions, we can indeed, effect change.