Crime victims have both rights, responsibilities

EAST LIVERPOOL – The changing face of crime and its victims were outlined during Wednesday’s kickoff at City Hall of national Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

Several people whose workday centers on crime spoke on this year’s theme, “New Challenges, New Solutions.” The event was coordinated by victims advocate Tina Keller of the city law director’s office.

Police Chief John Lane talked about what he called “an ongoing issue in our society,” the lack of cooperation law enforcement receives from witnesses and, at times, victims.

He cited as an example domestic violence calls in which the victim or witnesses profess their love for the abuser upon whom they are completely dependent.

“They will not cooperate for fear of isolation, shame or a lack of alternatives,” Lane said, adding that officers may collect evidence and document the abuse with photos but “these rarely tell the whole story.”

Lane said that, as difficult as it may be, victims need to give statements and testify “to send a clear message to the abuser that, ‘I may still love you, but I will not tolerate violence against me, my family or in my home.'”

Lane referred to another problem that surfaced just as recently as the past weekend, calling it “street mentality,” referring to witnesses to an attempted murder who turned their backs on police officers, refusing to speak to them and say what they saw.

“This type of conduct not only allows violent criminals to get away with (their crimes) but also emboldens them in any future crimes and allows them to threaten their victims or witnesses to keep quiet,” Lane cautioned, adding, “This mentality threatens to decay the moral character of society by destroying the one thing our society needs to thrive, and that is safety for us and our families.”

He said in some other countries, law enforcement is non-existent, allowing women and young girls to be raped and murdered with no recourse, with no change of justice.

“No one with any common sense would choose to live where there is no protection for their property, their family or themselves,” Lane said.

He urged victims to use Keller’s services as a resource, saying the victims’ advocate and police department are there to help victims.

Assistant County Prosecutor Tim McNicol, also assistant city law director, spoke on the residual effects of domestic violence, saying children are the “unseen and unheard” victims, who he said could actually be more harmed than the actual adult victim.

McNicol related that upwards of four million children are exposed annually to some type of domestic violence in their homes, not just physical abuse but threats and other types of actions.

“I can’t tell you the number of cases we see with broken Xboxes, torn clothing, broken personal items children deal with. The effects are serious and far-reaching. The children feel anxious, they don’t feel safe. They are sitting on pins and needles (wondering when it will happen again),” McNicol said.

He is now seeing the cyclical nature of domestic violence, McNicol said, saying, “It’s multi-generational. I’m beginning to prosecute the children of offenders I prosecuted a decade ago.”

Young boys exposed to domestic violence “learn that violence gets them what they want, that fear controls,” while young girls “learn that violence is normal in a relationship,” according to McNicol.

Assistant Prosecutor Denise Weingart said 18.7 million Americans are directly harmed annually by crime, which also affects their family, friends and neighbors. Another nine million fail to report crime, she said.

Saying, “Criminals are always trying to stay one step ahead of us,” Weingart said cyber crime, terrorism, human trafficking and hate crimes are becoming more prevalent.

She encouraged those who deal with victims following a crime to show them respect, listen to them even when theirs is an oft-repeated story, don’t judge them and offer them help and resources.

Elaine Kloss, legal advocate for the Christina House, talked about the domestic violence shelter that was opened in 1997 and has since “housed and protected countless victims and helped to guide people to a life of peace and freedom from abuse.”

She said that, despite changes in crime, domestic violence has remained the same inasmuch as it still affects families of all races and economic backgrounds with physical, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse.

However, Kloss agreed, as technology has improved, more issues have arisen involving harassment by cell phones, texting, messaging and social sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

In addition, she said agencies are seeing more parents filing civil protection orders against their adult children who are addicted to drugs and becoming violent.

She encouraged those who know someone trapped in an abusive or controlling relationship to reach out and encourage them to seek help or to call police and report it and then be willing to testify if needed.

“Let us all stand up together to help end abuse, one case at a time,” she said.

Keller said she hopes to make this an annual event.