Celebrations of Crime Victims’ Rights Week from across the state

Mary Duncan

Victim Assistance Coordinator in the Lubbock County ­Criminal District Attorney’s Office

I start my campaign in March to inform everyone about upcoming Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Crime Victims’ Week. I did this by appearing on FoxTalk for an interview in March (media is a must). This interview was also televised.

    As soon as they are available, I obtain Child Abuse Prevention blue ribbons and pass them out to as many people as I can. I then do another FoxTalk interview around middle of April. The District Attorney’s Office teams up with the Childrens’ Advocacy Center and Rape Crisis Center and supports and attends their specific events. This year I even had a table set up at the Stand Up For Kidz Event. I hand out all kinds of literature regarding child abuse, sexual assault, bullying, Crime Victims’ Clearinghouse, victim rights, human trafficking, etc. You name it, I hand it out.

    Lastly, a victim coalition has been started between many local organizations, including Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Children’s Advocacy Center, Rape Crisis Center, Department of Public Safety, Children’s Connections, Women’s Protective Services, and Child Protective Services. We then all get together and nominate those who have gone above and beyond to help our victims. I’m very proud to announce that five people from our office were nominated and received this award during our Awards Ceremony on Thursday, April 25. I also worked this year with the League of Women Voters who asked me to do a presentation on human trafficking. I have been asked to return every year and speak about any topic regarding victims.

    Bottom line: We as VACs have a duty to reach out to as many people as we can and assist them to the best of our ability.

    I sincerely hope and pray everyone has the support I have regarding the rights of victims from other advocate groups that are mentioned above, and I hope the Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney’s can be a good example for other counties!

Cyndi Jahn

Victim Services Director in the Bexar County Criminal ­District Attorney’s Office

Our office was privileged to collaborate with 40 different agencies this year to plan and participate in National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW)! We celebrated a little earlier than most cities and counties because during the nationally scheduled dates (April 21–27) our community was hosting the annual Fiesta activities. Therefore we planned our NCVRW events for April 8–13, which was officially proclaimed by Commissioners Court on March 26. During the week organizations that assist and serve crime victims in Bexar County joined together to honor victims of crime and promote greater public awareness about the rights and needs of crime victims.

    On Monday, we hosted a kick-off balloon release. In Main Plaza, in front of the historic San Fernando Cathedral, nearly 300 balloons floated upwards as the song “I’ll Stand By You” played in the background. Agency members gathered together in a united community seeking to bring awareness about crime and its aftermath, to advocate for victims rights, and to educate the public concerning the services available to survivors of crime. Our police chief and sheriff spoke, and as the balloons made their way skyward, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Catherine Babbitt commented, “Our balloons will lift upward today with hope for awareness of the impact that crime has on our community, the hope that we meet the future needs of victims of crime, and that we will confront the changing face of crime.” The balloon release was a great way to start our busy week!

   Later that day, members of the coalition participated in a call-in victim hotline sponsored by our local NBC affiliate, News 4 WOAI. The public was given an opportunity to call in for information concerning the criminal justice system and referrals for victim services.

    On Tuesday, we had a great time at the open house sponsored by one of our victim service agencies, Becoming Apparent.

    Wednesday was a busy day for us as more than 40 community agencies gathered for our annual Victims’ Tribute. This is a very special service dedicated to victims of crime and includes a memorial wreath-laying ceremony and the lighting of our victims’ flame. The event was held at the San Antonio Police Department’s Training Academy. Thirty-nine individual wreaths were laid at the memorial of fallen officers as our San Antonio Police Department and Bexar County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guards stood at attention (see the wreaths in the photo below). The release of four white doves was a beautiful moment. Each dove was released by someone who represented a portion of the criminal justice system: a victim; prosecution and law enforcement; an individual from social services; and the medical community. The event concluded with a moment of silence, a special 21-bike salute from Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA), and a peaceful adjournment as a bagpiper played “Amazing Graze.” This was an extremely solemn but uplifting event.

    On Thursday, the Rape Crisis Center hosted its annual Take Back The Night Rally. This year it was held in HemisFair Plaza with speakers, an art project, and a powerful candle-lighting ceremony. Mothers Against Drunk Driving hosted a health fair and Celebration of Life ceremony at Our Lady of the Lake University. The Bexar County Family Justice Center celebrated its new offices with an open house as well.

    My favorite event of the week was held on Friday. A special picnic held annually honoring children who have been exposed to or have become a victim of crime was held in one of our beautiful downtown parks. Delicious barbecue was served along with hotdogs, chicken fajitas, sausage, snow cones, popcorn, and cotton candy. A visit from McGruff the Crime Dog, the Child Protective Services (CPS) Blue Bear, and several other mascots gave the kids lots of excitement. A deejay, clowns Daisy Bee and Ollie, a magician, face painters, hair painters, petting zoo, various crafts and game booths, and even the San Antonio Fire Department complete with a full-service fire engine entertained everyone for hours. Nearly 1,200 children and adults were able to enjoy it all. I had a great time, and I know everyone else did as well.

    Even though the date didn’t fall during our special week, on Wednesday April 24 we all made a statement by observing Denim Day 2013. In case you’ve never heard of Denim Day, the story is as follows. In Italy in the 1990s, an 18-year old girl was picked up by her married 45-year old driving instructor for her very first lesson. He took her to an isolated road, pulled her out of the car, wrestled her out of one leg of her jeans, and forcefully raped her. Threatened with death if she told anyone, he made her drive the car home. She reported the crime, and the perpetrator was arrested and prosecuted. He was convicted of rape and sentenced to jail.

    He appealed the sentence, and the case made its way to the Italian Supreme Court. Within a matter of days the case against the driving instructor was overturned and dismissed and the perpetrator released. In a statement by the chief judge, he argued, “Because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.”

    Enraged by the verdict, within a matter of hours the women in the Italian Parliament launched into immediate action and protested by wearing jeans to work. This call to action motivated and emboldened the California Senate and Assembly to do the same, and Denim Day was born in Los Angeles. Over the years, this awareness movement has spread across the United States.

    If you have never participated I suggest you do so next year—speak out about sexual assault awareness and get a chance to wear jeans to work!

    Although all this activity can be exhausting, I know it was worth all of the effort. Not only is it such a special time to honor victims, but also the planning and events really succeed in bringing all the participating service providers together, allowing us to work as a cohesive unit. Is it hard work coordinating and planning NCVRW? You bet—but at the same time we know that this week has truly made a positive impact on our community! So don’t sit by next year and watch National Crime Victims’ Rights Week pass you by: Reach out, make a statement, honor victims, and say thank you to your community’s service providers. Don’t hesitate to contact me if I can ever be of assistance with ideas or planning tips for NCVRW.