By Cyndi Jahn
Victim Assistance Coordinator in the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’ Office
The Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s Office was privileged enough to collaborate with 36 different agencies this year to plan and participate in National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW)! We celebrated a little later than most cities and counties because during the nationally scheduled dates (April 10–16) our community was hosting its annual Fiesta activities. Therefore we planned our NCVRW events for April 25–30. During the week organizations that assist and serve crime victims throughout the county joined together to honor victims of crime and promote greater public awareness about the rights and needs of crime victims. We had at least one event each day!
On Monday, we hosted a kick-off balloon release, a first for Bexar County. Nearly 300 balloons floated upwards as singer Patsy Torres sang the song “Breakaway” made famous by Kelly Clarkson. Agency members gathered in a united community seeking to bring awareness about crime and its aftermath, advocate for victims’ rights, and 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, Criminal District Attorney Susan Reed commented, “The balloons lift upward with hope for awareness of the impact that crime has on our community and hope that we meet the needs of the future and confront the changing face of crime.” It 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 ABC affiliate, KSAT-TV. The public was given an opportunity to call in for information concerning the criminal justice system and for referrals for victim services. Volunteers took approximately 250 calls from noon to 7:00 p.m.
On Tuesday, the Rape Crisis Center hosted a continuing education unit (CEU) titled, “Immigration Remedies for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking.” It was packed full of great information and was a good source of inexpensive CEUs for therapists and social workers. We also had a great time at the open house sponsored by one of our victim service agencies, Becoming Apparent.
On Wednesday we all made a statement by observing Denim Day 2011. In case you’ve never heard of Denim Day (I had not heard of it before this year), it comes from a terrible case of sexual assault that occurred in Italy in the 1990s. Then, 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. She reported the crime, and the perpetrator was arrested, prosecuted, convicted of rape, and sentenced to jail.
On appeal at the Italian Supreme Court, the conviction was overturned, the case dismissed, and the rapist released because, the chief justice argued, the victim wore jeans so tight that she had to help the rapist remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex. Enraged by the verdict, women in the Italian Parliament 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 in Los Angeles was born. 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!
Wednesday evening the Rape Crisis Center hosted a screening of the movie Hip Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes. The film examines the representation of manhood in hip-hop culture and challenges the rap music industry to take responsibility for perpetuating and glamorizing sexism, violence, and homophobia.
Thursday 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 again this year at the San Antonio Police Department’s Training Academy. Forty-one individual wreaths were laid at the memorial of fallen officers as the police department and Bexar County Sheriff’s Office honor guards stood at attention. The event was concluded with a moment of silence, a special 21-bike salute from Bikers Against Child Abuse, and a peaceful adjournment as the bagpiper played “Amazing Graze.” This is an extremely solemn but uplifting event.
Thursday evening our Victims Advocacy Council hosted a town hall meeting entitled, “Dating, Sexting, and Violence: Not My Kid!” The program was directed toward parents focusing on relationships between children and parents and children and their peers. The panel of speakers provided some great information, insights, and statistics to the more than 50 attendees.
My favorite annual event of the week was held on Friday. A special picnic 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 hot dogs, chicken fajitas, sausages, snow cones, popcorn, and cotton candy. A visit from the San Antonio Spurs Coyote, McGruff the Crime-Fighting Dog, the HEB Buddy Bag, and several other mascots gave the kids lots of excitement. A deejay, Daisy Bee and Ollie the clowns, a magician, face painters, hair painters, pony rides, 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. Over 700 children and adults were able to enjoy it all. I had a great time and I know everyone else did as well.
And finally, those of us that weren’t too tired from the picnic attended the movie screening of Playground hosted by the South Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking. There was a great panel discussion of human trafficking issues following the film.
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 the planning and events really succeeded 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 and 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. i
Victim Assistance Coordinator in the Henderson County District Attorney’s Office
We were busy in this spring! In April we had three proclamations: Child Abuse, National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and Sexual Assault Awareness. During Crime Victims Week, we put on a health fair at Trinity Valley Community College, held a blood drive at the sheriff’s department, celebrated Go Blue Day (where we provided T-shirts to every elementary teacher in the county—that was about 800 shirts!), and sponsored a poster contest for fourth graders. The week ended with Kids Day and the CASA 5K Run.