WASHINGTON – Hundreds of advocates met in Washington last week to discuss ways to convince Congress to pass more legislation to benefit crime victims.
The conference was hosted by The National Center for Victims of Crime.
The groups' mission is to “secure resources,rights and protections for crime victims.” Along with safety advice and tips for trauma victims,workshops provided information on everything from educating juries to handling the media after a crime.
“Coming to something like this lets you know that maybe you're not the only one trying to help people,” Therasa Zito said on the last day of the conference.
Zito works for the Jane Addams Hull House Association in Chicago,which provides domestic violence and sexual assault services to victims. She was joined by hundreds of members of organizations and advocacy groups that aim to help crime victims rebuild their lives.
Zito said it was “unreal” how much was being presented to people at the conference.
“To see what other folks are able to do in other states,you can go,‘Oh hey,Chicago may be able to do that.' It gives you some really great ideas,” she said.
At the top of the to-do list for the conference was getting Congress to pass legislation to support the National Center for Crime Victims' mission,as well as pushing bills that have been introduced but haven't been approved
Workshop speaker Susan Howley said Sen. Joe Biden,D-Del.,was interested in re-introducing the Crime Victims With Disabilities Act. The bill would provide more funding for disabled victims and spur research in the field of investigating these crimes.
The conference addressed help for many types of victims,including those with disabilities,those who are mentally ill, international victims,gang victims and victims aboard cruise ships.
Howley said that,although the FBI can technically investigate crimes that happen to American victims on ships,it usually doesn't.
“People who are victimized on cruise ships have no access to justice,” she said. “Cruise ships spend most of its time in international waters,so there's no police.”
She also said victims sometimes leave ships to fly home,and witnesses seem to “disappear.”
Howley said Rep. Christopher Shays,R-Conn.,was re-introducing a bill that would require cruise ships to report violent crime to the FBI or U.S. Coast Guard within four hours.
Shays was described as a champion of crime initiatives at the conference.
Howley also said Sen. Byron Dorgan,D-N.D.,was “actively pursuing” a new restitution bill. It would allow courts to freeze assets that could be used to compensate crime victims if the person charged is convicted because it can be difficult to collect after a conviction.
“At the federal level,there is $46 billion in criminal debt that's outstanding,” Howley said. “And most of that is restitution.”
The National Center for Victims of Crime holds a national conference every two years.