It's National Crime Victims' Rights Week, and victims' advocates say just as the accused have rights in the criminal justice system, crime victims should as well.
Crime victim should be treated with fairness, dignity and respect and deserve rights pertaining to representation, protection and their role in the criminal-justice process, said Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, director of IllinoisVictims.org.
Last year, Illinois voters approved a constitutional amendment that expands the rights of crime victims and allows those victims to enforce their rights in court.
"We actually were the only state in the nation that said victims have rights but they had no standing to enforce them," said Bishop-Jenkins. "That's exactly what Illinois law said up until last November."
The amendment is known as Marsy's Law, and Bishop-Jenkins said specific legislation describing how a crime victim will be able to assert his or her rights in court if they are violated is under consideration at the Statehouse.
According to the FBI, from 1993 to 2012, the violent-crime rate fell from nearly 80 percent to 26 percent, but Bishop-Jenkins said its impact on victims still is significant and devastating. She said it is important to ensure that victims are provided the support and resources they need to rebuild their lives.
"National Crime Victims' Rights Week was a really profoundly important step by the United States Congress to give a time when the whole country pays attention to what crime victims suffer and how they need to have rights in the criminal-justice system that are protected," she said.
Agencies throughout Illinois provide an array of services to help crime victims get back on their feet, including financial assistance, legal services and witness protection.
The legislation, HB 1121, can be found here.