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Training and education helps crime victims assert their rights

All 50 states have some form of a crime victims' bill of rights, and more than half - including Ohio - have amended their constitutions to include rights for crime victims. But that doesn't mean crime victims are automatically afforded those protections. That, takes education.

"When the first statutory rights were adopted for crime victims, everyone sort of thought: 'okay, this is it, we've created victims rights laws, so that will happen.' But, it doesn't."

Catherine Harper Lee, executive director of the Ohio Crime Victims Justice Center gets that victims of crime are often overwhelmed by the process of investigation and prosecution, may not know their rights under the state crime victims rights statutes. And she says many people don't realize that prosecutors work on behalf of the state, rather than the individual, and that it falls to the victim to speak up for themselves. To be aware of investigative requests for sensitive information, to insist on notification of all court proceedings and plea discussions, and to take advantage of opportunities to address the court before and after sentencing.

"Those are the basic rights, just the rights to be informed, present and heard, that you would think that crime victims would always have the opportunity to exercise. However, they still today, are often violated."

Harper Lee says her organization has found victims rights are unevenly addressed in different courts across the state. While some people can hire a personal lawyer to protect their rights, Harper Lee says a more effective way to improve the justice system is by educating the professionals who come into contact with crime victims. Since Marsy's Law, the victim's rights constitutional amendment was overwhelmingly approved by Ohioans four years ago, the Justice Center has provided training to over 10,000 criminal justice officials and related professionals.

"The training is for forensic nurses, for counsellors, for advocates, for law enforcement, for prosecutors, for judges, and other allied professions in the field, to inform them of crime victims' rights laws, to be able to identify when victims rights are being violated or ignored, and to provide resources for them to work to remedy victims rights violations on their own. And if that doesn't work, when to refer the victims to us to receive free legal representation."

The 4 1/2 hour professional training is regularly offered by the Justice Center. Harper Lee says there are also resources available to individuals, including a Crime Victims Toolkit, that allows people to enter in generalized information about their situation, and get detailed information about what they should expect from hospitals, law enforcement, and the court system. More information on the training and the toolkit is available on the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center's website.

A native of Chicago, naturalized citizen of Cincinnati and resident of Columbus, Alison attended Earlham College and the Ohio State University. She has equal passion for Midwest history, hockey and Slavic poetry.