Rights Gained at the Expense of the System

Rights Gained at the Expense of the System

Some rights that victims gain should come at the expense of justice system officials and agencies that have neglected the needs and wants of their ostensi- ble clients for far too long, advocates say. Society, or more precisely the social system, is partly at fault for the crime problems that plague communities. The state, therefore, is obligated to minimize suffering and to help injured parties recover and become whole again through government intervention, even if offenders cannot be caught or convicted. A preoccupation with punishing lawbreakers must not overshadow the need to assist and support the people they harmed. New laws must guarantee that

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standards of fair treatment be met that respect the dignity and privacy of injured people. Because extra effort, time, and money must be expended to provide services that were not formerly available on a routine basis, these rights can be considered to have been gained by victims at the expense of the prerogatives of officials (including detectives, assistant district attor- neys, and probation officers) and the budgets of agen- cies (such as court systems and parole boards).

Rights gained at the expense of officials and agencies first were enacted in 1980, when Wisconsin’s state legislature passed a comprehen- sive Bill of Rights for victims and witnesses. The President’s Task Force (1982) endorsed similar proposals that were incorporated into federal statutes when Congress approved the Victim/ Witness Protection Act. Many states have pro- claimed similar assurances, either through specific laws or via more comprehensive legislative packages (see Table 7.2).

In addition to gaining rights at the expense of the criminal justice system, victims have also achieved some protection from the whims of employers in the private as well as the public sectors. Since the start of the new century, a number of states have passed statutes prohibiting employers from threatening, penalizing, or firing victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking who must take time off from their jobs (work leave) to attend to legal or therapeutic matters (Brown, 2003; and Bulletin Board, 2004).

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