Lives rebuilt after crime

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), which among other things established the Office for Victims of Crime (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc) within the U.S. Department of Justice.

The act also created a provision for regular funding for state and local victim assistance and compensation programs, and other resources for crime victims and their families. (Among its most recent initiatives is a Victim and Family Assistance Call Center for those affected by the tragic shootings in Binghamton, N.Y.)

Another thing the Office for Victims of Crime does each year is sponsor National Crime Victims Rights Week, with special ceremonies and programs in the nation’s capital and in communities all across the country — including Columbus.

National Crime Victims Rights Week this year will be observed April 26-May 2. Its theme for 2009 is “25 Years of Rebuilding Lives: Celebrating the Victims of Crime Act,” and preparations for ceremonies, observances, exhibits and educational events are well under way in Columbus.

On Monday, April 20, Shawna Hartley, victim services director and chief domestic violence investigator with the Columbus Solicitor General’s Office, will conduct a town hall-type meeting at noon at the Government Center Plaza. Participating in that discussion, to be recorded for later TV showing, will be Municipal Court Judge Stephen Hyles, Solicitor General Ben Richardson and District Attorney Julia Slater.

The week will officially begin Sunday, April 26, with a Homicide Victim Memorial ceremony on the Columbus Riverwalk at 2 p.m., and conclude Saturday, May 2 with a Victims Resource Expo at the Civic Center from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

In anticipation of this observance, on Monday at 2 p.m. the Ledger-Enquirer editorial board will host a live Webcast discussion of crime and victims’ rights with a panel of guests expected to include Hartley; Kyle Bair, director of Rape Crisis; Sgt. Debbie Bohannon of the Columbus Police Department’s sex crimes unit; State Court Judge Maureen Gottfried; Diane Sinkule, director of Hope Harbour, the shelter operated by the Columbus Alliance for Battered Women; and Becky Welch, Fort Benning Family Advocacy program director. The discussion should be both informative and emotionally powerful.

Being the victim of a violent crime, or losing a loved one to crime, is a tragedy that inflicts its own kinds of brokenness and grief most of us, God willing, will never know. The real-life accounts are shattering, the triumph of lives reclaimed from crime inspirational. As we approach National Crime Victims Rights Week, it is an especially appropriate time for those stories to be told, and heard.

Join us Monday at 2 p.m. at http://videos.ledger-enquirer.com. — The editorial board