Every year, organizations around the country honor crime victims during a week of observance called National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. That began Sunday, and it is a time when we celebrate achievements in the area of victims’ rights. We also raise awareness and reflect on the work that still needs to be done.
As members of law enforcement, we are proud to stand with crime victims and their families to engage in this week of observance. We also are proud in many ways of where Maine stands when it comes to the rights of the more than 1,600 people who become victims of violent crime in our state each year.
But there is still work that needs to be done to protect the innocent Mainers whose lives are affected by crime. We believe the lack of constitutional rights for crime victims is an issue that needs to be rectified. That is why we and others in law enforcement have partnered with an effort to establish a Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights called Marsy’s Law for Maine. This would guarantee equal constitutional rights for crime victims so their rights in the criminal-justice system are on par with those of the accused and convicted, and help victims when they are at their most vulnerable.
We are committed to this cause, because while the rights of the accused are absolute, there are no absolute rights for victims.
As one example, the lack of a simple constitutional guarantee that a crime victim be notified of the release of the accused or convicted is a real problem in Maine. Some crime victims slip through the cracks. That was the case when one young Maine woman learned the man who was convicted of holding her captive for more than two days while repeatedly raping her was released from jail, but she was not notified. She did not know there was a chance she might encounter him in public, or that the time had come to take the necessary safety precautions she and her family and friends had prepared for the day when her rapist was released.
This should not happen to any crime victim in Maine — ever. No crime victim should suffer this kind of re-victimization.
As law enforcement members, we are invested in our communities and are honored to serve and protect our most vulnerable citizens. That includes people who are victimized by crime. We are often the first people on the scene of a crime and the first contact with a victim after a crime occurs. We see the effects these cases have, not only on the person directly affected, but also on their families and communities.
In our work, we partner with organizations across Maine that offer incredible support to crime victims, making sure they have the services they need at a most difficult and painful time in their lives. Maine’s advocates for victims of the most violent crimes — domestic violence, sexual assault and murder — make sure victims are safe and supported, have the resources they need to heal, and are considered when legislative or legal action may impact them.
Groups like these have created a vital, important community that helps others when the unimaginable happens. These groups do wonderful work. But we as a state can do better to protect crime victims in the criminal-justice system.
We are proud to say that we are committed to growing more partnerships to help crime victims in Maine, not just this week in the spirit of the theme, “Expand the Circle: Reach All Victims,” but beyond. We believe partnerships with all kinds of organizations — places of worship, schools and universities, businesses, and everyday citizens — will help us reach more victims in every corner of our state.
By creating a broader community of support, victims will have more resources they can trust. They then will be more likely to seek help and access more of the support, resources, services and equal rights they need to heal and recover from often unimaginable circumstances.
Scott Nichols is the Franklin County sheriff. Eric Samson is the Androscoggin County sheriff.
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