Thursday, November 19, 2009

At the Bleeding Edge of Victim Rights

By Randy McCall

I'll apologize beforehand for what may sound like an overly descriptive -- not to say violent -- term, but bleeding edge could not be a more appropriate phrase for my topic today.

It is a term, usually found in the computer and technical fields, for technology and software so new, so different, so untested, that the user assumes some risk in working on it. In other words, they're knowingly taking a risk in using the new technology, hoping the potential benefits will outweigh the possible costs.

In the realm of crime victim assistance, we can apply this phrase to those people who are working at pushing back the outer boundaries of available victim rights, by directly challenging the system as it stands. Sometimes they have to do this from outside the criminal justice system; at other times, the person is a member of the very system they want to see changed.

In the world of technology, the risk we speak of is the loss of data, of the work you've already done.

For advocates working at the bleeding edge of rights advocacy, the risk is different. Tackling government, courts and the legal system, with all their combined power, prestige, connections and funds, is daunting. The hope of the advocate is to broadcast their message, to reach the public and touch their hearts, and to gather enough support to their cause that government is moved to change the process.

The risk for the advocate at the bleeding edge is more than just failure to achieve their goals of change. It's the danger of being publicly labeled and dismissed: "crackpot", "over-emotional", "extremist". Of being shut out from the chance of making effective change through official agencies refusing to deal with them. Of losing funding, sponsors or helpers, or losing the chance of obtaining future positions from which to work on systemic change.

At the extreme edge, there is even the risk of contempt-of-court or other charges, of prosecution, and of fines or incarceration.

Yet, even with the risks involved, people continue to work at pushing the envelope of victim rights, extending and increasing the ability of victims to have at least some control of their cases, and by extension, a larger feeling of control in their lives. These people are not found in any one country; indeed, there are people working on the bleeding edge of victim rights in countries around the world.

What these people achieve has ramifications far beyond their own countries. In the fight for victim rights, the achievement of a new right in one country sets an international precedent. Advocates in other countries point to the achievement and say "they won that right, why can't we?".

And so the world changes.

In an earlier post on the Time's Up blog, I mentioned how the World Society of VictimologyINTERVICT (with others) are working towards a UN Convention on Victim Rights.

In New Zealand, the father of a murder victim is fighting to change the laws on victim impact statements, after having his own statement heavily edited by the court. Under heavy public scrutiny, the government is examining the situation and considering changes to the law.

In the United Kingdom, Sara Payne, the mother of a girl murdered by a pedophile, was appointed to the position of Victim's Commissioner. She has issued a 51 page report, Redefining Justice which essentially recommends a complete revamping of the UK justice system to provide integrated support to victims of crime, as well as strengthening application of laws on certain types of crime. The UK Home Office has politely received her report and recommendations, but without effusive support or fanfare.

These people and organizations -- and many, many others -- are operating at the extreme bleeding edge of victim rights. Success in their endeavors will be met with thanks and congratulations, then the duplication of those rights in other countries.

Failure is an option none wish to consider. Without risk there can be no reward, and they take these risks so we do not.

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1 comment:

  1. Great Post Randy I loved your links. Keep up the great work!


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