Engaging, supporting, and listening to victims of crime is a vital part of justice that restores.
April 18-24, 2021, is National Crime Victims' Rights Week, a time to honor victims and recommit to serving their needs. This year's theme is "Support Victims. Build Trust. Engage Communities."
Crime has pervasive, devastating, and often long-lasting impacts. In the U.S. alone, millions of people experience crime of all sorts every year. There is a high likelihood that you have been a victim of crime at some point.
Every person is made in God's image, with a life worthy of respect, protection, and care. Out of our holistic view of serving people affected by crime and incarceration, Prison Fellowship® calls Christians to advocate for justice that restores—including justice that serves and validates people harmed by crime.
A PERSONAL JOURNEY
A crucial first step in caring for victims of crime is to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). When someone commits a crime, that action cannot be undone. But meaningful support may help victims to move forward on the journey through grief and perhaps begin to heal from the trauma.
WHAT IS VALIDATION?
In short, it's saying, "I'm so sorry that happened to you. It wasn't right. You've suffered an injustice."
People who have been harmed by crime need to feel heard and validated. They must be allowed to process at their own pace. This may involve a long-term process of hurt and grief, as with anyone who has survived trauma. There is no precise timeframe or one "right" way to recover.
GIVING VICTIMS A VOICE
Crime victims must navigate a difficult criminal justice system that often exacerbates their trauma. They might feel like they are reliving that trauma or being revictimized because they cannot control their circumstances. When people feel they lack agency in the justice process, they can quickly grow weary and dissatisfied with the system.
Feeling supported can be a help to victims as they navigate the criminal justice system. Friends and advocates can partner with them to advance their rights in the system. Victims should have a chance to be heard and to participate in the justice process as much as they desire. But victims are under no obligation. Respect what kind of role, if any, victims want to play in bringing the perpetrator to justice and accountability. Victims have something to say, and when they feel empowered to speak, their words have the power to change people.
When victims have a platform to share their voices, it is humanizing and greatly effective at leading to accountability.
DID YOU KNOW?
Some people who have suffered because of crime prefer the term "survivor," "harmed party," or "person who has been harmed by crime."
Read more about the impact of labels and person-first language here.
JUSTICE THAT OPENS DOORS
Too often, well-meaning Christians push crime victims to forgive those who have hurt them. But everyone's story is their own journey.
Michael Burke is a Prison Fellowship donor and volunteer whose son Christian was murdered in college. Michael points out that forgiveness is a personal, individual process that cannot be forced or rushed. People who are not ready to forgive should not be pressured to do so. There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is letting go of the hurt, but reconciling is re-embracing the person who caused the hurt. Some victims may choose to reconcile with the person who has wronged them, but this is not always appropriate or safe. We must respect boundaries needed for healing.
Prison Fellowship recognizes the need for in-prison programs that foster deep personal transformation. This is why programs behind bars often include curricula that address victim impact and related issues. In many cases, programming can promote accountability, and accountability promotes change.
Even when someone does forgive, it doesn't negate the need to take action and punish crime appropriately.
Whenever possible, people must understand how their actions affect others—not just the state or the system, but other humans. And that opens the door for change and potential for healing.
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