From the Office of Congressman Ted Poe
pon entering Congress in January 2005, Ted Poe, Republican congressman from Texas, with Jim Costa, Democratic congressman from California, and Katherine Harris, former Republican congresswoman from Florida, founded the Congressional Victim’s Rights Caucus (VRC), with the goal of advocating and providing a voice for all victims of crime, including law enforcement personnel, in Congress. The VRC is a bipartisan caucus because victims’ issues are not specifically Republican or Democratic in nature—they are people issues. Cochaired by Congressmen Poe and Costa, the VRC currently boasts a membership of 38 representatives from 16 states.
The caucus works to achieve its goal in numerous ways. First, it develops legislation aimed at helping victims or preventing further victimization. Members of the VRC were instrumental in enacting several important pieces of legislation, including the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, the S.A.F.E. Act, the Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act, and the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Fund Preservation Act of 2007.
Second, the VRC hosts briefings to educate members of Congress and their staff about victims’ issues. Over the last two years, the caucus has hosted several such briefings on a wide rage of topics, including protecting the funding for the VOCA Fund and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA); the high rate of victimization of women with mental illnesses; stalking and how technology is being used to perpetrate the crime; and what more needs to be done to protect the victims of domestic violence.
Organizing meetings with victim’s rights specialists is the third, and perhaps most important, way for the caucus to achieve its goal. Without the input and cooperation of these specialists, the VRC would not be as effective in speaking out for crime victims as it has been. In 2006 the caucus formed a national advisory group composed of victim advocates, law enforcement representatives, and prosecutorial organizations with the purpose of receiving feedback and guidance from these recognized professionals and establishing ways for their working together to better serve victims of crime.
One of the caucus’s main objectives is to work to protect victims’ funding, specifically the VOCA Fund and VAWA. The $1.3 billion VOCA Fund provides money to nearly 4,400 victim service providers across the country and covers compensation to over 3 million victims of crime annually. For the last three years, the administration has tried to rescind the VOCA Fund and place it into the abyss of the general treasury. The loss of this fund would be detrimental to victims across the United States. To protect the fund, the VRC submitted letters signed by multiple members of Congress to the House Appropriations Committee, asking the committee to refuse the fund rescission. The VRC was successful in this endeavor and is currently working on introducing legislation that will take the VOCA Fund out of budget consideration, keeping the money for victims of crime.
The VRC’s area of concern and activity includes law enforcement officers, who often get overlooked as victims of crime. Subjected daily to the inherent dangers of the law enforcement profession, peace officers are at constant risk of being punched, kicked, slapped, stabbed, or shot, but they are inexplicably not considered to be victims until they are either seriously injured or killed in the line of duty. It is the responsibility of the VRC to bring awareness to the issue of law enforcement officers as victims during the course of their daily routine. It is important that the public never forget the service of and the price paid by these dedicated men and women to keep their communities and their nation safe. Law enforcement officers and their families can be just as much victims of crime as are citizen victims of drunk-driving accidents or homicide, and the VRC is here to be their voice in Congress. It is also the responsibility of the caucus to honor those who have given their lives in the line of duty.
To honor the individuals in the victims’ rights, law enforcement, and prosecutorial communities who tirelessly work to ensure the protection of victims of crime, the VRC initiated the Congressional Victim’s Rights Caucus Awards in the following five categories:
- The Lois Haight Award recognizes a professional whose efforts have had a significant impact on local, state, national, or international public policy development and implementation that promotes dignity, respect, rights, and services for victims of crime.
- The Allied Profession Award recognizes the efforts of individuals, organizations, and/or coalitions that directly benefit victims of crime but are not direct victim service providers.
- The Eva Murillo “Unsung Hero” Award recognizes an individual who has used his or her experiences as a crime victim to promote public education and awareness, public policy development, and/or a greater awareness about crime victims’ rights and needs.
- The Ed Stout Memorial Award recognizes a professional or volunteer whose efforts directly benefit victims and survivors of crime, particularly in the areas of program development, public or agency policy development, community and public awareness, and collaboration among community- and justice-based organizations who serve victims.
- The Public Awareness Award, established this year, recognizes an individual or organization that has used the media to promote and bring about change at the national level for crime victims.
The VRC works toward its goal by providing information and obtaining feedback on victims’ issues through its Web site: vrc.poe.mail.house.gov. This site is a vital tool for letting the public know which victims’ issues the caucus is currently addressing and which victim-related events the members have attended or helped to organize. For more information on the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus, please visit the Web site or contact the caucus coordinator, Stephanie Garlock, at 202-225-6565 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.■
|Congressman Ted Poe, the founder and cochair of the congressional VRC, is a leading advocate for children and victims of crime. Congressman Poe has 22 years of experience as a felony court judge and 8 years’ experience as a prosecutor dealing with criminal cases. Poe serves on the board of directors for the National Children’s Alliance in Washington, D.C., and on the board of directors for the Children’s Assessment Center in Houston, Texas. |