The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners proclaimed the week of April 18 as National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
The proclamation was brought forward by Multnomah County's Department of Community Justice Victim and Survivor Services and the Multnomah County’s District Attorney’s Office.
This year’s themes are “Support Victims. Building Trust. Engage Communities.”
These themes have always been important, said Rhea DuMont, manager of Victim and Survivor Services. But “the last year has highlighted the critical need to help those experiencing the greatest harm.”
“The one person who’s forced into a relationship with the criminal justice system is the victim,” said DuMont. “Yet it is often their needs and preferences that are the last thing to be considered, if they’re even considered at all.”
The County and other partners have worked steadily to improve victims’ services over the years, from building notification systems to adding emergency resources. Still, victims’ services are relatively scarce compared to services that address those who cause harm, speakers shared.
And the tidal wave of events that began last year — the COVID-19 pandemic, protests and activism calling for criminal justice reform, ongoing political unrest, natural disasters and an unprecedented increase in gun violence in our community — has exacerbated everything, DuMont said. She noted these events “have contributed to countless new victims and devastating ripple effects on our families and communities.”
The Victim and Survivor Services has been nimble. Despite an influx of calls, the unit has maintained a 24-hour response rate of 98 percent to all new advocacy referrals.
The unit has also taken a hard look at its policies and practices “to not only uphold crime victims’ rights, but to make sure the work reflects our core values of equity [and being] trauma informed and survivor led,” said DuMont.
“Are our policies and practices dismantling systems of oppression and transforming them to be safe, inclusive and equitable for all people? Are we uplifting and trusting victims in their own lives? Are we minimizing complexities and removing barriers? We grapple with these questions daily. They move us to action.”
This year, funding for the unit was repurposed and reorganized to include:
Two culturally specific advocates to serve Black, African American and Latinx communities;
A new bilingual advocate for trauma-informed notification, including safety planning system navigation and referrals; and
The expansion of the emergency fund to further support survivors of domestic violence by addressing immediate safety needs.
“This was imperative,” said DuMont. “The pandemic resulted in further isolation for this population and increased multiple factors that contribute to domestic violence and higher lethality risks.”
Among victims’ rights, the right to victim notification is the most important, DuMont said.
“In cases of domestic violence and stalking, notification of an offender’s release is more than a matter of interest — it can also mean a matter of life and death.”
“National Crime Victims’ Rights Week invites us to pause and to celebrate the progress of crime victims’ rights and we have so much to be proud of but we can’t forget that we still have a long way forward,” DuMont said.
“May Multnomah County be a leader in centering survivors in our responses to injustice and harm. May we be a leader in tipping the scale and thinking big about what is possible in our community.”
Hearing from a Survivor’s Perspective
View meeting here.
Three survivors of crimes, ranging from domestic violence to hate crimes, shared their stories at Thursday’s board meeting.
The group was introduced by Emily Hyde, supervisor of Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office Victims Assistance Program. Rochelle Powell was one of them.
Powell described a harrowing account of sexual abuse by a family member. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. And for the past 16 years, “I have worked very hard to address my trauma and become a voice for those who need it,” she shared.
Today, Powell volunteers as a victims’ rights advocate.
The rights afforded to victims have been vital for notifications, mental health check-ins and developments in her case, she said.
“However, I was not told about the facilitated dialogue program,” she said. “If I had known there was a restorative justice program that provides survivors like me an opportunity to meet face-to-face with the person who harmed them, and the ability to ask questions that we couldn’t throughout the original criminal justice process [...] I may be in a very different place right now.”
While Restorative Justice is not part of the package of victims’ rights, it is an option available to survivors, but “unfortunately, it is often overlooked, and survivors of crime don’t know about it or have support to access it, said Hyde.
While Powell’s abuser was still in prison, she said, “I would have taken advantage of that program and pursued healing.”
Instead, Powell shared, her abuser now stalks her and her family. “He takes no responsibility for the crimes he committed. And I’m here still feeling the same fear knowing my abuser is still out in the community.”
Justice professionals have an overwhelming power to shape the experience of victims and survivors, shared speakers.
Hyde, the Victims Assistance Program supervisor, agreed. While professionals can’t always deliver justice through prosecution, making sure that victims feel believed and informed, and are treated with dignity and respect, is core to their work, she said.
“Decision makers like you who have the power to implement important programs and policies to ensure that victims feel safe and secure in their interactions with the system, and that they have agency to define what healing looks like for them,” Powell said.
District Attorney Mike Schmidt joined the presentation to read the proclamation, which read in part:
This week elevates the importance of crime victim rights’ and their critical role in providing crime victims and survivors ways to meaningfully participate in the criminal justice process;
Crimes can leave a lasting impact on any person, regardless of age, national origin, race, creed, religion, gender, sexual orientation, immigration, or economic status;
Serving victims, honoring their rights, and being responsive to their diverse needs, restores hope to survivors and supports healthy and thriving communities….
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office and Multnomah County Department of Community Justice renew our commitment to preventing violence before it begins.
Read the full proclamation here.
“I just want to thank District Attorney Schmidt and Rhea for bringing this forward and all the work you do every day in the District Attorney’s Office in seeking justice and prosecuting cases,” said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson. “Centering victims and the impacts on them and their families as they’re part of the process as well.
I especially wanted to thank Rochelle, Tommy and Lindsey for sharing your stories and making yourselves vulnerable,” said Vega Pederson. "It’s really important for us to hear those stories. It honors what this work means and the work that’s happening in creating a justice system that’s more trauma-informed and puts into practice restorative justice.”
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury added her deep gratitude and thanks to the speakers.
“To the District Attorney, the staff and your office, she said. “And especially to the community members who came and shared their very personal stories with us this morning.”
“Not just tales of sorrow but tales of hope and suggestions on how to make things better.”
Remarks from Commissioners
Commissioner Lori Stegmann
Thank you for bringing forth this proclamation..
It was really eye opening to talk about the right to be safe and how so many do not feel safe. I really appreciate Rochelle, Tommy and Lindsey. All of the things you outlined on how victims have so few rights, clearly outline the work ahead of us.
Even though each one of you were a victim of a crime, you all talked about restorative justice. It wasn’t just about punishing someone, it was about holding someone accountable and more importantly rehabilitating them, so they couldn’t cause harm to someone else.
Tommy, I appreciate you having the courage to press charges. There is so much Anti-Asian hate right now, and I feel your pain. It’s a scarier world today for me and many of my AAPI brothers and sisters. And we know African Americans and Blacks have experienced this for hundreds of years. It’s so important to hear from the victims perspective. We don’t often hear this, and we need to know what is lacking in our system, if we’re ever going to truly address it.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran
Thank you for all the work you do Rhea, Emily and District Attorney Schmidt.
A very special thank you and my deep gratitude to Rochelle and Tommy and Lindsey for sharing your personal experiences. For really making it real and for the courage it takes to come and speak here today. This was such a powerful presentation and grounds us in the profound needs of our community: And for people who are victims of crimes as we work to re-imagine our systems in safety.
It harkens back to the “What works in Public Safety Conference” in the early days last year. The focus there was visioning about how important it was to support victims in terms of an overarching criminal justice strategy. I vividly recall some of the presentations there and how so often there’s this tension in our system between victim and offender. And that leads to separate responses. There was a consideration on how justice systems can collaborate on a holistic and healing approach.
Helping victims of crime is essential to our public safety strategy...