By Rory Lancman
This week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Crime victims have the hardest role in our criminal justice system. Many feel victimized not only by the initial criminal act, but by our court process. Victims are forced to come to court over and over again, without seeing any progress in their case, because of our trial delays.
Many victims have important paperwork stolen, including Social Security cards and driver’s licenses, as a result of the crime and then find themselves faced with an uncaring government bureaucracy that forces them to jump through hoops just to resume their normal life.
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is an important time to put a spotlight on victims and how we can help them. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken a crucial step toward helping victims of domestic abuse by creating an enrollment exemption for health insurance under Obamacare, so they can leave their abuser and remain insured.
The City Council is also working to help victims. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced in her State of the City address that the Council will establish the position of Crime Victims’ Service Coordinator in city government, which will be a centralized resource for victims to turn to for assistance and services. The coordinator will work with existing programs and will also identify gaps in services and the bureaucracy so that every victim receives the help they need. The Council has been at the forefront of helping the victims of sex trafficking, one of the most horrific crimes, by increasing funding for Human Trafficking Intervention Courts.
At a hearing led by Council member Carlos Menchaca and myself in October, we found that the NYPD often fails to certify visas for immigrant crime victims. Fortunately, Gov. Cuomo has announced that the state’s Division of Human Rights and the State Police will begin working with victims on these visas. The city’s Office of Human Rights will also certify the visas, making it much easier for victims who report crimes to access this important protection.
We are also working on court reforms that would make it easier for victims to see their case through to trial. The Courts & Legal Services Committee, which I chair, recently held a hearing on the absence of speedy trials in our criminal courts. We are working to get more judges in Queens so that cases move faster and victims don’t have to take time off from work to go to court only for the case to be adjourned to a later date.
It takes courage and strength to report a crime, and to see it through the justice system. At the City Council, we’re working not just this week, but every day, to honor that and create a criminal justice system that works for victims.
Council Member Rory I. Lancman chairs the Courts & Legal Services Committee and represents the 24th District in the City Council.