Hoping to put power back in the hands of crime victims, Assemblyman Michael Miller announced that he helped pass a legislative package that included measures to support victims of human trafficking, broaden the definition of rape and protect individuals who report crimes to keep the fear of repercussions from standing in the way of justice.
“The trauma that stems from surviving a crime, be it physical, emotional or psychological, can take years to begin healing,” Miller said. “We must remember the hardships these victims have gone through and treat them with compassion. This legislation provides the support and resources that let crime victims get back on their feet and know they are not alone on the path to healing.”
To alleviate the financial burden for victims and their families, the package includes a measure allowing courts to direct all or a portion of antitrust fines to the Office of Victims Services, creating another revenue source to fund its victims’ assistance and victims’ award programs. Another bill makes domestic partners of homicide victims eligible for crime victims’ compensation and expands benefits to include out-of-pocket expenses, such as counseling.
“These victims already have so much on their plates to deal with in the aftermath of crimes they’ve endured,” Miller said. “The least we can do is to curb some of the costs that come with seeking justice, because money shouldn’t be the primary concern; their well-being is.”
To support victims of rape and sexual assault, Miller helped pass a measure to remove the penetration requirement from the definition of rape. The bill also expands to definition to include other forms of nonconsensual sexual conduct that are currently recognized by the law as criminal sexual acts.
“The level of sexual violence that continues to plague our country is staggering and heartbreaking, and all too often, we see those responsible walk freely due to technicalities,” Miller said. “Victims of sexual abuse deal with unimaginable amount of physical and emotional pain. By updating an outdated criminal statute and recognizing that ‘rape is rape,’ this legislation will help ensure their perpetrators face justice.”
The package also includes a measure to ensure victims of human trafficking aren’t unjustly penalized for crimes committed against them. The legislation exempts those convicted of a prostitution offense, or who are identified as victims of trafficking, from having to provide DNA to be included in the state database.
Miller helped pass a bill that protects the right of crime victims or tenants to report criminal acts, including acts of domestic violence, without the fear of losing their housing as the result of landlord actions or local nuisance laws. Currently, many municipalities throughout the state have nuisance laws, which can be overly broad and, as a result, discourage victims or bystanders from calling the police or reporting crimes. Landlords would also be protected from any penalties for respecting the rights of tenants to request police or emergency assistance.
“No one should ever feel that they can’t call for help out of fear of losing their home,” Miller said. “The only way to make our communities safer is to encourage people to speak up against injustice. This bill will protect those who are willing to do the right thing and report a crime so that the perpetrators don’t have the chance to hurt anyone else.”
The package also includes legislation to expand eligibility for awards from OVS to victims of unlawful surveillance and dissemination of an unlawful surveillance image. Another measure would expand the list of crimes for which a child victim, who endures or witnesses certain violations, may receive awards. These awards may cover several out-of-pocket expenses such as mental health counseling, transportation for necessary court dates or repair or replacement of essential personal property that has been lost, damaged or destroyed as a direct result of the crime.
“Every victim’s experience is different, and our laws should reflect that so victims can get the support they need,” Miller said. “This legislation will allow more people who are hurting to have one less worry as they begin the process of healing and moving forward with their lives.”