A Brief History of Crime Victims’ Rights

Written By: Jonathan Moore, Outreach Specialist

In 1981, Washington State enacted a Victims’ Bill of Rights, which enumerates 15 specific rights that serve to compensate, inform, empower, and protect crime victims in Washington State. In 1989, Washington State also amended its Constitution to further protect crime victims’ rights. 

It took a decades-long movement, with powerful supporters from across the political spectrum, to recognize the experience of crime victims in the criminal justice system, and to give them a “significant role” in courtrooms where they had previously been silenced. The rights provided to crime victims in Washington State allow crime victims to participate in the criminal justice system in ways that were not historically possible. Until the creation of the Victims’ Bill of Rights, crime victims primarily served an evidentiary function; acting only as “witnesses” in the criminal justice system.

Thanks to the legal rights afforded them, crime victims now have more agency over their experience. Victim Impact Statements allow crime victims to stand and address the judge at sentencing hearings. Victim/Witness Units at Prosecutor’s offices keep crime victims informed of hearing dates, so that they may attend. Crime victims are compensated for time spent away from work due to cooperating with the criminal justice system, and also have a right to orders of restitution.

Despite crime victims’ rights being enacted nearly 40 years ago, most crime victims are unaware of them, and are only introduced to these rights during distressing moments in their lives. Victim Support Services’ (VSS) Advocates help educate crime victims on their rights, and work to support them in realizing those rights. These rights-based efforts by VSS advocates are a continuation of a cultural movement toward supporting crime victims in their healing journeys in what the National Crime Victim Law Institute calls, “one of the most successful civil liberties movements of recent times.”

To learn more about Crime Victims’ Rights in Washington State you can check out VSS’ website HERE 

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"With the help of VSS, you are empowered and encouraged to fight back and be pro-active. Then your conscience can be more at peace because you know you have taken some action to protest crimes inflicted on your loved one. It is sometimes your only consolation."

“The one takeaway for me in working with VSS is that it is a necessary organization. I know they are funded by grants and fundraisers but it’s something we need to make sure as a community that they have the funding needed because what they do for people in need doesn’t happen anywhere else. This is the only place that this happens and VSS helps with so many things.”

David Rose

Anchor, Q13 News and Host, Washington’s Most Wanted

“VSS is there when the unthinkable happens.  When a police officer knocks on your door and gives you tragic news, VSS helps navigate the court system, which can be very confusing. VSS is compassion, caring, and commitment. Commitment to once justice is done that victims and their families can move forward with their lives.”

Jennifer Gregerson

Mayor, City of Mukilteo

“VSS has been our partner in recovery and healing and a key part in what makes Mukilteo Strong. VSS has been a trusted advocate for the victims that have suffered so much in the community.  I’m so grateful to VSS as our partner in strength.”

Jon Nehring

Mayor, City of Marysville

“VSS is there for people in their darkest hour. At a time when they need an advocate and friend, VSS steps in to fill that gap and help them begin their journey back to some sense of normalcy.” 

Myrle Carner

Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound

“This thing about closure. There is never really closure in a victim’s life but VSS helps individuals to get closer to that and that’s critical because the cops and the judicial system just move on to another case because they don’t have time. Victims live with this trauma forever so VSS is with them for as long as they need the services. VSS takes the time, more importantly, they really care."

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