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Reaching Every Victim, Extending the Vision of Service

Mary Lou Leary, Acting Assistant Attorney of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, shares stories of the honorees at the National Crime Victims’ Service Awards ceremony.

Ed Note: The following is a cross-post that appeared on the Department of Justice website.

This afternoon, as I stood with Attorney General Eric Holder and my colleague Joye Frost at the National Crime Victims’ Service awards ceremony, I felt both humbled and proud.  Humbled by the stories of courage and perseverance told by the recipients of this year’s Service Awards, and proud of the persistent work done by OJP since 1983 to promote victims’ rights and honor crime victims.

Supporting victims of crime is a priority for this administration and for the Department of Justice. It is important to focus the nation’s attention on the courage and concrete results of individuals and organizations that provide services to crime victims. Their long term commitment to helping survivors, their families, and their communities is unparalleled.

This year’s theme, “Extending the Vision: Reaching Every Victim,” calls on us to celebrate the progress we’ve made.  The theme captures the spirit and resolve needed to reach every victim to provide hope and help.

The work and stories of the individuals and organizations who have received this year’s awards are powerful.

Take Roi Holt, from Washington, who received a Federal Crime Victim Service Award.  Through her work in government agencies, beginning with the Department of the Interior, she promoted awareness of federal victims’ rights laws among federal law enforcement personnel.

She has been a resource for law enforcement officers who need information, referrals and assistance for victims of crime. She has been especially active in responding to the critical needs of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal communities.   Her efforts empower communities and have a lasting impact on the lives of many people.

Then there is National Crime Victim Service Award winner Victoria Cruz, of Brooklyn, New York, who transformed herself from victim, to survivor, to advocate.  As Senior Domestic Violence Counselor and Advocate at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, she empowers her clients to stand up and speak for themselves.

She speaks for those who can no longer speak — those lost to violence through murder.  Victoria brings attention to violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and HIV-affected communities and speaks out about sexual violence, dating violence, and intimate partner violence.  Ms. Cruz’s work saves lives and improves the quality of life for many in her community.

Mickey Rooney first entered America’s consciousness as a child movie star in the 1920s.  No stranger to awards, Mr. Rooney has received the Lifetime Achievement Award, a Golden Globe, an Emmy Award, and a Peabody Award, five Oscar nominations, four stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a Bronze Star for his service during World War II.  But today he received the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Special Courage Award for bringing a new level of public awareness to the issue of elder abuse.

In 2011, he testified before the United States Senate in the hearing entitled: Justice For All: Ending Elder Abuse, Neglect & Financial Exploitation.  Mr. Rooney spoke about his own emotional, verbal, and financial abuse at the hands of his stepchildren.  He suffered silently for years but knew he needed to speak out about his ordeal.  He said:

“To those seniors and especially elderly veterans like myself . . .You are not alone and you have nothing to be ashamed of.  If elder abuse   happened to me, it can happen to anyone.  I want you to know that you deserve better.”

In addition, these outstanding advocates received awards during the ceremony:

  • Common Justice, for their work encouraging victims’ participation in the justice process.
  • Dr. Dora Shriro, for creating a state corrections-based victim assistance program.
  • Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) founder Rachel Lloyd, for serving girls and young women who have experienced sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.
  • Julia Dunkins and Justin Todd Fennell, for using their personal experiences as survivors of violence to support others.
  • Dr. Linda Ledray, for establishing the Sexual Assault Resource Service (SARS), one of the first Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) programs.
  • Maricopa County (AZ) Adult Probation Department Financial Compliance Unit, for holding probationers accountable for financial compliance with the collection of restitution for victims of crime.
  • Michelle D. Scott, for instituting a victim services program with an advisory board composed of survivors and advocates to ensure that victims’ voices are heard.
  • Wingate Grant, for implementing an innovative unit for recovering assets for crime victims that is a model for U.S. Attorneys’ Offices.

I invite you to visit the Office for Victims of Crime Gallery to read the full biographies of these extraordinary women and men, and the institutions they represent, who have been honored for their courage and service today.

For more information, read the Attorney General’s full remarks from the event that outline the work of the the Department of Justice to assist and support crime victims across the country.

Mary Lou Leary is Acting Assistant Attorney of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs (OJP).