Victims’ rights advocates from all over the country are meeting in Philadelphia for the annual conference of the National Association for Victims Assistance. For many of them, the work is personal. It’s a path toward healing through helping others.
Brooks Douglass, a former Oklahoma state senator, has authored more than 20 pieces of victims’ rights legislation. As he addressed a rapt audience of about 250 advocates at the conference, however, he spoke as a crime victim.
In 1979, two men entered Douglass’ home, killed his parents, and left the then 16-year-old and his sister for dead. Douglass has since worked to improve a system that he says is often more concerned with the offender than the victim.
He has championed state-funded programs to meet victims’ emotional needs, to allow them to testify during sentencing phases of trials, and to help with the financial cost of crimes. None of those measures was available to him and his sister.
“In our case, we were not able to get reimbursement for our car that was impounded as evidence, that I drove the night we were shot,” said Douglass. “Or the rape exam kit that was $500 to verify that my sister was raped by these guys, we had to pay for.”
Douglass says working for victims rights has been a healing experience.
Conference organizers say their ranks are filled with others like Douglass, who suffered a traumatic experience that ties them to the cause.
Along with workshops and lectures, the conference also featured a commemoration for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.