National Crime Victims' Rights Week observed in Gulfport

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS  (WLOX) -  This is National Crime Victims' Rights Week and this year's observance marks a milestone. It was 25 years ago Congress passed the Victims of Crime Act; legislation that provides a wide range of support for victims of crime.

A special ceremony took place Monday afternoon in Gulfport to mark that anniversary.

"Twenty five years ago, some people had the vision to say, 'We need to spend some time and money on victims in our country,'" said Doris Weaver, as she opened the special observance in front of the federal courthouse.

They gathered to celebrate progress made since the passage of VOCA:  the Victims of Crime Act.

"Back in 1984 there were five domestic violence shelters in the state. Today we have 12. We were one of the five. There were two rape crisis programs in the state. We were one of the two. Now there are nine," said Sandra Morrison, with the Gulf Coast Women's Center for Non-Violence.

Speakers shared their experiences near a poster covered with the faces of crime victims. The coroner reminded the crowd that victims of homicide have an impact that extends far beyond family.

"Because it not only affects you, it affects our whole community. We miss a smile. We miss a tearful eye. A glimmer in that eye. We miss future leaders when their lives are taken immediately and tragically," said Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove.

Carla Todd viewed the observance through the eyes of a mother whose teenage son was shot to death in the family's living room during Christmas season eight years ago.

"Today, when someone goes through what I've been through, one of the things they can turn to is a support group called Forever Changed. That group is there to comfort us, to let us compare stories," she told the crowd.

VOCA established a fund to help compensate victims of crime; a fund paid for with fines charged to criminals.

"The legal system, as I know from many years experience, it is almost like a machine. You put people into it and it grinds them up and it doesn't leave them whole," said Gulfport attorney Harry Yoste.

"I'd like to thank each one, everyone of you for what you do for us. We've been thrown into this "family" that no one can ever fathom. It just happens," said Carla Todd.

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