Crime Victims Rights Week Observed In Gulfport

The brutal murder of his sister Brenda left Michael Mason feeling emotions that threatened to overwhelm him as he faced her killer in court.

"I never knew the true meaning of the word hate, until I saw what happened to my sister," says Mason. "I sat in the courtroom and watched someone try and justify what they had done to her."

Many in this room have shared Mason's pain, as victims of violent crime and as those who help them cope.

"I've looked into the eyes of a 6-year-old who's been sexually molested by a member of her family," says Doris Weaver, an advocate for survivors of Homicide.

She says in the past the emotional and financial needs of victims of crime were too often overlooked.

"We spend a lot of time on criminal rights," says Weaver. "But it's very important we spend time on the victims and their rights as well."

But she says observances like National Crime Victims Rights Week, and the more than 10,000 assistance programs established throughout the country have changed all that.

"You can see the number of people here who were victims and you can see the number of police officers and the agencies represented here," says Weaver. "We are concerned what's happening to the victims."

Victims like Judy Masso, who formed her own support group after her daughter Michelle was murdered in 2002.

"We try to reach out to people and we try to touch them in a way that they can make it through what we've already lived through," says Masso.

And that says Michael Mason is what this showing of support is all about.

"Walking in this door and seeing all these people let me know that this justice system does work for victims because it has definitely worked for me."

Thursday's program was sponsored by the Gulf Coast Crime Victim's Rights Coalition. For more information, call (228) 865-4003.