2009-04-23 / Local & State

Women In Need Holds Annual Vigil Against Violence

Women In Need will hold its 17th Annual Vigil Against Violence at 6:45 p.m. Thursday, April 30, at Wilson College. The event, which is open to the public, will begin in Sarah's Coffeehouse on the lower level of the Lenfest Commons building.

Cindy Shoemaker, Wilson College director of counseling, will deliver the keynote address, "Taking Steps Toward Rebuilding Lives."

This year's ceremony also will feature a Franklin County commissioners' proclamation of National Crime Victims' Week, live musical tribute, artwork by survivors of violence and a stepping stone path representing victims of crime. Victims will share their personal stories of survival. The vigil will end with a candlelight march through the Wilson campus.

Wilson College students will participate and assist in the vigil, which will be held rain or shine.

Each year, Women In Need (WIN) holds a vigil in recognition of survivors of violence and in remembrance of those who have not survived. The vigil is held each year during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Crime Victims' Rights Week. Both of these events are nationally recognized events held to honor victims and survivors of violence.

National Crime Victims' Rights Week, which begins April 26, is a time to focus on victims of crime and celebrate our nation's progress in serving them. This year's theme, "25 years of Rebuilding Lives: Celebrating the Victims of Crime Act," honors a landmark national commitment to victims of crime.

Before 1984, victims of crime received little public support. The President's Task Force on Victims of Crime, formed by President Ronald W. Reagan in 1982, found widespread poor treatment of victims by a criminal justice system indifferent to their needs. Although most states had some form of victim compensation, most programs were poorly funded. Despite the few victim assistance programs available in some states and the federal effort to fund victim witness programs throughout the nation, most communities relied on a few grassroots organizations - funded by sporadic private donations and bake sales - to help victims of crime.

In 1984, moved by the President's Task Force report findings and the work of victim advocates, Congress passed the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), which created the Crime Victims Fund, financed not by taxpayers but by fines and penalties paid by offenders. In 25 years, the fund has grown from $68 million to more than $2 billion and is disbursed throughout the nation in amounts determined by Congress each year.

The fund supports victim compensation programs, which reimburse victims for many outof pocket expenses - such as medical care, counseling, funerals, and lost wages - that victims face in the aftermath of crime. It also helps fund victim assistance programs - such as rape crisis and domestic violence programs - that support victims by providing physical and emotional care and guidance in navigating the criminal justice system. In 2006, VOCA funds supported more than 4,400 public and nonprofit agencies serving almost 4 million victims, and paid more than $440 million in victim compensation.

Seeking help is often difficult for victims of crime. Although there are victims' agencies in every county in the state of Pennsylvania, victims can feel uncomfortable asking for help. Women In Need provides services to victims in Franklin and Fulton counties. Barbara Channing, director of Women In Need, explains that "All of Women In Need's services are both free and confidential to victims. The hotline is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A victim can talk to an advocate and the victim can decide what will be the safest option for them." Locally in 2007-2008, Women In Need worked with over 1200 adults and 250 children who were victims of domestic or sexual violence. Every person that calls the hotline, speaks to an advocate, or spends time in the shelter is a courageous and strong person. Taking that first step in receiving help often is the hardest.

"Every day in every state, VOCA shows victims they are not alone," said John W. Gillis, former director of the office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. "VOCA represents hope, renewal, and a nation that stands behind victims of crime."

Survivors of violence should be honored and encouraged. For more than three decades Women In Need has been doing just that - celebrating and encouraging victims through empowerment. Every year during National Crime Victims' Rights Week there is a candlelight vigil held in Franklin County. It is meant to educate and raise awareness in the community while encouraging survivors of violence and honoring the lives lost.

One in four families are impacted by domestic violence; 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys are sexually assaulted by the age of 18 - victims can be our mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, friends or neighbors (PCADV, PCAR). You may never know that someone is a victim of violence, but their life is impacted by that criminal act. Will you come and support victims of violence; take a stand for the safety of all people; help honor the journey that they have been through; and celebrate what the future has in store? Whether you know a victim's name or you generally know that there are victims in every community, you can do something to help a victim!

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