National Crime Victims Week Aims to Honor, Raise Awarness
Athens County Prosecuting Attorney, Keller Blackburn, began the week by allowing victims and their loved ones to plant flowers within the gardens at the entrance of the Courthouse.
“We spend a lot of time focused on our daily routine,” said Blackburn. “But it is important to take time to remember the victims of crime.”
According to the FBI’s annual “Crimes in the United States” report, 21 violent crimes and 475 property crimes were reported in Athens in 2010. Violent crimes included rape, robbery and aggravated assault; property crimes included burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
The program started with the handing out of ribbons for all in attendance. Each ribbon consisted of the colors blue, black and white to represent victims of crime. Then, after a brief presentation from the Victim Assistance Program’s intern, Megan Chalk, members and victims within the community were invited to the podium to speak about their experiences.
“Too often the focus is on the defendant and not the victims,” said Chalk. “It is our hope that by planting these flowers we will bring awareness to our community.”
Community members such as Linda Bowen who recently lost her mother and father, Fred and Mary Hart, in a car crash involving collision to the rear of their vehicle, used the opportunity to speak about their pain.
“I not only lost my parents,” said Bowen. “I lost my best friends. I thank God every day for the 49 years I had with them.”
Bowen’s parents were involved in a car crash July 17, 2011. The West Virginia man that hit the Harts was not indicted by a grand jury due to the lack of drugs and alcohol in his system. Rather, investigators blamed the accident on driver inattentiveness.
Athens County Probate Court Judge, Robert Stewart, also addressed the crowd by sharing his experience with crime victims within the legal system.
“When I first began working, they [victims of crime] were lucky if they had anyone to talk to,” said Stewart. “Sometimes they don’t want to be the ones to stand up and say that something happened to them. The respect that we show them is very important.”
Future legislation to ensure the rights and protection of Ohio crime victims may be close at hand.
“The Ohio House of Representatives just passed a bill for prosecutors to demand jury trials for crime victims,” said Blackburn. “It is currently coming up in front of the Ohio Senate. I think it is something we should be talking about this week.”
Crimes within the Athens area have no limit. Victims witnessing or experiencing crime can be classified within a multitude of genres, such as theft, homicide and rape.
“Victims do not ask to be a part of this process,” said Blackburn. “We try to treat all victims in our office with respect.”
For victims like Linda Bowen and her sisters Karen Wemmer and Brenda Addy, the best form of therapy is closure.
“Anything that is going to help me out,” said Bowen. “I want to be here for my family and everybody else.”