This week is National Crime Victim’s Rights Week. Crime victims have rights under both the Florida Constitution and Chapter 960, Florida Statutes. My office normally holds a ceremony in Tallahassee commemorating National Crime Victims Rights Week, which includes a presentation of awards recognizing crime victim advocates and law enforcement officers from throughout the state who have provided outstanding service to crime victims.
Sadly, we had to cancel this year’s ceremony. Hardworking and compassionate victim advocates protect and guide crime victims through the criminal justice process, treating each survivor with dignity and respect while helping them cope. They comfort family members who have lost loved ones to murder, they attend court proceedings with victims of sexual violence and they help seniors recover after being scammed.
Even during the current crisis, help remains available for crime victims. The Florida Office of Attorney General Division of Victim Services and Criminal Justice Programs continues to serve crime victims.
The Bureau of Victim Compensation provides financial assistance to victims who suffer economic losses; medical and mental health expenses; burial expenses; domestic violence, sexual battery, and human trafficking relocation; tangible property losses; and pays for sexual battery forensic examinations. During state fiscal year 2018-19, the office approved 16,211 eligible claims worth over $17.5 million and resolved 157,051 calls from victims and victim advocates to our toll-free number, 1-800-226-6667. Despite this crisis, they continue to process claims and payments.
The Bureau of Advocacy and Grants Management administers the federal Victims of Crime Act grants to state and local agencies that perform direct services for crime victims. A total of 644,470 victims received services through VOCA-funded private non-profit or public organizations or agencies during the last fiscal year through 268 grants worth over $100 million.
The Criminal Justice Programs Bureau held 31 victim related training classes, attended by 1,215 new and current victim advocates, who along with my regional victim advocates represent my office throughout Florida, providing a direct conduit with local victim services organizations to promote the awareness of victims’ rights. They also participate in local coalitions, task forces, and councils regarding victim-related issues. The Criminal Justice Programs Bureau also administers an address confidentiality program, providing a substitute mailing address for 1,376 relocated victims of stalking and domestic violence, serving as legal agent for the receipt of mail and the service of process. My staff continues to process mail for these victims, even during the crisis.
My office is only one part of a statewide network of victim advocates for crime victims. Local law enforcement, and victim service providers stand ready to provide victims with the resources they need to recover from crime. My website, www.myfloridalegal.com, has a victim services page which provides information for crime victims, explains their rights, and has links to victim services providers throughout the state. During these times of struggle, I wanted to shine a light on those that are helping Floridians every day. Victim advocates across the state are passionate, and their work continues even as the state fights to stop the spread of COVID-19. Florida is a stronger, safer place because of their efforts.
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Ashley Moody is Florida’s attorney general.