This month we celebrate National Crime Victims’ Rights
Week -- a week when we turn our awareness toward crime victims and the rights
they deserve. This year’s theme is “New Challenges, New Solutions.” In the wake
of the tragedy that befell the City of Boston, this theme is particularly
I, like many others, watched in horror as the events
surrounding the Boston Marathon unfolded. After the bombs exploded, the first
responders performed heroically, getting help to victims almost
instantaneously. There is little doubt that this rapid response saved many,
As the criminal investigation in Boston continues, and
the prosecution commences, it is time for the “second” and “third responders”
-- those who work in the criminal justice system -- to do their part. The
criminal justice professionals will assist the victims in countless ways. They
first must identify all of those affected. Then, they will provide notice of
court hearings, assist with compensation claims, explain the complicated
criminal justice process, and ensure that the victims’ voices are heard.
We know that first responders, as part of their formal
training, learn how to help victims. We find comfort in the fact that when they
complete their education, they will know how to apply a tourniquet, perform
CPR, and triage in the face of a mass tragedy. Unfortunately, the same does not
hold true for the “second” and “third responders.” The truth is that many
criminal justice professionals graduate from school without ever learning about
victims and their rights.
For the past few years, a former colleague and I have
taught a course at the University of Wisconsin Law School called “Victims in
the Criminal Justice System.” We developed this course because we wanted to
give law students the chance to develop a firm understanding of the issues
surrounding crime victims, which are often complex and nuanced, and are best
addressed initially in the classroom rather than in a real-world setting.
This class is one of a handful of courses in the
country that focuses on victims. We trace the journey of victims from the point
they are victimized through the entire legal process from investigation and
charging to post-sentencing. We have speakers from all different disciplines,
including prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, survivors, victim advocates,
victim/witness specialists, law enforcement, and the media. The feedback we
receive from the students is overwhelmingly positive with many students
commenting that ours was the best class they took while in law school.
Unfortunately, the University of Wisconsin Law School
has chosen to drop this class for the 2013-14 academic year. We have been told
that it will only be offered every other year due to budgetary constraints even
though we would teach it for free. The decision to cut this class for next year
will have a detrimental impact on the course because it will stymie the
momentum in enrollment we have gained from past years. In addition, the class
is mostly comprised of third-year law students, those in their final year. Offering
it every other year will mean, realistically, that half the student body will
lose the opportunity to take the course.
More than 30 individuals, including the Dane County
Sheriff, Dane County District Attorney, circuit and appellate court judges, defense
attorneys, survivors of crime, and victim advocates have contacted the Law
School dean asking that this course be reinstated on an annual basis. Former
students have done the same.
The new challenges sparked by the realities of the
world in which we live today, demand new solutions, such as teaching about
crime victims during the formal education process. After all, a law school that
instructs students about criminal law without teaching them about crime victims
is like a medical school teaching about diseases and their causes without
focusing on patient care.
The University of Wisconsin Law School is a public
institution funded with taxpayer dollars. The public’s voice should matter. I
invite you to contact University of Wisconsin Law School Dean Margaret Raymond
at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask her to reconsider her decision.
Jill J. Karofsky
Office of Crime Victim Services
Wisconsin Department of Justice