In the summer of 2001, I began my law career studying for the bar exam and training for the fall’s New York City Marathon — my stress reliever. Then 9/11 changed everything.
Instead of a glorious event, the race route was lined with SWAT teams with machine guns. My shirt grew wet with tears as I witnessed the pain of my fellow runners, adorned with pictures of loved ones lost, or running with numbers obtained for friends who were no longer with us.
The marathon, in a city ripped apart from terrorism, left me with a heavy heart, and yet strong sense of community, a great deal of pride in my county.
Last week, on April 15, I was catapulted back to that day.
Sidelined by knee issues, I had given up my dreams of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. But living in western Massachusetts, many of my friends, colleagues and running partners had spent the past four months training to run Boston. My heart sank when I learned of the bombing. I spent the day checking on friends, with tears in my eyes.
On April 16, after months of struggling to return to running after the knee surgery, I hopped on the treadmill. I had decided to honor those who can no longer run, to pay tribute to those who we lost.
I wasn’t sure I could do it anymore, but I knew I couldn’t at least try. Running had been my solace; the rhythmic motion calmed my nerves and gave me comfort after losing a trial or after a particularly difficult day. The four short miles on the treadmill came easy, fluid. But again, tears filled my eyes. The pain in my heart was far greater than the pain in my knee.
As a victims’ rights attorney, it is second nature for me want to help victims of crime. The past 12 month — Sandusky, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Boston, Arizona (the list goes on) — have left me and countless others grappling with how can I be helpful.
And then it came to me.
Since 1981, our nation has had National Victims Rights Week, which began this year on April 21. This year’s theme of "New Challenges/New Solutions" speaks to the ever-evolving field of victims’ rights, the continual need to think outside the box and look for innovative ways to improve the treatment and support of crime victims.
Many times in the aftermath of crime, victims become unemployed, unable to return to work for myriad reasons. Some have their homes foreclosed upon or struggle with the often overlooked financial complications of crime.
In New England, we will honor the 29 murdered and 174 injured on December 14 and April 15. Not to mention the thousands of others — victims of domestic violence, murder, sexual assaults, home invasions and drunk drivers — whose lives were cut short or who walk amongst us daily and have joined the ranks of victims over the past 12 months.
Each of those people has family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues whose lives are equally painfully altered as a direct result of crimes in our communities. And then there are the tertiary victims. They are those who although not directly harmed by crime are in such close proximity that they suffer emotional wounds that often refuse to heal.
So again how can we help? Honor the crime victims and their memories.
Even though the Connecticut constitution guarantees rights for crime victims and the state has an independent office to assist them, there are many people who have no idea what those rights are. We in Connecticut can transform our feelings from helplessness to empowerment with a few simple steps.
First, learn the constitutional rights afforded to crime victims in Connecticut. Then attend a pro-community safety event like "Take Back The Night," or events sponsored by Survivors of Homicide or MADD or any number of domestic violence or sexual assault awareness groups.
When someone tells you they have been a crime victim, or you learn second-hand that someone has been victimized, ask how you can help. Donate one dollar a month, a week or a day to a crime victims’ services fund in our community.
Working together, we can provide much-needed support for the nameless crime victim who is sitting next to you on the bus, working in the cubicle next to yours, or standing next to you at the coffee shop. We can make a world where the crime victim does not feel alone anymore, but rather knows their community is holding them up, supporting their needs and hearing their cry for help. Could this be our new solution? •