Sometimes the legal system’s pursuit of justice and the Church’s emphasis on forgiveness can cause them both to neglect the rights of victims. Give me a few minutes, and I will show you what I mean.
What Are The Rights Of Victims In The Criminal Justice System?
Ironically, until recently, there was more stated concern over the rights of the accused than the actual victim. In the process of prosecuting the guilty, the victim had become an afterthought to the state.
If you are like most people, you can name many of the rights of the accused. We’ve heard them so often on Television that many of you could correctly identify them.
The right to counsel, the right against self-incrimination, the right to information, the right to a speedy and public trial with an impartial judge or jury, in the area where the crime was committed, the right to present a defense, and the right of appeal if the applicable procedural protections were not protected.
We should all want the innocent to be able to defend themselves from baseless accusations. And even the guilty should have the opportunity to explain their actions and ask for mercy.
Very few individuals can people can articulate the rights of victims. Why is this so?
There is no constitutional amendment protecting victims’ rights, nor is there a single norm that all states must follow. I know that this is hard to believe, but it’s true.
The Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), passed as part of the Justice for All Act of 2004, established crime victims’ rights in U.S. federal criminal justice processes.
If you are interested, here is a summary of the history of the crime victim rights movement.
Here are a few of the rights of victims that have come about in recent years:
The right to be reasonably protected from the accused. The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding. The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding. The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law. The right to proceedings is free from unreasonable delay. The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy.
What Are The Rights Of Victims In The Local Church?
God calls us to Do Justice and Love Mercy. But we rarely discuss the rights of victims in our local churches. In fact, this may be the first time you have even considered the topic.
As a Church, we have sometimes placed a more significant burden on the victim than the offender.
Our emphasis on forgiveness, healing, and wholeness can hinder the health and welfare of victims in our midst.
There is an unstated expectation that the victim will forgive the offending party and that it will happen soon. Sometimes, there is judgment from others when this does not happen quickly, and the victim’s spiritual maturity is questioned.
Like the judicial system, the Church can become so focused on our process and the desired result that we lose sight of the victim and their rights.
Over the years, I unwittingly infringed on the rights of the people I was attempting to help. Those experiences have greatly influenced the following list.
Here are few rights I believe we should intentionally extend to victims in our churches.
The victims have a right to be respected and treated with dignity. However, we dare not forget that they are created in God’s image and treasured by Him.
They have a right to be heard at a time, place, and pace of their choosing. It is their story, not ours.
They have the right to be heard without condemnation for their role in the incident. Too often, we treat the victim as if they were complicit. No one wants or deserves to be a victim. They should not have to defend or explain their actions that led to the harm.
They have a right to be angry at the offender. Jesus taught there was a proper place for anger. There is righteous anger. We need to differentiate between normal and righteous anger. Sometimes anger is a necessary step in the healing process.
They have a right to lament. There is a time to mourn a loss or injustice. To question why it happened and where God was in the process.
They have a right to be comforted. There is a reasonable expectation that the Church should extend compassion without reservation or limit.
They have the right to protection. The Church should be a refuge for victims of all kinds. Too often, Churches have counseled a woman to return to a dangerous marriage. The God who hates divorce hates spousal abuse as much or more.
They have a right to pursue justice and restitution. We are big on forgiveness but fall short in supporting the individual’s pursuit of justice.
They have a right to privacy and confidentiality, except for an expressed intent to harm oneself or others.
They have the right to be seen, recognized, acknowledged, and heard. Jesus saw needy, hurting people, and he interacted with them. So should we.
What Is Your Church Doing To Address The Rights Of Victims Within Your Community And Congregation?
You might disagree with my list of the rights of victims. You might see something I left out or did not address. But I hope this article will cause you to consider how you approach the victims within your midst.
As a nation and the people of God, we must never neglect the rights of the victims of crime or abuse.
Call to action
I encourage you to sit down and wrestle with this issue for yourself, a friend, or someone in ministry.