Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleague and friend Mr. Costa from California as an original sponsor of this resolution to recognize and support the mission and goals of National Crime Victims' Rights Week. Together, Mr. Costa and myself chair the Congressional Victims' Rights Caucus. The caucus is comprised of Members from both sides of the aisle who are dedicated to protecting the interests and needs of crime victims throughout our country. Crime victim issues are not partisan. They are nonpartisan issues, Mr. Speaker, and affect everyone in this country.
In 1980, President Ronald Reagan first called for a national observance to recognize and honor the millions of crime victims and those survivors in this country. Since then, Victims' Rights Week has been proclaimed annually with ceremonies and observances here in Washington, D.C. and thousands of communities throughout the Nation.
Each April, the Office for Victims of Crime, called the OVC, organizes a weeklong series of activities and rallies to increase public awareness of the rights, the needs and concerns of crime victims in the United States. The theme of this year's National Crime Victims' Rights Week is "25 Years of Rebuilding Lives: Celebrating the Victims of Crime Act."
In 1984, the Victims of Crime Act, called VOCA, created the VOCA fund, a Federal victims compensation account funded by fines assessed in Federal criminal convictions. This is a collection of criminal fines, not taxpayer dollars.
The way it works, Mr. Speaker, criminals convicted in Federal Court contribute into a fund, as I say paying for the crimes they have committed, paying rent on the courthouse, and that fund is used exclusively for victims and victims' services throughout the United States. It is not a taxpayer-funded fund; it is a fund solely funded by criminals. What a novel idea: Make criminals pay to the victims of crime, victims that many of them have caused to be victims in the first place.
Also the Victims of Crime Act establishes the Office for Victims of Crime to distribute those funds throughout the United States. In fact, with the help of the OVC, there are now 10,000 victim assistance programs providing emotional, financial, physical and spiritual support every day. All of these organizations owe to some extent their existence because of the VOCA funds that were established by Congress many years ago.
VOCA is the only Federal fund that caters to the needs of victims. Each year, about 4,400 agencies and almost 3.5 million victims receive support and financial compensation from this fund funded by criminals. Just to clarify, this money that is collected is used to help victims and their families.
This year, during National Crime Victims' Rights Week, we celebrate that the VOCA fund has been assisting victims for over 25 years and has distributed literally billions of dollars since its inception. Currently there are $6.5 billion in this fund, funds that will be given to victims and victims services. It is important that we as Members of Congress make sure that the bureaucrats, however, don't see this fund and take the fund and use it for other services in the United States that have nothing to do with victims.
While the events of this week provide excellent opportunities to focus on victims' rights, this issue requires attention by Members of Congress so that the VOCA fund is not taken by the bureaucrats and used for other purposes.
Last month, four police officers in Oakland, California, Dan Sakai, 35, Mark Dunakin, 40, John Hege, 41, and Ervin Romans, 43, were shot to death by a 27-year-old parolee. Earlier this month, an armed man walked into a New York Immigration and Naturalization service center and shot 17 people, killing 13 and wounding four others.
The National Center For Victims of Crime reports that during 2008 a child was reported abused or neglected almost every 35 seconds. In my home State of Texas alone, there were more than 83,000 separate allegations of abuse or neglect confirmed by Child Protective Services.
Crime victims, Mr. Speaker, are not statistics. They are real men, women and children with families and loved ones, and those victims who manage to survive the acts of violence must not be excluded from the criminal justice system. Their voices must be heard, and in honor of every victim, we renew our commitment to protect the rights of crime victims and provide them effective assistance programs, and we also commend the countless professionals and volunteers who have dedicated literally their lives to help victims and survivors of crime.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH