“Why didn’t you tell someone sooner?”
Survivors of child sexual abuse and family violence hear this question all too often.
When I eventually contacted the police years after the crimes against me, they refused to even take a report. As a result, I wasn’t just denied the satisfaction of knowing that justice would be done. I also was denied the healing and support I needed as a survivor.
Earlier this month, survivors of crime from across the state, including Fresno, traveled to Sacramento for the annual Survivors Speak conference, the largest convening of its kind in the United States, to advocate for laws that will help make prevention, rehabilitation and trauma recovery core features of California’s criminal justice system. For example, SB 375, authored by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), would remove the time limit for a victim to apply for support from the California Victim Compensation Board. Specifically, the bill would enable victims to file an application any time after the qualifying crime.
Today, victims of crime in California have to apply for these benefits within three years of the crime; young victims of crime must file by their 24th birthday, or by their 28th birthday if the crime was a sexual offense. But it’s unrealistic to expect all survivors to act within these periods. Some are fearful of retaliation if they go public. Some aren’t ready to relive and share painful memories. Some may not even be aware that the victim compensation program exists until it’s too late.
Several states have eliminated time limits for applying to the program and others have longer time limits than California’s. In Sacramento this month, the nearly 1,000 crime survivors who gathered told lawmakers it’s time for the state to show us the understanding and the respect we deserve. And on April 9, SB 375 was approved by the Senate Committee on Public Safety and advanced to the Appropriations Committee. When survivors speak, change happens.
Survivors Speak is organized by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a network of survivors of crime with more than 25,000 members nationally building a movement to heal together and promote policies that help the people and communities most harmed by crime and violence. According to a new California report by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, less than one in five victims in the state received counseling, medical assistance, and financial support after experiencing crime. Members of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice use our personal experiences to advocate for smart policies like SB 375 that will break down barriers to much needed recovery support for all survivors in California.
I know firsthand how important it is to shift how we think about criminal justice and to prioritize the needs of survivors, our families and communities. Years after being denied support or acknowledgment from law enforcement, I reached out to a faith-based organization that emphasizes restorative justice, an approach that focuses on rehabilitating people through engagement with their victims and communities. I was suspicious and fearful at first, but together with my family we moved to a place that was welcoming and humanizing and that allowed us to begin to heal.
Today, my trauma is part of my life — but it’s no longer my whole life. It makes me sad that other survivors haven’t had that same opportunity to heal because they never found the support they needed.
Now, I’m working to start a new chapter of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice in Fresno. As I meet with other survivors, I am more convinced than ever that our community holds the key to improving criminal justice in California and across the nation.
As survivors, we have the right to get help, the right to be heard and the right to be supported. While we work to expand access to services to help our communities heal through our new Central Valley chapter, I am calling on my fellow survivors to share their stories and their wisdom. By speaking out and joining forces, we can help reduce trauma, promote healing, and create a truly safer California.