Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
It’s the first of the month – time to pay the rent at the courthouse. Unfortunately, the costs keep rising with the number of criminals held accountable for their crimes each year, but the good news is their victims have plenty of resources at their disposal as a result of the Victims of Crime Act, or better known as VOCA Fund. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Poe/Costa/Moore Amendment to add more money to the VOCA Fund and continue to meet the needs of victims across our country.
I have been an advocate for victims since my early days as a prosecutor with Harris County District Attorney’s office. There are a few cases that have stood out in my career and influenced my life in a significant way. One such case was that of a young woman, who was as student at the University of Houston. She was the victim of a brutal rape and assault. She was abducted at gun point at a gas station, taken to a wooded area, raped, beaten, and left for dead. Through her brave determination, she was able to identify her attacker and I was assigned to prosecute him.
Today, victims are assigned court advocates during the trial. Back then, she had no one. No one was there to help her through the emotional stress of a rape and the grueling task of confronting her attacker in court. She did it though, she got through the trial and we sent her attacker to the penitentiary for life. But her story wasn’t over, you can’t wrap it up with the bang of a gavel and nice neat bow.
Because there were little-to-no resources available to victims at that time, she was not able to cope with the aftermath of her assault. You see, for the victim the ordeal is not over once the trial ends. It follows them day after day and spreads through their life like a cancer out of control. In the following months, her husband left her and sued her for custody of their two children – taking away the only two reasons worth living for.
She spiraled out-of-control. Without anyone to turn to, and losing her family, she couldn’t escape the pain. In a hand written note that I keep with me to this day, she said “I’m tired of running.” The reality is, she didn’t have anyone to run to and sadly ended her life. This ought not to be. This was a tragedy that could have been avoided, a tragedy that continues to influence my life and career.
One of the first things I did as a Member of Congress was establish the bipartisan Congressional Victim’s Rights Caucus to advocate and provide a voice for crime victims in our nation’s capitol. There are caucuses, which are like advocacy groups for Members of Congress, for everything under the sun in D.C., but there was nothing that advocated solely for crime victims. It seems they are always the ones that are forgotten.
The VOCA Fund is one of those things that is close to my heart and is something, like the victims it benefits, worth fighting for. Created by Congress in 1984 to provide federal support to federal, state, and local programs that assist victims of crime, VOCA provides assistance to over 4,400 agencies and 3.8 million victims every year. And it doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything! The VOCA Fund is derived entirely from fines and penalties paid by offenders, not taxpayer revenues. But every year, we have to fight to keep it safe for victims. The Washington bureaucrats try to rob this fund for other pet projects.
VOCA funds several important programs, such as domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, children protection agencies, and pays direct expenses to victims of violence, such as assault, rape, and child abuse.
The Children’s Assessment Center right here in Houston is a recipient of VOCA funding and is the very best of its kind. They became the model for others across the country. The services they provide to children who have been victims of crime are invaluable and the most advanced methods used today. Without the knowledge and compassion of thousands of dedicated people who work on behalf of victims, more and more victims would end up like that young wife and mother that desperately tried to hold it together, but couldn’t.
As a constant reminder, I keep that hand-written note on my desk. As a judge it was my pleasure to hand down one of my many creative sentences and see how far we have come in recognizing the needs of victims. I have dedicated my life to helping victims and proudly serve on the Board of Directors for the Houston Children’s Assessment Center and the National Children’s Alliance in Washington D.C.
Criminals should continue to pay for the system they have created. They should pay for the expenses victims incur because of crime. Criminals need to pay the rent on the courthouse – crime victims have already paid enough. No more victims should run.
That’s just the way it is.