Voices for Victims

He testified before state lawmakers looking for all the world like the Hollywood star that he is, with his blow-dried hair and photogenic features. It was John Walsh, host of the television program "America's Most Wanted." Oh no, you think—another Hollywood celebrity posing as an expert on some issue? But this time it was different. John Walsh was testifying in favor of an amendment to the Maryland constitution guaranteeing rights to victims of crime. And Walsh knows about being a victim of crime firsthand—not just from hosting a TV show. Several years ago Walsh's own six-year-old son was kidnapped, murdered, and mutilated. Today Walsh lobbies in support of victims' rights. His message is simple: It's time to give victims of crime the same rights enjoyed by criminals. Think of it: Criminals who steal and murder are presumed innocent until proven guilty. They get a free attorney if they can't afford one. They have a right to remain silent. They may even get free rides to the courthouse. But victims of crime—and grieving family members—typically get no support from the state. No lawyer to represent their interests and concerns. Not even the right to see the trial or be informed of court hearings. Even the prosecutor doesn't represent the victim; he represents the state. If the victim participates in the trial at all, typically it is only as a witness for the state—with no more rights than any other witness. The modern approach is oddly skewed if we compare it to the approach taken by virtually all cultures before ours. For example, in Old Testament times, the centerpiece of justice was restitution for the victim: Criminals were required to repay what was stolen or to reimburse the costs of injury. But in medieval England, the definition of crime was changed from an offense against the victim to an offense against the king. Restitution paid to the victim was replaced with fines paid to the state. This same tradition prevails to our own day: Crimes are prosecuted on behalf of the state, not on behalf of the person or family who was actually wronged. But today victims are demanding a change. In the 1960s America had what might be called a criminal-rights movement that inspired several court cases protecting the rights of criminals. Today we're seeing the growth of a victims' rights movement. Advocates are pushing for state constitutional amendments that guarantee such things as the right to be informed of court hearings, the right to make victim impact statements describing the effects of the crime, the right to receive restitution for losses incurred. The amendment John Walsh testified in support of recently was a victims' rights amendment in Maryland—and the good news is that the General Assembly passed it overwhelmingly. In November it will go before the voters. If you live in Maryland, be sure to vote in favor of the victims' rights amendment when it appears on the ballot in November. And wherever you live, find out how your state treats victims of crime. Real justice isn't only about catching the bad guy. It's also about restoring the innocent who have suffered at his hands.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary