The Fight For Victims Must Go On - The Victims' Rights Caucus
Prior to being elected to Congress in 2004, I spent 30 years as a criminal prosecutor and Judge in Houston, Texas. During that time, I encountered the worst of the worst in our society, from abusers to rapists to murderers. Even more painfully, I watched as countless victims of violent crime were utterly failed by the system. Victims were often thrown in jail, sent back to their abusers or just left to fend for themselves. It felt like the ultimate miscarriage of justice. Also during this time, I came across a type of criminal that I had never imagined flourished in this country--the human trafficker.
Most Americans believed that human trafficking was an over-seas problem, not something that was occurring in their very own backyards. This lack of awareness allowed sex traffickers and the buyers of trafficking victims to practically walk free. It became very clear to me that something drastic had to be done to help victims of crime and raise awareness about these new rapidly expanding criminal enterprises in our country.
As a matter of first priority after being elected to Congress, I founded the Victims' Rights Caucus (VRC) with Representative Jim Costa (D-CA). Our mission was to create a bi-partisan coalition of Members to represent the interests of victims of crime, generate awareness about how pervasive violent and sexual crime was in our country and increase resources available to law enforcement to combat the problem.
Since its inception in 2005, the Caucus has taken the lead to protect programs that provide critical support for victim services throughout the nation, including the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), Violence Against Women's Act (VAWA) and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). The Caucus was instrumental in the enactment of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act, the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011, the SAFER Act of 2013, the Victims of Child Abuse Reauthorization Act, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act and the Justice for All Act (JFAA).
The VRC works closely with victims' rights organizations, shelters, advocacy groups and criminal justice reform groups. Every year, the Caucus hosts various briefings on victims' rights issues including domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse, human trafficking as well as various other topics. We also recognize National Crime Victims' Rights Week with our annual awards ceremony and policy forum.
I am tremendously proud of the progress we have made as a nation to better support victims of crime and crack down on criminals. Topics like human trafficking, sexual abuse and domestic violence are no longer considered taboo. Counseling, resources and shelters are much more readily available to victims of crime. Both human traffickers and those caught buying human trafficking victims are now being prosecuted equally to the fullest extent of the law. I believe the VRC has greatly contributed to these successes so far, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Since deciding to retire at the end of my current term, I have put a lot of thought into who should replace me as co-chair of the VRC. Recently, I reached out to my good friend and fellow Texan Pete Olson to offer him the position. He enthusiastically accepted. Representative Olson is a hard-working, caring and dedicated public servant, and I know he will work tirelessly to further the successes of the VRC.
I wish him and Representative Costa the best in their continued fight on behalf of crime victims. I have no doubt that Caucus will achieve many great things in the months and years to come.
And that's just the way it is.