Ohio is the first state in the country to have a one-stop shop for people who are victims of crime.
Kim Goldman knows all about what it’s like to be a victim of crime. Her brother Ron Goldman was killed along with Nicole Brown Simpson in 1994, resulting in the prosecution of O.J. Simpson, often called the “trial of the century”. She said there are days that are still hard for her. “I’m 22 years into my grief and I still struggle and still have to figure out ways to get myself help. So I just, not having the shame in asking I think is a really important piece to start with,” Goldman said.
Goldman came to Columbus recently to announce a first-ever database for crime victims like her, created by the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center. It’s a comprehensive website for people who’ve been assaulted, abused, stalked, blackmailed, who’ve lost property or had their identities stolen. Cathy Harper Lee of Lancaster is the founder and executive director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, and a survivor of a crime herself. “The victims’ rights toolkit is a simple tool that victims can use, that advocates can use, to help understand and exercise their rights. And between Ohio and federal, there are over 650 victims’ rights, administrative codes, protocols, best practices that exist that most people don’t know anything about,” said Harper Lee.
Crime victims, family members, caregivers and advocates in Ohio can search the website without entering any names, locations or other personal information, beyond the victim’s age and whether there are special circumstances, such as if a victim is homeless or doesn’t speak English. "Maybe it’s a seven year old sexual assault victim. It will say, here is everything that should occur at the hospital, investigation, prosecution, post-conviction, throughout the process," Harper Lee said. "And we’ve tied in to certain things – victims can look how to get protection orders, how to access the crime victim compensation fund, and we’ve recently added the addition of Safe at Home, with the Secretary of State’s office.”
And the site also includes draft letters written by attorneys that victims can fill out and send off to prosecutors, courts and other agencies to request specific rights. The victims’ rights toolkit only works for people who’ve experienced crime in Ohio or those that count as federal crimes. But Mai Fernandez, the executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, is hoping the concept will spread to other states. “So many times victims don’t know that they have these rights and prosecutors don’t enforce the rights, so it’s like not having the right at all, because if you don’t know you have it, then you can’t do anything about it,” Fernandez said.
Kim Goldman said that was true in her case, and she says she tells people who are new members of this club that no one wants to join that they shouldn’t be afraid to reach out for help. “There’s no manual that comes with becoming a victim," Goldman said. "The victims’ toolkit creates, I think, creates an opportunity for us to feel like we have a say in our process and in the system and that we get to take charge of a situation that feels really out of control.”
The site, www.victimsrightstoolkit.com, took two and a half years and about $40,000 in grant money to develop, in partnership with a variety of advocacy organizations. Links to the site are being posted on sites of county prosecutors, police departments and other agencies that victims and survivors of crime might visit.