Susan Herman wants to start a much broader national conversation about true justice for victims, saying “our collective failure to respond to their needs is a national disgrace.” Herman, a criminal justice professor at Pace University, presents her ideas in the new book Parallel Justice for Victims of Crime, an outgrowth of her work as director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. In the book, writes Mark Obbie in Miller-McCune magazine, the veteran victims' rights advocate asks: What would real parity in the justice system between victims and offenders look like? What if society did not see its help for victims as mere compassion or charity, but a core societal obligation?
Herman tells Obbie that policymakers and citizens are ignorance about the extent of the damage that crime causes to victims and society. “We have not taken that on,” she says, “because we don't really understand the impact of not taking it on.” Herman argues for a sort of Marshall Plan for victims. She says victim-offender dialogue and broader restorative-justice reforms typically focus on cases where an offender gets caught. That misses a great number of crimes that go unreported or unsolved but have victims, nonetheless. Reforms in the 1970s and '80s helped victims, but not nearly enough, in part because the system that financially compensates them, often through restitution paid by perpetrators, is riddled with loopholes and hobbled by lack of follow-through. She says police, prosecutors, health care providers, social workers, and employers must make a far greater and more coordinated commitment to care for all the financial and emotional harm victims suffer. A small fraction of current prison funding could be directed to expanded victim services. The criminal justice system, she writes, should “respond to every victim of any kind of crime with the same level of creativity and commitment we brought to the victims of the September 11 attacks.”