Proclamations by city and parish leaders and moving personal testimony from a crime victim and survivor domestic abuse marked the local start of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and Sexual Assault Awareness Month Monday, April 3, 2017.
The gathering in the peaceful setting of the Frost Rose Garden at Centenary College, planned by Project Celebration and the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office, drew a wide cross-section of local law enforcement and civic administration, as well as college leaders and military personnel from Barksdale Air Force Base.
Speakers included Caddo Parish District Attorney James E. Stewart Sr., Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator and Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler, who read the formal proclamation establishing April’s themes.
“Over the last year, our office, as well as the (District Attorney) offices in Bossier-Webster and DeSoto, have been trying to work together to better the communication between the first responders and the courtroom, in order to better serve the public and to serve the victims,” Stewart said, noting the impressive law enforcement turnout for the ceremony. “Our victim assistance professionals in my office, and our special victims unit, have worked tirelessly over the last year to create vehicles to help victims of crime. The opening of the Family Justice Center in Bossier is an example of reaching across lines in order to help those who are victims of crime.”
Quoting Proverbs, he noted that “we all have the power to help those who are victims of crime” and that this isn’t limited to murder and shootings, but sexual assault and domestic violence.
“There are a lot of other victims in the world who are in need of help,” he said.
Angela Henderson, whose Project Celebration joined with the Caddo Sheriff’s Office to stage the opening event, noted the theme of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is “Engaging new voices,” building on the idea “that we are stronger together and that new partners and community members are needed to expand sexual assault prevention efforts.
“We can all help the next generation foster attitudes that promote healthy relationships, equality and respect,” she said. “Everyone can make a difference.”
Caddo Sheriff’s Deputy Vickie Johnson noted it has been 33 years since the Crime Victims’ Rights Act was passed, but that work remains to give victims a voice.
“The fact that justice does reach outside of the courtroom is proof that we are still moving forward in the fight to avenge victims rights, services and laws,” she said. “Crime has no prejudice. It’s not just about the homicides and shootings that you see and hear about on the morning and evening news. It’s about the domestic violence and sexual assaults, the crimes against nature on our babies. Crimes against our elderly and the home invasions and so much more. One thing crime has taught us, a victim is not just somebody, but someone that we all know and love.”
One of the most powerful moments of the mid-day event was personal testimony by Miriam Harley, who last May was shotgunned and lost her left arm. A former boyfriend faces charges now for that crime.
“I don’t like to think of myself as a victim because when you think of yourself as a victim, it comes with that stigma of shame and embarrassment, that moment of the loss of power and control over your own life,” she said. “We fight to regain that.”
While giving thanks to God for her survival, she noted it remains a struggle.
“It’s by the grace of God I’m here,” she said. “It came with a lot of time in the hospital, the loss of work and wages, me trying to gain my sanity back, trying to get as much back of a life as I had before. You cannot let that one moment control the rest of your life and surrender your power to them. I refuse to let that one moment control the rest of my life.”
Sheriff Steve Prator noted that crime is incremental.
“If somebody’s shoplifting, the next step is robbing that store, and if somebody breaks into your car, the next step is stealing your car,” he said. “Then the next step is a carjacking. And if somebody breaks into your house, the next step is breaking into your house with a gun and the next step is a home invasion while you’re there. So crime victims are not just victims of what we call violent crime. It’s victims of people that don’t care about you.”