Happy Victims' Week!

 Posted on April 28, 2009 in Uncategorized

America loves its mothers and its veterans and its administrative assistants, but America loves its victims more. Seven times as much, in fact, as any of these-this is National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

Nobody loves victims more than those who make their living off the Cult of the Victim. Take, for example, Andy Kahan of the Houston Mayor's Crime Victims Office, who loves victims so much that he wants to find as many of them as possible:

In 2006, 25 million crimes were committed in the United States; of these, 6 million were violent and 19 million were property crimes.Keep in mind that these statistics are only for crimes that are reported. Considering that fewer than 50 percent of crimes are reported, one can easily see how prevalent crime is.

This week, remember crimes' victims | Viewpoints, Outlook | – Houston Chronicle

The 2006 FBI Uniform Crime Reports disagree. "There were an estimated 9,983,568 property crimes in the Nation in 2006" and "an estimated 1,417,745 violent crimes occurred nationwide in 2006." That's about 11,401,313 crimes (property and violent) nationwide in 2006. Unless "estimated" means "with a margin of error of 119% or so", the FBI's numbers are wildly different than Kahan's.

Here are the 2007 FBI numbers:

Nationwide, an estimated 1,408,337 violent crimes occurred in 2007.

In the Nation in 2007, there were an estimated 9,843,481 property crime offenses.

Maybe the FBI statistics are unreliable? Well, Kahan cites the "National Center For Victims" (does he mean the National Center for Victims of Crime?) for some of his statistics:

According to the National Center For Victims... One person is murdered every 31 minutes.

The NCVC, in turn, bases its "crime clock" statistics (PDF) ("One murder every 31 minutes") in part on the FBI's 2007 Crime in the United States.

In 2003 there were 16,503 murders and nonnegligent manslaughters (Excel file from FBI.GOV) in the U.S. (one every 31.8 minutes). In 2007, there were 15,707 (one every 33.5 minutes), or 16,929 (the number from which NCVC derives its "one every 31 minutes") murders in the United States.

Where does Kahan get his 25 million number? Here, from the BJS, where "crimes of violence" include 2.9 million cases of "assault – simple – without injury" and 4.1 million cases of "attempted / threatened violence." Now, someone who gets shoved by another person might technically be a "victim," but it's unlikely that he suffers "unimaginable pain and grief." When everyone is a victim, the word stops meaning much at all.

But the more "victims" there are, the more work there is for the Mayor's Crime Victims Office, the larger Kahan's bureaucratic fiefdom, and the more people are frightened into supporting the government's agenda of the day. "The looming fear of violent crime and the knowledge that at any time and without warning, any person can be assaulted, beaten, robbed or murdered, stirs at our country's consciousness."

Fearmongering aside, what of Kahan's actual ideas?

He lauds entitlements for victims (the Victims of Crime Act), which dedicates more than $2 billion of federal convicts' money to victims for "medical care, counseling, lost wages and funeral costs." This is as rational a system of welfare as any that I can think of. It's easy to sell the voters on the idea that the victim of violent crime is deserving of welfare as well as the idea that criminals (even those who committed victimless crimes) should be the ones to pay. If government funding weren't a zero-sum game, it would be a free lunch.

Whatever you think about free lunches, Kahan's idea that crime victims should be treated with dignity and respect by the government is laudable; victims should be treated with dignity and respect by the government because everyone should be treated with dignity and respect by the government.

But Kahan's argument that victims' rights should be specially protected in our constitution ("Victims' rights are often a mere courtesy, while defendants' rights - and rightfully so - are protected in our Constitution.") is misguided. Most laypeople don't know this, but The Bill of Defendants' Rights applies to victims as well. The Bill of Rights is the basic rulebook for the powers that we all have in relation to our government.

Kahan says that nobody deserves to be a victim of a crime. If so, then nobody deserves to be falsely accused of a crime, either, but this happens regularly. Take RR, for example: the system branded him a criminal and put him in prison for six years. I'm wagering that the indignity and disrespect that any victim Kahan would care to name has suffered at the hands of the government pales in comparison to RR's treatment in court and in prison. Should RR have been treated with dignity and respect? Absolutely.

Kahan would have said (he may have said) at the time of RR's conviction that RR was a willing participant in the criminal justice system. He would have been wrong. Not all prosecutions are righteous, and not all "victims" are blameless. But it is, at best, fiendishly difficult for us aliquoscient humans to tell who deserves what.

If nobody deserves to be a victim of a crime, then what do we do with the abused child who grew up to be an abuser? What do we do with the victim whose brain injury changes his personality and makes him mean and impulsive and who starts breaking the law as a result? At worst, desert is a fiction. How, in such a world, do we know whether someone is a victim, whom Kahan would treat with dignity and respect, or an unvictim?

A society is only as good as it treats the least of its members. If we value dignity and respect and if dignity and respect are not too much to expect from our government, then we should expect government, through its police, its prosecutors, and its courts, to show dignity and respect toward everyone.

We're a long way from that ideal, and Andy Kahan's scare tactics don't bring us any closer.

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