A couple holds hands in the air during a moment of silence for survivors of violent crime during a rally Tuesday 6/7/22 at the Pennsylvania Capitol (Capital-Star photo by Peter Hall).
Providing crime survivors the resources they need to emerge from their trauma is crucial to breaking the cycle of violence in Pennsylvania communities, crime survivors and advocates said Tuesday during a Capitol rally.
Members of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice and other advocacy groups spoke in support of the Safer Pennsylvania Act, a set of bills aimed at breaking down barriers to crime victim assistance, ensuring victims can maintain safe housing and employment, providing targeted educational programs for those in prison and protecting the privacy of sexual assault victims.
“As crime survivors there are few things we want. We want what happened to us to never happen again. We want what happened to us to never happen to anyone else,” said Antwan Thomas, national director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a national network of more than 90,000 members. “That’s why we are here advocating for these reforms.”
About 200 people gathered on the Capitol steps Tuesday morning and held a silent vigil for friends and loved ones lost to violent crime.
Among the survivors of violence, Patricia Demiranda spoke about the murder of her son 18 years ago in Chester, Delaware County, by a life-long friend who had a troubled youth and mental health issues.
“He struggled when he was a young man, so maybe if someone had taken the time to find out his issues maybe he wouldn’t be in prison for 27 to 40 years,” she said.
The organization’s members are from communities most affected by violence and least supported by criminal justice systems and victims’ services, Thomas said.
“Public safety should be about stopping the cycles of crime, helping victims heal, meeting their needs and also making sure that we are prioritizing rehabilitation for those who are coming out of the justice system,” he said.
The Safer Pennsylvania Act is a set of six bills introduced in June 2021 by five Republican House members. Natalie Mihalek, R-Allegheny, said the goal is to address trauma from crime that is the root cause of violence in communities.
The Victims of Violence Employment Leave Act, sponsored by Rep. Wendi Thomas, R-Bucks, would guarantee unpaid leave to workers to grieve and recover after they or a family member becomes a victim of violent crime.
The Victims of Violence Landlord-Tenant Act, sponsored by Rep. Tracy Pennycuick, R-Montgomery, would allow tenants who are victims of violent crime to legally break a residential lease or have a landlord change their locks within 180 days of a crime.
The Victims of Violence Emergency Relocation Act, sponsored by Rep. Shelby Labs, R-Bucks, would expand protections for crime victims and their families, including allowing public housing tenants to be relocated.
The Victims of Violence Compensation Act, sponsored by Mihalek, would update the Crime Victims Act to ensure victims understand their rights and receive the help they need. The bill would eliminate the 72-hour time limit to report a crime to qualify for Crime Victims Fund support and expand the 2-year time limit to apply for benefits to 5 years.
Mihalek noted that she had seen the effects of those time limits first-hand as a prosecutor in the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.
The Education Access and Incentivization in Corrections Act, also sponsored by Mihalek, builds on the state’s commitment to education in the correctional system by screening incarcerated people for learning disabilities to provide appropriate programming.
The Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act, sponsored by Rep. Meghan Schroeder, R-Bucks, would protect the privacy of sexual assault victims. Mihalek noted that many victims of sexual assault are not immediately ready to make a police report. The bill would allow them to get help while preserving their ability to pursue criminal charges later.
Miehalek said the sexual assault bill was reported out of the Judiciary Committee last month with broad bipartisan support and the other bills in the Safer Pennsylvania Act package also have bipartisan support.
The only opposition, Mihalek said, has come from a number of individual landlords objecting to the cost of allowing tenants to break leases and changing locks.
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