Guest column/National Crime Victims’ Week chance to reflect

It was forty-five years ago. I still think about it. I think about how helpless I was when the three thugs on a city bus robbed me of my valuables at knifepoint as I was coming home from school. My experience pales in comparison to what so many crime victims deal with on a day-to-day basis. But, my experience allows me to empathize to a much greater degree than I would otherwise be able to do. Each year the Department of Justice and United States Attorneys’ offices — including mine — observe National Crime Victims’ Rights Week nationwide by taking time to honor victims of crime and those who advocate on their behalf.

Our office has worked with hundreds of victims during the past year. And we have in every instance worked to get them justice. Victims of fraud, victims of sexual exploitation, victims of the opioid epidemic and elder victims have all exhibited the courage to come forward and describe their often heart-wrenching experiences. Sometimes the pain associated with the crime has to be relived again and again as the court proceedings are concluded.

It is painful for them — every single time. But, without their courage we could not do our jobs of prosecuting the perpetrators of the crimes and advocate appropriate punishments.

Our prosecutions have led to the removal of hundreds of pounds of dangerous drugs, the prosecution of several adults who sexually exploited children and doctors who have monetized their efforts to keep their patients addicted to opioids. We also have spent many hours in the community educating children and adults about the dangers of drugs, addiction, social media and Internet schemes.

Our attorneys and the law enforcement community continue to pursue the fraudsters, drug dealers, exploiters of children and the elderly alike. But, our work would be impossible without the courageous victims.

Hopefully, their efforts will encourage the many victims who are too afraid to come forward or feel foolish that they were taken advantage of. To those victims, I say, I understand, but we want to help you, and we need your help. It is why we do what we do, and we are proud to honor all crime victims this month.

(Powell is the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia.)

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