I never really identified as a crime victim. I knew that I had witnessed terrible things as a young child living in a house with domestic violence, but it would be years before I truly realized the impact of that trauma on my life.
Growing up, I always had a knack for teaching and helped my younger siblings with their schoolwork. I became the first member of my family to graduate from college, and obtained two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in education. During those years on campus, I was full of self-doubt and insecure about my background. It made me feel like I didn’t belong and would not succeed.
Living with unaddressed trauma impacted the way I saw myself. I believed this was something I had to deal with on my own, my burden to carry. But my faith and belief that I am here for a purpose has now allowed me to see my childhood through the eyes of an adult and as an educator, and there are questions that need to be asked.
Why in all the times that law enforcement visited our house, did no one ever offer my mother (as the victim of violence), my siblings or me help? We were never extended the opportunity to participate in counseling or other services.
These gaps are not rare ones for victims of crime and violence.
A recent report found survivors of crime experience significant challenges to recovering and healing, with at least 8 in 10 reporting that they experience at least one symptom of trauma following an incident. Another survey found two out of every three crime victims report receiving no help following an incident. Only 8 percent of all victims of violence receive direct assistance from a victim service agency, and this already low number drops to 4 percent when the crime is unreported—which is the case for more than half of all violent crimes.
Thirty-nine years later, my mother is now willing to get the support she needs to deal with her trauma.
It is past time that we as a society do better for our children and for all those who are living with unaddressed trauma. We must prioritize the needs of crime victims and those at risk of becoming a crime victim in our safety and justice systems.
Very few criminal justice policy debates are informed by the experiences and views of crime survivors, particularly those from communities most impacted by crime and incarceration. If we fail to properly address the needs of victims, we will never stop the cycle of crime.
That is why today at the Texas Capitol I am joining fellow members of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. We want to ensure crime victims have a seat at the table in justice and public safety policy conversations. Together, we call for policies that prevent crime; better support survivors, families and communities; and reduce wasteful incarceration. Perhaps more than any other group, crime survivors understand that every dollar spent on failed policies and incarceration is a dollar that could be spent on crime prevention and trauma recovery.
We call on Texas leaders to help us stop the cycle of crime in our communities with policies that focus on prevention and safety . We support new spending priorities that focus on creating stronger, healthier neighborhoods. We support investments in prevention and mentoring, trauma recovery, mental health treatment, drug treatment, and rehabilitation.
I am proud to be a part of this growing movement of survivors who are coming together from all across the state to lift our voices and be heard. It is possible to improve public safety and ensure crime survivors receive the services and support they need. But to do this, policymakers must stop the wasteful spending on failed policies of the past and look forward to solutions that prioritize prevention, rehabilitation and trauma recovery.
Ilene Harper lives in Richmond and is a chapter coordinator with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a national network of over 25,000 crime survivors.