Over the three-year period between when Cathy Harper Lee reported her abuse and her abuser’s incarceration, at least 15 children were hurt by the same offender. After she told her story on “America’s Most Wanted,” Harper Lee received hundreds of calls. Her case wasn’t an isolated incident.
So, in 2000, Cathy Harper Lee started the Justice League out of her house with no funding. Three years later, the founder and executive director launched the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, where crime victims can report and receive assistance to resolve rights violations. Recently, the nonprofit has focused on Marsy’s Law and its Crime Victims Rights Toolkit.
A higher profile
Marsy’s Law elevated crime victims’ rights in Ohio. With 83 percent of the vote, the constitutional amendment went into effect in February.
Harper Lee says the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center no longer has to argue that a crime victim has standing in a courtroom and therefore can file a motion if those rights are violated. In addition, more law enforcement, prosecutors and judges are attending victims’ rights training.
“The number of trainings have increased by around 270 percent, the number of attendees have increased by 717 percent, and in this past year alone, we’ve trained over 4,000 justice system officials,” she says.
Since the law’s passage, the organization is busier than ever. The number of victims served increased from 680 the year prior to more than 920. Harper Lee suspects the difference is due to increased public awareness.
“More crime victims or family members of crime victims know about us,” she says.
The Crime Victims Rights Toolkit also has generated interest in and out of Ohio.
Advocates and crime victims input the victim’s age, type of crime, whether the defendant is a juvenile or adult, whether the victim has a disability, etc., to understand specific rights for every stage of the process. Victims can even request rights using form letters drafted by attorneys.
“It took us two and a half years to put ours together because nothing like it existed anywhere. Not just the legal research, that’s one component; the bigger piece of it was building the back end, building this intuitive database,” Harper Lee says.
Because each state has different laws, some states want the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center to help them develop a toolkit. The organization, which depends upon grants and corporate partners, hopes to build and maintain toolkits as a social enterprise service.
Equal access to justice
The Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center has helped over 2,000 state and federal victims of crime:
- 71 percent of victims are children, and nearly 75 percent of those are girls.
- Close to 90 percent of the adults assisted are women.
- 52 percent are victims of child sexual abuse.
- 20 percent are victims of domestic violence.