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Guest Editorial: For crime victims’ rights, the landscape is changing for the better

Helping survivors of crime find justice means more than a just outcome in the courtroom. It’s about enforcing victims’ rights, listening to and making victims’ needs and wishes a priority, and providing victims with access to resources and services that help them heal. As Kentuckians pause to consider the significance of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW, April 24-30) and honor crime victims across our state, we take a moment to consider how the landscape regarding crime victims in Kentucky has shifted – for the better – during the last two years.

This year’s NCVRW theme is “Rights, Access, Equity, for all victims.” Since Kentucky voters overwhelmingly approved Marsy’s Law in November 2020, which ensured the inclusion, participation, and respect of crime victims and their families as they navigate the criminal legal system, we have come a long way toward safeguarding victims’ rights in our state. We are forever grateful that Kentuckians sent a clear message that victims do matter, do deserve justice, and do deserve to have their rights upheld.

NCVRW is a time to celebrate progress made in raising awareness of victims’ rights and services, while also realizing there is still work to be done. That work centers on continuing to ensure the enforcement of victims’ rights, expanding access to victim services, and providing equity and inclusion for all. Additionally, justice includes treatment of victims with compassion and respect long after the criminal case ends.

Ensuring victims have meaningful access to justice can also occur through education, policy guidance, and best practices to uphold their rights – and through respecting the experiences of crime victims. We have seen progress and positive change during the last two years where victims of crime and their families have a newfound voice and respect. Since the passage of Marsy’s Law, crime victims and advocacy organizations are increasingly at the table when important discussions and decisions transpire regarding individual criminal cases, as well as wide-reaching state policy and legislation.

During the just-completed state legislative session we witnessed this promising dynamic. During discussions regarding proposed legislation that could impact victims of crime, we were given the opportunity by some legislators to provide the input of victims and victim advocacy organizations. Victims’ voices were given the opportunity to be heard, and the legislators listened. They made decisions and cast votes with input from victims playing a role.

So, the passage of Marsy’s Law created two parallel paths of justice and protection for victims of crime. The more tangible path is one on which Kentucky crime victims navigate the criminal legal system – a path that is now lined with a clearly defined set of constitutional rights.

The not-yet-as-visible (but very important) path is leading to a cultural shift within virtually every sector of criminal system response . Police officers, prosecutors, judges, social workers, health care workers, and advocacy organizations are working together – talking to one another – about protecting the rights of victims. And in Frankfort, as legislators consider laws that affect victims of crime, they reach out to victims for input.

These conversations – both in Kentucky’s courthouses and at the State Capitol – are, as they should be. And they have always been the intent of Marsy’s Law.

So, on this National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, we express our unyielding support for victims of crime, and our unending gratitude for those who support and advocate for victims. And we express our deep appreciation to lawmakers for making sure victims’ voices had a seat at the table during these important conversations that impact victims of crime. We are hopeful that victims will continue to gain more seats at the table – not just this week, but  every week.

About the Authors
Dr. Emily Bonistall Postel, State Director of Marsy’s Law for Kentucky, is an educator and activist with nearly two decades of experience teaching, researching, and advocating on behalf of crime victims. She led the 2020 effort to secure constitutionally protected rights for crime victims in Kentucky. She presents workshops and trainings across the country and works with organizations to develop and implement victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches. She can be reached at ebonistall@MarsysLaw.us

Laela Kashan, a born and raised Kentuckian, is the staff attorney at the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs where she leads legislative advocacy and provides training on topics related to sexual assault and abuse. Both professional expertise and personal experience drive her passion to reduce the number of people who are harmed by others. 

Alex Otte, a Kentucky native, is the National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a survivor and an advocate for victims of crime. 



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