Monday, August 23, 2010

Working with victims who oppose the death penalty

Renny Cushing and Marie Verzulli are representing MVFHR at the 36th annual National Organization for Victim Assistance conference in Salt Lake City, where yesterday they presented a workshop on "Working with Victims Who Oppose the Death Penalty." Renny writes:

While in the past I and other MVFHR members had given presentations at NOVA conferences relating to victim opposition to the death penalty, the marginalization of victims opposed to the death penalty, and the failure of many in the victim's advocacy community to treat those victims with dignity and respect, our workshop this year was the first time that NOVA had offered a specific training to help victim advocates understand and support victims who oppose, or are uncertain about, capital punishment.

The workshop attracted an interesting array of conference attendees. The target group, front-line victim advocates, included a couple of individuals who were themselves survivors of homicide victims, people from states that use the death penalty, individuals who had never before spoke with victims who are opposed to the death penalty, and individuals who were themselves ambivalent about capital punishment and wanted to learn more. The session was also attended by police officers, prosecutors, researchers, and corrections workers.

We covered such topics as why victims' families oppose the death penalty, discrimination against victims' family members who oppose the death penalty, when families are divided on the issue of the death penalty. We talked about the challenge that can arise when victims' advocates experience a conflict of interest between working for the office of a prosecutor seeking the death penalty and trying to provide support to victims' family members who oppose the death penalty. We described the Crime Victims' Equality Act, suggested that there was a need for more discussion within the victim services community about the death penalty and for the development of "best practices" regarding serving all victims, regardless of their position on the death penalty.

We distributed several of our materials to the group, and received a very positive response from the attendees, who requested that MVFHR provide materials to victims' advocates on an ongoing basis. We will be working to develop the most effective way to do that.

MVFHR member Bill Jenkins -- a regular, valued presenter at NOVA for many years -- is also at the conference, offering a workshop on How Traumatic Loss Affects Relationships in Victims’ Families.

No comments: