Robert Stephan Writing Part 3: Crime Victims’ Rights
By Robert T. Stephan, Kansas Attorney General (1979 – 1995)
Victims of domestic violence and sexual assault always had the right to appear in court, but all too often, they were left out of proceedings when a plea was made in front of a judge. [A plea is a formal statement by or on behalf of a defendant or a prisoner, stating guilt or innocence in response to a charge, offering an allegation of fact, or claiming that a point of law should apply.] It was incumbent on [or the necessary duty or responsibility of,] the District Attorney or County Attorney to advise the victim, but unfortunately on numerous occasions this obligation was neglected. I concluded that the only way to make this occur and to make this right was to make this part of the Kansas Constitution.
As Kansas Attorney General, I set out to get grass roots support to get a victims right amendment on the ballot. I held public hearings commencing in 1988 in Wichita, Overland Park, Topeka, Garden City, Hays and Pittsburg. A Victims’ Rights Task Force was formed.
I followed the lead of President Reagan who established the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime. He said that innocent victims of crime have been overlooked.
Four years after the task force was formed, a state Constitutional Amendment was placed on the ballot. I presented to the House and Senate Judiciary committees a petition that was signed by 4,000 Kansans. It was passed by 84% of voters. The amendment provided that victims of crime have the right to be informed of and to be present at public hearings and to be heard at sentencing. This important right to be heard was no longer optional but was a constitutional right.
States continue to pass laws meaningful to victims of sexual assault. In 2017, Kansas joined 31 other states in passing legislation allowing a judge to issue protection orders to survivors of sexual assault.
The legislature in 2017 amended the Protection from Abuse Act and Protection from Stalking or Sexual Assault to the definition of abuse, and the legislation updated the Crime Victims Compensation Bill to allow sexual assault victims the right to seek crime victims’ compensation for mental health counseling.
Derek Schmidt, the current Kansas Attorney General, has been active in ensuring senior citizens that are in need of proper care are heard. I chair the Senior Consumer Protection Advisory Committee that was established by General Schmidt. The Committee hears, among other things, neglect and abuse, theft, and fraud that occurs to senior citizens and recommends preventative action.
The Committee alerts County and District Attorneys as well as care givers for what to look in regards to financial abuse [which is one of eight, main, universal tactics of domestic violence abusers]. For example, an individual was charged in court, because they took more than $94,000 from an 87 year old woman by lying to her about the upgrade of lightning rods and the need for continued work on her home. People are warned to never open their doors to strangers. Always get references before dealing with a person or company. The Better Business Bureau should be contacted to check on a person or company.
For more information about crime victims’ rights in Kansas, visit the Kansas State Government Attorney General’s Office website. For more information on crime victims’ rights, visit the National Crime Victim Law Institute website and the Marsy’s Law website.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call a domestic violence or sexual assault victim advocacy organization in Kansas near you or contact national resources that are available to you.