Victims of violent crimes will be honored Thursday during a ceremony as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
The event, organized by the Merced County District Attorney’s Office and the Victim Witness Assistance Program, will take place at noon at Courthouse Park.
Families will get the opportunity to memorialize loved ones who were killed in a violent crime. Families are encouraged to bring a photograph of the victim to be displayed during the ceremony.
Lisa DeSantis, the Victim Witness program coordinator, said the event has taken place for more than 15 years in Merced County and grows in attendance every year. Giving the families of victims some support is a priority for the program, DeSantis said.
Merced County is coming off two consecutive years of record-high homicides: 32 were reported in 2014, up from 28 in 2013.
“It’s really important for people who have gone through similar situations to come together; it could be somewhat comforting,” DeSantis said.
During the event, families will get the opportunity to write messages to the victims in cards that will hang in a tree at Courthouse Park.
“It’s a somber event, but one worth doing,” DeSantis said.
JoAnn Buttaro, a speaker on the subject of rape and sexual assault, will give the keynote address. Buttaro is a date-rape survivor from Southern California. Her story, DeSantis said, will resonate with members of the Merced community who have experienced or witnessed a violent crime.
Crime Victims’ Rights Week is observed nationwide each April. Communities around the country, led by the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, host events similar to the one in Merced.
According to the national office, an important element of promoting victim empowerment is providing an atmosphere in which victims and their families believe they are supported by their community. This helps them feel safe and allows them to share.
The goal, DeSantis said, is to lead survivors and families to a path of healing.
“There are people who are afraid to speak up because of retaliation,” she said. “But it’s important that we all be made a bit more aware of what’s happening around us.”
For more information on the event, call the Victim Witness Assistance Program at (209) 385-7385.