The Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus honored five individuals and organizations at its annual awards ceremony on April 18 in Washington, D.C. Founded in 2006, the caucus introduces bipartisan legislation to address the rights of crime victims and promotes education and collaboration to increase the awareness of crime victims’ needs and interests. This year, the award recipients were: advocates LaWanda Hawkins, Martha Herm, and Michele Steeb; and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and the Merced Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Task Force in California.
Founded and co-chaired by Rep. Ted Poe (TX) and Rep. Jim Costa (CA), the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus has played a key role in the passage and reauthorization of legislation supporting crime victims, most notably the Victims of Crime Act and the Violence Against Women Act. Caucus members have also co-sponsored resolutions recognizing public-awareness events, including National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the National Remembrance for Murder Victims.
Each year, the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus presents five unique awards to individuals and organizations that have been nominated by caucus members for their leadership in advocating for and providing assistance to victims and survivors of crime.
LaWanda Hawkins of California received the Eva Murillo Unsung Hero Award, which honors a person who has used their experience as a crime victim or survivor to advocate for crime victims. Rep. Karen Bass (CA) presented the award to Ms. Hawkins, who founded the organization Justice for Murdered Children after the murder of her 19-year-old son.
Martha Herm, Executive Director of the Center for Prevention of Abuse in Peoria, Illinois received the Ed Stout Memorial Award for Outstanding Victim Advocacy, awarded to a professional or volunteer who provides victim services. Ms. Herm was nominated by Rep. Aaron Schock (IL), who called her “truly a visionary in the field.” The Center for Prevention of Abuse has five program areas: domestic violence, sexual assault and abuse, elder abuse, youth services, and abuser education.
Michele Steeb, Executive Director of St. John’s Shelter Program for Women and Children in Sacramento, received the Allied Professional Award for individuals who provide services other than victim services. Nominated by Rep. Doris Matsui (CA), Ms. Steeb leads the only shelter in Sacramento exclusively devoted to serving homeless mothers and their children.
The Merced Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Task Force received the Lois Haight Award of Excellence and Innovation, which recognizes work in the development or implementation of public policy that addresses crime victims’ needs. Formed in 2006 in response to gang violence in the area, the task force consists of local citizens, city agencies, and faith-based and community organizations. Rep. Costa presented the award to the group.
The national nonprofit organization RAINN received the Suzanne McDaniel Memorial Award for Public Awareness, honoring achievements in the use of media to effect change in policy. Rep. Poe presented the award. RAINN was instrumental in the passage of the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting Act, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Poe and helps to eliminate the backlog of untested D.N.A. evidence from rape cases.
The Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus currently has 72 members in the 113th Congress. For more information, please visit the caucus’s section on Rep. Poe’s website.