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Victims - The Emergence Of Victim Concerns

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It is not an easy task to disentangle the diverse elements that energized the movement toward greater recognition of the role and importance of victims in criminal justice affairs. For centuries their condition aroused little comment or interest. Then they were "discovered," and afterward it was unclear how their neglect could have gone without remedy for so long.

In the United States, national politics first moved the subject of crime victims onto center stage. In 1964, Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for president, thrust the issue of crime into his campaign. It was a false issue, in the sense that the federal government does not have jurisdiction over most kinds of criminal activity that concern the average citizen. A president can do little, except perhaps symbolically, to make a notable impact on criminal behavior; such behavior is almost exclusively the concern of state, county, and municipal governments.

Goldwater, nonetheless, had touched a sensitive public nerve. Citizens responded to his allegations that the Democrats were soft on crime, an accusation seemingly supported by the party's opposition to capital punishment, their considerable concern with the rights of defendants, and their unwillingness to endorse tougher punishment policies.

President Lyndon Johnson, who defeated Goldwater, chose a time-tested political strategy to defuse the crime issue. He appointed the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, with a sweeping mandate to examine and make recommendations about virtually all aspects of the crime problem (the death penalty was one of the exceptions). The commission endorsed the fledgling victim compensation programs and launched a pioneering project to better measure the extent of traditional crime by means of a series of surveys of the population. These probes sought to shed some light on what is known as the dark figure in crime, offenses that fail to come to the attention of the authorities.

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