LAYTON -- Crime victims have more rights today than they did 25 years ago, said the keynote speaker at the 24th Annual Conference on Child Abuse & Family Violence.
"We needed to recognize the needs of the person we were protecting," said Reed Richards, chairman of the Utah Council on Victims of Crime and a former Weber County Attorney.
The three-day conference has drawn attendees from across the state. They include police officers, educators, attorneys, social workers, victims advocates and medical providers, said Anne Freimuth, executive director of the Prevent Child Abuse Council. Richards said that while serving as Weber County Attorney he learned that even though victims appreciated the convictions and sentences handed down to the perpetrators, they did not like the court system process.
"We thought the process to get (to the convictions) was the pits," Richards said the victims told him.
Richards said victims of a rape case, and of a murder case, told him they did not like being treated like evidence. They did not think it was fair that the defendant's friends and family could be in the courtroom, but the victims were kept out of the courtroom.
They also said they did not like learning from newspaper that the accused had been released from jail on bail. They told Richards that someone from the courts should notify them.
Richards said, as a prosecutor 25 years ago, those victims helped him realize how important it was to change the state's constitution so defendants who were at risk of fleeing or that pose a danger to the community could be held in jail on no bail.
It also took a change in the state's constitution that has given today's crime victims rights.
Richards said he hopes that someday the federal constitution will also protect victims.
Richards said changing the state constitution took several years of work, but those changes were approved by a 95 percent of voters. Now, crime victims have the right to be present during hearings, as well as be treated fairly and with respect.
"There is still a lot to be done," Richards said. "Many things work well now, but some of it doesn't work as well as it should."
Another change Richards was instrumental in bringing to Utah's court system was the creation of children's justice centers.
Richards said he became acutely aware as a prosecutor that children who were crime victims had no child-friendly place to tell their story. He remembers walking into the Ogden Police Department to talk to a 7-year-old girl. She was sitting in a detectives' room filled with desks, officers and other suspects and victims, all adults.
"The officer said we have a report of abuse, but she won't talk to us," Richards said. "Duh. She was scared to death."
Richards began looking for a different way for officers, social workers and others to interview children who had been abused.
He attended a national conference and learned about children advocacy centers. When he returned to Utah, he and others worked to get children's justice centers built in Utah. There are now 18 children's justice centers in Utah with more than 700 children advocacy centers throughout the country.
Richards said, 25 years ago victims of violent crimes or domestic violence could not be protected, because there were no protective orders. Now judges can order a defendant to stay away from a victim while the case is in court.
Richards urged those who attended the conference not to just do their jobs, but "to look at what can be changed and be one of those aggressive, pushy people."
24th Annual Conference on Child Abuse & Family Violence
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today; 8:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Wednesday
Davis Conference Center, 762 Heritage Park Blvd., Layton.
Presenters include doctors, attorneys, police officers and FBI agents. Topics range from crimes against children, promoting healthy children and families, understanding sex offenders, domestic violence and bullying.
Admission is $25 per session.
Information, go to www.prevent childabuseutah.org