p>By REP. TED POE | Posted: Monday, April 30, 2012 7:40 am
Stephanie Roper, 22, was the daughter of Roberta and Vince Roper of Maryland, a bright and gifted young artist set to graduate magna cum laude from Frostburg State University. In early spring of 1982, she came home for a weekend visit. Upon returning from an evening out with friends, Stephanie’s car became disabled on a country road in Brandywine, Md. Two men stopped, but instead of helping her, they kidnapped her and over a five-hour period, repeatedly and brutally raped and tortured her. They took her to a deserted shack in St. Mary’s County, where they fractured her skull with a logging chain, shot her, dismembered her body, and set it on fire.
When the case was brought to court, Stephanie’s family was shut out of the courtroom completely and silenced at sentencing. Unlike Stephanie’s convicted killers, the Roper family had no rights: no right to information, no right to observe the trial, and no right to be heard at sentencing. They could not understand why victims had no rights in the justice system. Stephanie’s siblings could not understand why liberty and justice for all did not include them. Roberta and Vince, as parents, were at a loss of words, trying to explain that the system was flawed and victims had no rights.
Thankfully, times have changed. Over the past 30 years, there has been much progress for crime victims and their families thanks to advocates like the Ropers. They have not only successfully advocated for changes in state and federal law, but their foundation evolved into the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, Inc. serving victims throughout the state. Despite the giant leap forward, there is still more work to be done and programs that must be protected.
As a former prosecutor and judge in Harris County, I saw firsthand, in the courtroom, that the rights of crime victims’ were overlooked and too often took a backseat to the rights of the defendants. Soon after I arrived in Washington, D.C., I joined forces with Congressman Jim Costa, a Democrat from California, and founded the bipartisan Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus (VRC). The Victims Rights Caucus is proof that bipartisanship is not dead in Washington. Advocating for victims should be a priority for everyone, no matter who you are or what you believe. Since then, the VRC has served as a platform to promote legislation and educate Members of Congress and the Administration on issues that affect crime victims and law enforcement officers.
This Congress, the Caucus worked to pass the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011, which President Obama signed into law this past November. Congressman Howard Berman (another Democrat) and I sponsored this piece of legislation in the House with bipartisan support. It makes changes to require the Peace Corps to follow best practices in training their volunteers and responding to sexual assaults, establishes new confidentiality requirements, and sets up an Advisory Council to review Peace Corps’ sexual assault policy and implementation. This law will go a long way to protect victims and prevent future volunteers from being victimized while serving our country abroad.