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Victims’ rights week begins

BY JOSEPH BELK | APRIL 20, 2010 7:30 AM

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After more than two years, David Kesterson still has difficulty talking about the day his brother-in-law Steve Sueppel, a former Iowa City bank executive, killed his wife, Sheryl Sueppel, their four children, and himself.

On Monday, Kesterson told a crowd of around 70 people how he still mourns the loss of his sister, nieces, and nephews during an opening ceremony for Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

“This is not something I enjoy doing,” Kesterson said during his second public speech since the killings. “There’s something positive that can come out of this experience.”

Victims and advocates will observe Crime Victims’ Rights Week both locally and nationwide this week. They say the recognition is important.

Sandy Bucher, who has worked as a victim-witness coordinator with the Johnson County County Attorney’s Office for 17 years, said the movement goes beyond offering sentimental support for survivors of crime.

Practical improvements and reforms have aided from victim-advocacy efforts, she said.

In the past decade, federal legislation has guaranteed victims’ rights nationwide. Today, all 50 states have created victim-compensation programs. In 2009, President Obama increased funding for those programs with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

This year’s theme for the commemorative week — “Crime Victims’ Rights: Fairness. Dignity. Respect.” — was selected in recognition of past victims who were excluded from court proceedings or admonished for their victimization, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

According to the U.S. Office for Victims of Crime, a national victims’ advocacy group, 21 million crimes were committed in the United States in 2008. That year, almost 90,000 crimes were reported to campus police across the country.

Locally, a report released by the FBI last fall found an increase in crime in the Iowa City area from 2007 to 2008, leading local police to call for more personnel. According to the report, robberies increased 66 percent and rape reports increased from 18 cases in 2007 to 24 in 2008. Overall, however, crime increased 0.5 percent in the area. Iowa City police had earlier — June 2009 — reported that violent crime was down in the area.

The Johnson County Crime Victims’ Advisory Board, which was created in 2000, has commemorated Crime Victims’ Rights Week each year over the past decade with a local speaker who has been a crime victim.

Board member Valerie Kemp said the group has hosted several attempted-homicide survivors over the years. Another year, they invited the mother of a young girl who was struck and killed by a man driving under the influence of marijuana.

For Kesterson, this year’s keynote speaker, the annual week is a time to remember his sister and her family.

“One of the things I decided a long time ago was to honor them,” he said. Crime Victims’ Rights week is meant “to not forgot our loved ones who are lost,” he said.

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