Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hate Crimes

As we observe hate crimes awareness month, let me explain the nature of a hate crime. They are crimes motivated by a particular bias such as disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.

Crimes based on race or ethnicity generally represent 60 percent of all hate crime events, followed by sexual orientation-based crime and then closely by crime based on religion. According to statistics through 2009 from the Department of Justice, hate crimes have been on a general decline since 2001. However, violent crimes still make up around 63% of hate crime.

I want to highlight a case my office recently prosecuted and convicted two men for the beating of a Sikh taxi driver based on the perception that the driver was Muslim. On November 28, 2010, Harbhajan Singh, the cab driver, drove the defendants and their wives home from Harlow’s Bar in Sacramento. Mr. Singh wore a traditional Sikh turban and beard. At the conclusion of the trip, one of the men demanded more change than the fare allowed. Singh merely hesitated to the demand, and then was attacked by the men just as Singh turned to comply. One of the men shouted racial epithets and accused Mr. Singh of being Muslim, then punched Singh in the face repeatedly while the other man attacked from behind. Mr. Singh was almost pulled from the car, but this was prevented by the wife of one of the men and Mr. Singh’s seatbelt. Mr. Singh was able to escape while the two men were distracted by the wife’s efforts. Mr. Singh suffered significant injuries, including a fracture to his eye socket.

The West Sacramento Police were able to find the assailants because the wife who intervened lost her cell phone in the process. The police used the phone and fingerprints collected from the victim’s blood to find two suspects, and a series of interviews established the roles of the two men in the attack. The man with the greater part in the attack pled to the assault and the “hate crime” enhancement and was given a 13 year sentence, due in part to his conviction for a prior assault.

Mr. Singh did nothing to provoke this vicious attack except to be from a different culture. Attacking someone because of their race, religion or other protected basis is not only heinous, but against the ideals we hold as Americans, and must not be tolerated. My office remains committed to diligently prosecuting this type of crime.

Information on hate crime statistics may be found in the latest report by the Attorney General.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: June 15th, 2011

This week we observe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15th. Elder abuse is a very disturbing topic and one that must be addressed as our senior population continues to grow. Each year, one to two million elderly people are injured, exploited or mistreated by someone they depend upon for care or protection. Elder abuse can include physical, psychological, financial, emotional abuse or simply neglect. The sad irony is that those chosen to protect the elderly are usually the ones who cause the abuse.

Here are some important statistics:

  • In 2010, California led the country with 632,693 cases of reported elder abuse, accounting for nearly 11% of all elder abuse cases.
  • Two-thirds of offenders are family members or caregivers.
  • The elderly (65+) population will more than double, from 3.6 million in 2000 to 8.3 million by 2030 in California.
  • By 2030, one in every five persons in the country will be a senior citizen.

One county that is taking a proactive approach is Napa County. Recently, they adopted an ordinance that requires caregivers to pass a criminal background check and pay for an annual permit in order to care for seniors or disabled persons. Other counties are sure to follow their lead in developing new methods to help prevent elder abuse and ensure the safety of our senior citizens.

There are reporting agencies in each state to receive and investigate allegations of elder abuse or neglect. If you suspect an elderly person is being abused, please call the National Center on Elder Abuse at 1-202-898-2586, or call your county Adult Protective Services agency. And if someone you know has been a victim of elder abuse and they cannot pay for crime-related expenses, please call the CalVCP Victim Helpline at 1.800.777.9229.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

National Internet Safety Month

June is National Internet Safety Month, an important observance in today’s technology-savvy world. As a parent of a teenager myself, I find this issue to be extremely relevant. With social networks rapidly attracting a younger age demographic, child abuse online is increasing. In 2009, CalVCP received 13,580 applications involving child abuse, including underage victims who met their predator online. Research shows online abuse can quickly lead to in-person interactions since many internet offenders disguise their age and then invite children into their home. These offenses are why CalVCP is committed to spreading awareness to keep children safe from online abuse.

Last week a headline came across my desk that caught my attention, “7 charged in gang rape of 2 minors in Santa Paula [Southern California].” Upon further reading, I discovered that these men met the minors online, through a social networking website. Many teens are willing to meet with strangers. 16 percent of teens considered meeting someone they've only talked to online and eight percent have actually met someone they only knew online. 52 percent of teens have given out personal information online to someone they don't know offline including personal photos and/or physical descriptions of themselves (Enough.org).

I find these statistics quite frightening. It’s why this month CalVCP encourages all parents and guardians to be diligent and learn how to protect our children from becoming victims of internet crimes. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has suggestions for the best ways to protect and monitor a computer-savvy minor. Here are some of their tips:

  • If you have reason to suspect your child is viewing inappropriate sites, do not overact. Approach your children with respect.
  • Always maintain access to your child's online account and frequently check his/her account.
  • Teach your children about responsible use of the resources on the Internet.
  • Instruct your children never to arrange face-to-face meetings with someone they met online and not to respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, or harassing.
  • Tell your children to NEVER give out identifying information such as name, address, school name or telephone number to people they don't know.

As we observe National Internet Safety Month, we will be posting internet safety tips on our Twitter and Facebook pages. Let us continue to be cautious and keep our children safe from online predators and bullies. I encourage you to learn how to use social media, so you understand how these platforms are being exploited to hurt children. I hope you and your children will continue to make safe choices online.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Victim’s Impact Statement: Let the Healing Begin

Yesterday, the horrific ordeal that Jaycee Dugard and her family have experienced reached its final day in court—the sentencing of Phillip and Nancy Garrido. And while we have all waited for this day since news broke that Jaycee was found in August of 2009, the journey of healing for a victim goes far beyond the judicial process.

Many speculated whether or not Jaycee would make an appearance in court to address her offenders. In the end, it was her mother who spoke on her behalf, much like she did the years that Jaycee was missing. In today’s statement, Terry Probyn conveyed how Jaycee “hated every second of her 18 years in captivity” and how her “life was stolen.” It is her right to be heard, as we saw last week when another kidnap victim, Elizabeth Smart, stepped up to have final words for Brian David Mitchell.

A victim’s impact statement, delivered at the time of sentencing, is part of the healing process. It grants the victim an opportunity to articulate the pain, anguish, and financial devastation the crime has caused. Often, sadly, it’s just a family member who is left to speak of the memory of their loved ones.

Consider Elizabeth Smart as she delivered her powerful statement. Victims and survivors everywhere heard her say, “Today is the ending of a very long chapter and the beginning of a very beautiful chapter for me.” At the same time, she used the opportunity to bring awareness to the other thousands of missing children who have not made it home…yet.

We all know the Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart cases have gained international press attention, but the process for the victim is the same regardless of the scope of the crime and notoriety.

For a victim and their family, due justice can be a long and arduous journey. CalVCP understands this and is committed more than ever to assist victims through the process. This includes support for mental health and dental expenditures, funeral and burial costs as well as wage and income loss for up to five years following the date of the crime. There’s no doubt that violent crime has a long lasting financial impact on the victim and we are here to help at every step along the way.

While a victim impact statement at sentencing doesn’t close the book on what happened…it can be the unofficial beginning to a family’s healing process. And something we all can learn from. CalVCP also supports victims with this process, connecting them with advocates and offering assistance with financial loss experienced with the crime. Among the crimes covered are domestic violence, child abuse, sexual and physical assault, homicide, and robbery. CalVCP has provided over $2 billion to assist victims of crime since its inception in 1965. More information on the program can be found at calvcp.ca.gov.