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Criminology school hosts crime victims’ week panel

Following an accident in which a drunk driver struck her car, Sharon Sikora was told she might not survive.

The future co-founder of the Arizona chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) had burns covering 90 percent of her body and underwent multiple surgeries. Today, she tells her story to victims’ rights advocates.

“The only thing that bothers me is that when we were in court [the drunk driver] did not even say sorry,” Sikora said of her accident.

Sikora was one of four victims’ rights professionals who spoke before students, faculty and community members Tuesday evening at a Downtown campus event as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

For the second year in a row, ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice is collaborating with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office of Victim Services in recognition of the week.

This week’s theme, “Reshaping the Future, Honoring the Past,” pays tribute to those who have not only been victimized by crime and are in search of recovery, but also those who seek encouragement to improve the future for victims.

Scott Decker, the director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, was the host for the Tuesday’s event. Decker strongly encourages the students of the criminology school to understand the victims’ rights process.

“We wanted our students who will be the future of criminal justice professionals to get a sense of what are the victims roles and rights in the process,” he said.

Since 1981, National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is recognized through a series of events being held throughout the country.

Arizona’s Office for Victims of Crimes attempts to spread awareness during this week in helping Americans learn about victimization, reflect on the cost of crime to society and promote laws, policies and programs to help victims of crime rebuild their lives.

Events in Arizona began Sunday and will run through Saturday. They’ll include panels, candlelight ceremonies, vigils and other activities at locations throughout the state.

The four-person panel on the Downtown campus shared experiences Tuesday and answered questions from students and other members of the audience.

Sikora said the car accident made her a strong victims’ rights advocate, which led to the start of MADD-Arizona.

Panel member and Criminal Division Chief Counsel with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office James Keppel hoped to encourage students to become more involved in the advocacy of victims’ rights.

“Even if [students] do not make it their profession, they can work as volunteers to try and get involved in becoming victims’ rights advocates,” he said.

Keppel was judge for the Maricopa County Superior Court for 14 years and presided over domestic relations, criminal and juvenile assignments.

“I want to express my appreciation for all of the participation that was presented today,” he said.

This was the first time Keppel was involved with the victim’s rights week at ASU and said he hoped to return again next year.

Arynn Infante, a criminology and criminal justice junior and president of the school’s honors society, volunteered her time along with nine other members of the honors society to help with Tuesday’s event.

Infante said the event provided more of the student body the opportunity to gain awareness.

“It’s important to recognize how far victims’ rights have come in the past couple decades,” Infante said.

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