For Immediate Release
Contact: Mallory Hanora
Survivors Make Powerful Push for Change to Victim Compensation Statute
Wednesday September 13, 2017. BOSTON, MA: Survivors, providers, allies, and officials testified yesterday in favor of a H.742 “An Act Amending Victim Compensation Statute” before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. This legislation would shift the current state statute regulating Victim Compensation so that that the circumstances of a loved one’s homicide cannot be used to determine a family’s eligibility for funeral and burial reimbursement.
“Not only was the scrutinizing of my husband’s history demeaning to his character at his time of death, but also very antagonistic to me, mentally and emotionally for me to go through at the most terrifying, vulnerable point in my life,” survivor Ebony LePenn told the Judiciary Committee. “I’m left feeling defeated and unworthy of receiving the funds that we deserve as a family surviving such a horrible tragedy.”
Peace Institute staff member Danielle Bennett serves families like Ms. LePenn’s in the immediate aftermath of their loved one’s murder. “One of the biggest burdens that families face is how to pay for their loved one’s funeral and burial. I help families fill out the Victim Compensation application for funeral and burial reimbursement funds. I have to be the one to tell them that they may be denied because of a clause in the state statute that requires a family's claim be reduced or denied in the event their loved one "contributed to" their own death," Ms. Bennett testified.
“Imagine the look I receive from a mother whose son was just murdered,” Ms. Bennett continued. “This mom feels punished and ashamed: ashamed she doesn’t have the money and punished for losing her son and not being able to receive the support she needs to lay her son to rest with dignity and compassion.”
The Peace Institute submitted a coalition letter of support signed by over forty organizations, faith congregations, and local businesses including Dolan Funeral Services, George Lopes Funeral Home, and JB. Johnson Funeral Home. Funeral Homes who accept the Victim Compensation application as a form of payment can be left with debt when claims are denied because of contributory conduct or be in the position of pressuring grieving families without the financial means to pay.
H.742 was filed by Representative Evandro Carvalho. The bill is actively supported by Mayor Marty Walsh and District Attorney Dan Conley who sent representatives to testify in favor of the bill at the hearing. These elected officials see funeral and burial reimbursement funds for families of murder victims as part of an effective and equitable response to homicide.
Yesterday’s hearing is the result of years of advocacy on behalf of survivors who have been re-triggered and re-traumatized by Victim Compensation denials due to the contributory conduct clause. In the wake of tragedies, the Commonwealth has the capacity to unite and support families whose loved ones were murdered. Peace Institute staff, survivors, and supporters are hopeful the legislature will move toward a more common sense, consistent, and compassionate policy so families of murder victims can lay their loved one to rest with respect, regardless of the circumstances.