State Senator honors Auburn's Harriet Salarno as Woman of the Year

March 28, 2018

An Auburn resident has been honored with a Woman of the Year award for her longtime advocacy on behalf of crime victims.

Harriet Salarno, founder of Crime Victims United, was chosen for the accolade by District 5 state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani.

It was a special moment for Salarno, who has received numerous commendations over the years.

“This was very exciting,” she said. “I’ve known the senator for a long time. … We’ve worked together for many years.”

Salarno’s passion for crime victims’ rights grew out of her own experiences dealing with the legal and penal system after her eldest daughter, Catina Rose Salarno, was murdered in the late 1970s.

Since then she has worked for passage of numerous state propositions in support of victims’ rights, beginning with the Proposition 8 Victim’s Bill of Rights in 1982. Crime Victims United was registered as a nonprofit in 1992.

“We registered so that we could lobby,” Salarno said. “We only lobby for laws for public safety. We were involved (in the passage of) Megan’s Law and very involved with all the initiatives that have to do with public safety. Every year we look at the legislation that has to do with public safety.”

Attorney Nina Salarno Besselman, Harriet Salarno’s daughter, is president of the Auburn-based foundation, providing legal services and guidance as well as administrative oversight of the programs.

In the early years, Harriet Salarno focused her efforts on providing support for crime victims and their families. But she soon realized, she said, that the group was underserved and needed more than support. It needed a voice. And she stepped up to provide it.

Victim support services remain an integral aspect.

One of the foundation’s many roles is tracking lawmakers’ votes on public safety issues.

“What we do to is keep a report card on people we support and helped to elect, and see if they actually do what they say,” Salarno said. “If they do, they get our endorsement. If not, they don’t get our endorsement and we let them know why.”

Currently the foundation is collecting signatures to get the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018 initiative on the November ballot. The initiative would restore felony status to some crimes that were reduced to misdemeanors after the passage of AB 109 and Propositions 47 and 57.

“Serial arson, solicitation to commit murder, rape by intoxication, human trafficking of a child are  all (in the) non-violent category now,” Salarno said. “We are trying to get these back into the violent (category),” she said. “We’ve been collecting signatures for several months and have until the end of April,” she said. 

The foundation has achieved numerous successes over the years. In addition to its involvement in the passage of Megan’s Law, it had a key role in the passage of Marsy’s Law and in changing the parole process.

“When I went to a parole hearing the first time, we had to speak first … ,” Harriet Salarno said. “When we spoke first, (the perpetrator’s lawyers) just tore us apart. Now we get to speak last.” 

Salarno was honored along with other Women of the Year from across the state at a luncheon on the Capitol lawn and awards presentation in the Senate chambers.

“Harriet Salarno has dedicated her life to giving a voice to countless victims of crime and their families through her work and advocacy with Crime Victims United, the organization she helped to create following the murder of her 18-year-old daughter Catina Rose Salarno,” Galgiani said in a press release. “ In many circumstances, Harriet, and her organization, are the only ones standing with victims and victims’ families as they fight through a cumbersome criminal justice system seeking justice. I was more than happy to stand with Harriet and select her as my designated “Woman of the Year” for 2018 to not only recognize her as a groundbreaking leader, but to also thank her for her dedication to helping others in their time of need.”

For Salarno, it is dedication to a cause.

“I’m a volunteer,” she said. “I don’t get paid. It’s purely heart and soul. I just want to see my grandchildren or anyone who has children be safe.”