The Texas Prosecutor, July–August 2018

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week across Texas

During the week of April 8–14, communities across the U.S. observed National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW). This year’s theme, “Expand the Circle: Reach All Victims,” emphasized the importance of inclusion in victim services. The theme addressed how the services field can better ensure that every crime victim has access to support and how professionals, organizations, and communities can work in tandem to reach all victims.
    The Office for Victims of Crime offers a resource guide each year that includes everything needed to host an event in your area. Numerous communities across Texas observed National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and here, we share photos and stories submitted by a few of our members.

Liliana Z. Mendez
Victim Assistance Program Coordinator in the Cameron County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
This year we celebrated our 13th Annual Crime Victims’ Rights Resource Expo. This year our program was a recipient of $5,000 through the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Community Awareness Project, which is managed by the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators (NAVAA) under a cooperative agreement with the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), and U.S. Department of Justice. NAVAA is a non-profit organization whose members are the agencies in every state designated to administer VOCA grants.
    Our expo was a free event and open to the public. There were more than 55 community agencies disseminating information helpful to victims. We estimated that over 400 people filtered in throughout the event. A balloon release while sounding the sirens took place in memory of all victims of crime.

Cynthia L. Jahn, CLA, PVAC
Director of Victim Services in the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
The Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s Office was privileged to collaborate with 40 different agencies this year to plan and participate in National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. During the week, organizations that assist and serve crime victims in Bexar County joined together to honor victims of crime and promote greater public awareness about the rights and needs of crime victims.
    We kicked the week off on Monday with a “Call-in Victim Hotline” sponsored by our local ABC affiliate, KSAT-12. The public was given an opportunity to call in for information concerning the criminal justice system and referrals for victim services. We were able to assist nearly 150 callers.
    On Tuesday, we all gathered in commissioners court to receive a proclamation dedicating this special week to victim’s rights and services. It was an honor for the agencies present to receive a heartfelt thank-you for a job well done by our county’s leadership.
    Thursday was a busy day for us as more than 45 agencies gathered for our annual Victims’ Tribute. This is a very special service dedicated to victims of crime and includes a memorial wreath- laying ceremony and the lighting of our victims’ flame. The event was held in front of the historic Bexar County Courthouse where we were honored to hear from Dr. Marian Sokol, Executive Director of the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas. We were also extremely honored to have Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife Sherri from the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. The tragedy in Sutherland Springs touched so many, and the Bexar County community of victim service providers have been available and willing to serve our sister community.
    As part of our Victims’ Tribute, 45 wreaths were presented in honor of victims and victim service providers as our San Antonio Police Department and Bexar County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guards stood at attention. A candle was lit by the family of a young victim of homicide in both his honor and in honor of all victims of crime in Bexar County. The release of 16 white doves was a beautiful moment. Four special doves were released by four people representing a portion of the criminal justice system: a victim; prosecution and law enforcement; social services; and the medical community. The event was concluded with a moment of silence, a special 21-bike salute from Bikers Against Child Abuse, and a peaceful adjournment as bagpipers played “Amazing Grace.” This is always an extremely solemn but uplifting event.
    Other events throughout this special week and the month of April included events for children within our local shelters; the “Cardboard Kids” campaign where over 100,000 cardboard cutouts shaped like children were revealed to bring awareness to child abuse in our community; National Denim Day; and various other agency events highlighting specific crimes such as DWI, domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault.
    Although all this activity can be exhausting, I know it was worth all of the effort. Not only is it such a special time to honor victims, but the planning and events really succeed in bringing all the participating service providers together, allowing us to work as a cohesive unit. Is it hard work coordinating and planning NCVRW? It can be—but at the same time we know that this week has truly made a positive impact on our community! So don’t sit by next year and watch National Crime Victims’ Rights Week pass you by—reach out and make a statement, honor victims, and say thank you to your community’s service providers!

Robert Soard
First Assistant County Attorney in the Harris County Attorney’s Office
The Harris County Attorney’s Office was part of the City of Houston’s recognition on Tuesday, April 10, of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Last year our office collected over $4.8 million on behalf of victims of crime in Harris County.

Rosie Martinez
Victims Unit Director in the Hidalgo County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
The Hidalgo County Criminal District Attorney’s Office hosted, collaborated on, and coord-inated several events for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. We collaborated with the 229th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in their observances of NCVRW, and we have established a regional victim services effort to serve victims of crime in the Rio Grande Valley region.

Melissa Barragan
Legal Assistant in the 79th Judicial District Attorney’s Office
The 79th Judicial District Attorney’s Office held a Crime Victims’ Rights Walk. It was a success for it being our first event to host and put together. The overwhelming response from our community was amazing.
    Our office had a walk around the courthouse, and as we walked around we had our local police department, sheriff’s department, fire department, and EMS drive alongside us. After the walk, we gathered to release doves in memory of our victims and to honor survivors. We had vendors come out with information for counseling services in the community or assistance to anyone who had questions or who is in need of help. Words cannot express how amazing it was, and we will continue to bring awareness to this cause and all causes that affect our community.

Claudia Arnick
Victim Assistance Coordinator in the Dallas County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
We had a great program on April 12, which was presented and sponsored by the Dallas County Crime Victims Council. Our guest speaker was our own Dallas County Criminal District Attorney Faith Johnson, and she was fabulous!
    These sweet ladies with the Crime Victims Council put together our program. The council is made up of persons and agencies across the state and county who work with victims of crime.

In-office visits
TDCAA’s Victim Services Project is available to offer in-office support to your victim services programs. We at TDCAA realize the majority of victim assistance coordinators (VACs) in prosecutor offices are the only people in their offices responsible for developing victim services programs and compiling information to send to crime victims as required by Chapter 56 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. VACs may not have anyone to turn to locally for advice and at times could use assistance or moral support. This project is especially helpful to new VACs.
    My travels across Texas have recently taken me to Hill and Rockwall Counties. (See some photos, below and below right.) Thanks to each of these offices for allowing me to support your victim services programs! I thoroughly enjoy my job and realize how nice it is to have someone to turn to when questions surface.
    If you are a new VAC and would like to schedule an in-office, one-one-one visit, please email me at [email protected]. I am available for inquiries, support, in-office consultations, and group presentations.

Rockwall County goes blue
I wanted to share this photo, below, from Kenda Culpepper, Criminal District Attorney in Rockwall County. In support of National Go Blue for Kids Day (April 6) during National Child Abuse Prevention Month (which is April), the Rockwall County Courthouse was lit up in blue to raise awareness about child abuse. “We have been proud of our county and city officials getting involved with our efforts to promote awareness!” Kenda tells us—and we couldn’t agree more.