In April of each year, the Office for Victims of Crime offer assistance to communities throughout the United States in observing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW). This year’s theme—Engaging Communities, Empowering Victims—emphasized the role of the entire community, individually and collectively, in supporting victims of crime and empowering crime victims to direct their own recovery.
The Office for Victims of Crime offers a resource guide each year that includes everything needed to host an event in your community. The resource guide may be obtained at http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw/index .html, or to request materials by mail , sign up for the NCVRW mailing list at https://puborder.ncjrs.gov/ Listservs/Subscribe_NCVRW.asp.
Numerous communities across Texas observed NCVRW, and TDCAA would like to share photos and stories submitted from our members.
Former VAC in the Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
We had another hugely successful event this year. We had approximately 200 people in attendance, including Texas State Senator Charles Perry as our guest keynote speaker. This year we did something a little different: We recognized that peace officers and first responders can be victims too. In addition to Senator Perry acknowledging and recognizing our seriously injured peace officers (17 of them), the founder of the Peace Officers’ Angels Foundation, Maria Barreda-Alvarado from the Metroplex, attended and brought all the peace officers a token of appreciation and, most importantly, encouraging words for these officers who were seriously injured.
Both a citizen and law enforcement victim spoke. Officer Michael Matsik fell victim to a crime; his case has been adjudicated and the defendant received a 50-year sentence. We also recognized more than 30 individuals for going “above and beyond” the call of duty to assist victims of crime. We recognized Jaret Greaser, Assistant Criminal District Attorney and Chief of the 137th District Court; ACDA Morgan Vaughan; Texas Ranger Todd Snyder; and Investigator Larry Burlesmith for their dedicated work on a Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child case that involved not one or two, but eight victims! This defendant received a life sentence.
Assistant District Attorney in Upshur County
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week was recognized outside the Upshur County Courthouse on April 23. Despite inclement weather, citizens, county employees, and crime victims gained awareness of the services and outreach programs available to victims in the county. Everyone was invited to sign a banner in support of victims’ rights and light a candle honoring crime victims in our area.
Participating organizations included MADD, Lone Star Legal Aid, the Women’s Center of East Texas, and the District Attorney’s Family Violence Intervention Program. Information for the Northeast Texas Child Advocacy Center was also available. Three victims who came to the courthouse for assistance with protective orders and other matters that day were able to immediately receive information and services from the agencies present.
Angela Haney, a survivor of domestic abuse, and Assistant District Attorney Becky Ojeman, the county’s family violence prosecutor, received certificates of appreciation for their work in advancing victims’ rights. Ms. Haney first shared her experience as a domestic violence victim at a “Next to the Jury Box” event in January of this year. As a result, she realized how important her story could be to other survivors and will be speaking to support groups at the Women’s Center of East Texas. Ms. Haney and Mrs. Ojeman are teaming up with Brooke King of the Women’s Center to launch a Cut It Out campaign in local salons in Upshur County. (Editor’s note: For more information on Cut It Out, visit http://www.tdcaa.com/journal/”cutting-out”-domestic-violence-one-hairstylist-time.)
VAC in the Williamson County Attorney’s Office
At Williamson County’s NCVRW ceremony, we presented 12 awards to individuals who went “above and beyond” this past year in their service to victims. Our emcee was local meteorologist Chikage Windler. She brought a fresh face to our ceremony and was even a good sport when our last speaker, Dee Hobbs, the Williamson County Attorney, gave a presentation and called for two volunteers (our emcee and keynote speaker Mindi Sherman) to play the role of a victim. Then he challenged the rest of the audience (more than 200 people) to get up and form a circle around the two of them, really bringing home, visually, what it looks like when we engage our community in helping to protect others. We even had a prosecutor play the role of the bad guy! We had lots of fun making “the bad guy” step farther and farther away as more people circled around those two “victims.”
It was a great ceremony and motivated us for the next year!
VAC in the McLennan County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
On Tuesday, April 22, the McLennan County Crime Victims Coalition hosted an Evening in the Park. Our District Attorney, Abel Reyna, was the guest speaker, and we served hot dogs and all the fixin’s to our guests. The weather was perfect, we had a good turnout, and our guests loved the door prizes and great music. It was a fun way to honor our victims and law enforcement community.
Also, we put 50 pinwheels in the courthouse lawn to recognize Crime Victims’ Rights Week. They spun like crazy with the wind, but somehow they stayed up all week (perhaps emblematic of the victims they represented).
VAC in the Cameron County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
We had an amazing 10th annual National Crime Victim’s Expo with 43 agencies participating and over 400 people in attendance. We released biodegradable paper doves to a Holy Spirit song by Franshesca Batasteli.
Assistant District Attorney in Fort Bend County
The Fort Bend County Crime Victims Response Team held its Sixth Annual National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Reception Thursday, April 23, in the Fort Bend County Justice Center.
This year’s speaker was Betty Ann Rutherford, a former staff member of the Fort Bend County Women’s Center. While she worked with the Women’s Center, Rutherford participated in a case of family violence in which the suspect, the husband of the victim, was sentenced to life in prison. This was a Missouri City Police Department case and Rutherford recalled the hellish life the victim endured. She said the husband violated a protective order, returned to the family home, and tortured his wife. “She was totally under his control,” Rutherford remembers.
But the story is one of strength and courage. Rutherford said the victim overcame her previous life and recovered. “She went from protecting him to protecting herself and her children from him,” she says. “It took time to build up the strength to overcome the situation she was in.”
TDCAA Victim Services Board Elections
Elections for the 2016 TDCAA Victim Services Board (Regions 2, 4, 6, and 8) will be held on September 24, at 1:15 p.m. at the TDCAA Annual Criminal and Civil Law Update in Corpus Christi. The Victim Services Board assists in preparing and developing operational procedures, standards, training, and educational programs. Regional representatives serve as a point of contact for their regions. To be eligible, each candidate must have the permission of the elected prosecutor, attend the elections at the Annual seminar, and have paid membership dues prior to the meeting. The bylaws for the board are posted at www.tdcaa .com/victim-services, and a map of the regions is at right. To register for the Annual conference in Corpus Christi, go to www.tdcaa.com/training/annual-criminal-civil-law-update.
The 2015 TDCAA Key Personnel & Victim Assistance Coordinator Seminar will be held November 4–6 at the Hotel Galvez in Galveston. Don’t miss this opportunity to network with other key personnel and victim service coordinators from prosecutor offices across the state. Visit www .tdcaa.com/training for registration and hotel information.
Victim Impact Statement (VIS) revision
In accordance with the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 56.03(h) and following the 84th Legislative Session, the Texas Crime Victims Clearinghouse and the 2015 VIS Revision Committee have met this summer to review the Victim Impact Statement and reporting procedures for revision. The committee’s goal has been to make the documents user-friendly for victims as well as criminal justice professionals. In the near future, we will be posting the revised VIS and accompanying report form on our website at www .tdcaa.com/victim-services.
The revised VIS forms may also be found in the near future on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website at www.tdcj.state.tx.us/ publications/pubs_victim_impact_ statement.html.
TDCAA’s Victim Services Project is available to offer in-office support to your victim services program. We at TDCAA realize the majority of VACs in prosecutor offices across Texas are the only people in their office 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. We realize VACs may not have anyone locally to turn to for advice and at times could use assistance or moral support.
My TDCAA travels have recently taken me to Mason, Potter, and Moore Counties to assist VACs with in-office consultations for their prosecutor-based victim services projects. Thanks to each of your offices for allowing me to offer support to your victim services programs! I thoroughly enjoy helping VACs because I have been in their shoes and realize how nice it is to have someone to whom you can turn when there are questions.
Please e-mail me at Jalayne [email protected] for inquiries, support or to schedule an in-office consultation.