While the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure requires that a prosecutor designate someone to serve as a victim assistance coordinator, in reality, everyone in the office—from the person who first answers the phone to the staffer sending the pen packet—is integral in providing victim services. That’s why we call this column Victim Services Update; it’s not just for victim assistance coordinators anymore.
TDCAA Annual Update
We had a record number of coordinators in attendance at our annual meeting in Corpus. It was great to greet old friends and meet new ones. It was also enlightening to witness the number of investigators, key personnel, and prosecutors attending the victim assistance track. We all learn so much from one another’s perspective, and providing interactive workshops allows this opportunity. Our VACs also learned from workshops held in the prosecutor, investigator, and management tracks. I’ve learned that there’s no single answer to improving victim services, and this is true especially for family violence victims.
Family violence programs
There are several family violence initiatives across the state that we want to tell you about.
The Williamson County District Attorney’s Office recently hired two prosecutors and a victim assistance coordinator to deal with an increasing number of family violence cases. Changes in legislation about the classification of family violence offenses affect how such cases are now tried, says John Bradley, district attorney in Williamson County.
In the past five to six years, state legislation changed many offenses from misdemeanors to felonies. A person’s first family violence charge is a misdemeanor, for instance, and his second is a felony. Bradley says those changes forced his office to adapt. “Our biggest single caseload used to be either drugs or DWIs, but now that’s being counterbalanced with these family violence cases, so we felt like we needed special training and extra support to prosecute these,” Bradley told KUT News recently.
Part of that support comes from a victim assistance program headed by Wanda Ivicic. One of her duties is to make contact with victims within 24 hours of their crime being reported. “A lot of times, whenever a victim of domestic violence reports her abuser, there is a very small window where you can get in there and explain to her what her options are and what resources are out there available to her, in order for her to get over those hurdles that she may have to jump to leave her abuser,” Ivicic said.
Bradley hopes the program will help save the county money by breaking the cycle of violence, but it will take time to see results. Williamson County had 663 reported cases of family violence in the first eight months of 2011.
El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza’s family violence program has also inspired spin-offs by the District Attorney’s Offices in both Bee and Wood Counties. Bell County is announcing a new collaborative program that also grew from the El Paso model and the collaborative two-year effort of the Bell County Family Violence Task Force (centex.taskforce.com). The Bell County program will begin accepting applications for volunteer training in the next month.
Serving victims of family violence, sexual assault, and stalking in rural counties, the goal of the RIO Project (Rural Intervention & Outreach) is to enhance the capacity to assist victims while providing leadership in changing attitudes, policies, and practices through rural law enforcement training programs, community education, and crisis intervention services to promote justice and healing for all victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
The rural pilot program collaboratively designed by the Lubbock Rape Crisis Center (LRCC) and Women’s Protective Services (WPS), works cooperatively with West Texas Forensic Nurse Staffing, South Plains Rural Health Services, South Plains Association of Government Regional Law Enforcement Training Academy, Levelland Police Department, Hockley County Sheriff’s Department, and the Hockley County District Attorney’s office.
The RIO pilot site is centrally located in Hockley County, 45 miles west of Lubbock. The program will serve Bailey, Cochran, Crosby, Dawson, Dickens, Floyd, Garza, Hockley, King, Lynn, Terry, and Yoakum Counties and offers 24-hour domestic violence and sexual assault crisis hotlines, sexual assault medical accompaniment, law enforcement accompaniment, judicial accompaniment, domestic violence and sexual assault crisis intervention, follow-up and referral, counseling, legal advocacy services, law enforcement training, medical training for forensic evidence collection, access to sexual assault forensic medical examinations performed by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), establishment of a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), and community education on prevention and awareness of both domestic violence and sexual assault.
Please let us know more about what is working and what’s not in your community so that we can share it with others.
New TDCAA Victim Services Board member
The new Region 2 Victim Services Board Member is Kara Welch, Victim Assistance Coordinator for the Midland County District Attorney’s Office. Kara has been the VAC for eight years and is certified as a Professional Victim Assistance Coordinator through TDCAA. Previously she worked for Gaines County and Midland Probation Office. Welcome on board, Kara!
National Crime Victim Rights Week
The next National Crime Victims’ Rights Week will be observed April 22–28, 2012. The theme for NCVRW 2012 is “Extending the Vision: Reaching Every Victim,” and the theme colors are blue and black.
Sign up for the NCVRW mailing list by December 16 to receive a complimentary hard copy of the 2012 Resource Guide and theme poster, announcements about the online availability of both, and details about the National Crime Victims’ Services Awards Ceremony at http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw. The resource guide is available in both English and Spanish and contains valuable statistics, timelines, and landmarks in victims’ rights history, sample proclamations, speeches, and public service messages as well as answers to frequently asked questions and information on how to work with media and maximize communication and awareness.
Looking forward to seeing more of you at our upcoming Key Personnel and Victim Assistance Coordinator Seminar in Houston November 2–4. As always, your ideas and suggestions for training, articles, and programs are welcomed. We really appreciate knowing what the hot topics are in your office so that we can share them with others. Please write to [email protected]