September-October 2010

VAWA survey update

Suzanne McDaniel

TDCAA Victim Services Director in Austin

Thanks to those of you who responded to our survey on behalf of the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division regarding federal Violence Against Women Act STOP grant funding. As 25 percent of this grant funding is earmarked for prosecution efforts, your input is valued.

STOP grant funding encourages development of programs that:

  • prioritize support for programs that address sexual assault and stalking, including developing and implementing protocols; training for judges, other court personnel, prosecutors, and law enforcement; and developing coordinated community responses to violence against women;
  • enhance or strengthen statewide collaboration efforts among law enforcement; prosecution; nonprofit, nongovernmental victim advocacy and service providers; and the courts in addressing violence against women; and
  • implement community-driven initiatives, utilizing faith-based and community organizations, to address the needs of underserved populations as defined by VAWA, including people with disabilities and elder victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Overwhelmingly you shared that with long delays for court dates, you were losing victims without additional resources. You also responded that more training and personnel were needed, especially given last session’s strangulation legislation.

Wichita County assistant criminal district attorney Shelly Wilbanks and Dr. Michael Vandehey, professor of psychology at ­Midwestern State University, contribute an article in this issue on this very topic (see page 30). Prosecution is only one tool in the justice box. Victim services staff members provide a consistent contact throughout the process and may also be the first to realize a victim is considering not cooperating with prosecution. Victim service staff members establish invaluable connections from the moment a case is filed throughout the court process. Victim service staff can also assist victims by referring them to resources for emergency shelter, housing, counseling, safety plans, transportation, compensation, civil remedies, child custody etc.—all factors to consider when someone wants to drop charges.

I remember a young mother whose husband had stabbed her multiple times. She came to see me in the Harris County DA’s Office to request that the DA drop charges; she always brought her children with her, but that day she was alone. I asked where her children were that day, and she told me that they were with her husband who was driving around the block with a gun to their heads. Thanks to the quick reaction of one of our investigators, all was taken care of safely. I will always wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t asked.

Register now for 2011 NCVRW resources    

National Crime Victim Rights Week (NCVRW) will be observed April 10–16, 2011. This year, those interested must register to receive announcements regarding 2011 materials and events, including a complimentary copy of the Resource Guide and poster, as well as notifications on the electronic availability of the Resource Guide, and details about the annual prelude events.

Bexar County Victim Services Coordinator Cyndi Jahn will be leading a workshop on activities for the week during this year’s Key Personnel and Victim Service Coordinators Seminar in El Paso, which is November 3–5. Cyndi will share the history and “how to” behind San Antonio’s week-long observance and facilitate discussion on adapting these activities and others for your community.

Crime Victim Rights Week offers a chance to promote victims’ rights and honor crime victims and those who advocate on their behalf. It is a great way to bring together the community partners who provide much needed resources with prosecution and law enforcement.

Victim Services Board election FAQs

We are getting a few questions about the upcoming election and thought compiling the answers might help clarify things. The transition from Victim Assistance Committee to the elected Victim Services Board is a part of TDCAA’s long range plan. The new VS Board will be structured similarly to the current Investigator Board and the Key Personnel Board.

Who is eligible for the board? Anyone working in the office of a district attorney, criminal district attorney, or county attorney who is designated to provide crime victim services, has paid her TDCAA membership dues, is present at the TDCAA Annual Update on September 23 in South Padre Island, and has permission from their elected prosecutor. Elected prosecutors can email or call with their authorization to me at [email protected] or 512/474-2436 before September 6.

What will the election process be like? It will be fast! The election is scheduled for Thursday morning, September 23 between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. We will divide into regional caucuses, and candidates may make a brief statement if they wish.

That’s why we are asking you to let us know if you are running, have permission, and have paid membership dues by September 6. It will also help facilitate the process to get in touch with others in your region before the election.

Who can vote?  One vote from each prosecutor office, regardless of the number of victim services personnel employed at that office.

What are the responsibilities of the board? The new Victim Services Board will assist in preparing and developing operational procedures, standards, training, and educational programs and serve as a point of contact for the members’ regions. Board members will be required to attend either the Annual Update or Key Personnel and Victim Services Coordinator Seminar, along with a board meeting in Austin to plan both. They will also be called upon to facilitate trainings and mentor in their region.      Still have questions?  Please call me at 512-474-2436.

PO extension forms

Many of you have commented on the recent article by Travis County Assistant District Attorney Erin Martinson about the extension of protective orders upon an offender’s release from incarceration and how the Victim Services Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is notifying victims of the inmate’s status and option to extend the order at the critical time of release. One county coordinator explained that the article was most timely as her office had a situation involving the release of a member of the Aryan Brotherhood and wouldn’t otherwise have known of this process to protect the victim’s safety.

Our communications director, Sarah Wolf, tells me that we have gotten over 160 “hits” on the protective order extension article; however, some of you are having difficulty finding the accompanying form that can easily be adapted for other counties. Here it is: www.tdcaa.com/ node/6608; it is an attachment at the bottom of the article.

Please let me know if you have any questions or examples of how the process has worked in your county. Again, kudos to Erin, D’Ann Anders of the Texas Advocacy Project, and Angie McCown and Brook Ellison of TDCJ for working together on a solution that has statewide applications.

Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) honors prosecutors

Armando Villalobos, the County and District Attorney in Cameron County, received TAASA’s Justice Award for outstanding support of victims’ rights and sexual assault awareness. The staff at the Harlingen Family Crisis Center nominated Villalobos for his dedication to supporting victims of crime, particularly sexual assault survivors. Armando proves his commitment to the cause by hosting annual fundraising events to benefit crime victims and sexual assault agencies in Cameron County. In 2006, he founded the Cameron County District Attorney’s Sword & Shield, a nonprofit organization that has donated over $22,000 to various organizations in the county.

Christina Coultas of the Family Place in Dallas nominated the Sexual Assault Team in the Dallas County Criminal District Attorney’s Office for TAASA’s Innovative Program of the Year. The Dallas program provides specialized prosecution and victim advocacy services to sexual assault victims. By sharing the Dallas team’s experiences and successes, TAASA hopes to encourage and support others to develop similar programs. An article about the Dallas program is on page 44 of this issue.

Fall and winter victim service training

In this season of budget cuts, travel and training expenses are often the first to go. Therefore, TDCAA is excited to announce that the Victim Services Divisions of the Attorney General’s Office and Texas Department of Criminal Justice are joining us this fall and winter to provide regional updates on victim rights, victims’ compensation, and post-adjudication services. This one-stop shop for only prosecutors and victim assistants will offer basic implementation information along with an opportunity to network with others in your region on emerging issues and solutions.

Please let me know your ideas and suggestions for the training by emailing me at  [email protected]a .com.

Key Personnel and Victim Service Coordinator ­Seminar coming up

Just a reminder that the annual Key Personnel and Victim Service Coordinator Seminar will be this November 3–5 in El Paso. For more information and to register, please visit our website at www.tdcaa.com/ node/6795.

As always, please let me know your ideas, thoughts, and comments for future issues.