Social media will be the main conduit for reminding the public National Crime Victims’ Rights Week started on Monday and promoters are hoping their message will be heard.
Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy said the criminal justice system can appear to be focused on defendants and the defendant’s rights, but she said crime victims “deserve a voice in the system.”
“It’s important to have a week that’s devoted to recognizing what victims go through and acknowledging that crimes, all sorts of crimes, can have a very serious impact on people,” she said.
Rutland County has resources like the Child First Advocacy Center, NewStory Center, BROC — Community Action in Southwestern Vermont and Disability Rights Vermont, but Kennedy said victims can also find support through staff members at her office.
“Living through a prosecution can be very time-consuming. It can be very confusing. My office has victim advocates assigned to help explain the process a little better. I think my deputies are willing to sit down with victims frequently to answer questions,” she said.
Kennedy also mentioned state agencies like the police, the Department for Children and Families and Department of Corrections.
During previous Crime Victims’ Rights weeks, events had been organized allowing the community to meet providers who work with victims. The goal was to give the providers a chance to share what they offer and for the public to meet the providers in a less intimidating setting than a courthouse or a police station.
“Obviously, it would be much better if we had that opportunity where we could have anybody who either wants to talk about things or just wants to get more information to be able to talk to people directly. Unfortunately, we can’t do that right now,’ said Wendy Loomis, executive director of the Rutland County Child First Advocacy Center, or CFAC,
Much of the information about resources will be posted on the CFAC Facebook page. Loomis said CFAC officials will also go through local media to get the word out.
A release from the U.S. Attorney for Vermont’s office called attention to the role placed by victim’s rights advocates. One goal of the week is to show appreciation for their role.
Acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan A. Ophardt said on Monday, studies show the trauma suffered by crime victims has “ramifications throughout the community.”
“It can lead to substance abuse disorder. It can lead to perpetual problems with families and other issues that continue to impact the community. So by getting victims well-supported, post-traumatic experience after they’ve been the victim of a crime, we hope to support them in their recovery and break the cycle that frequently occurs,” he said.
Ophardt noted that prosecutors frequently saw that some victims found it challenging to come forward because the victim is dependent, perhaps financially or emotionally, on an abuser.
Loomis said one goal of the week was to spread awareness for precisely that reason. She said CFAC worked with some victims, but knew there were others who had not yet come forward who might want to know what ways they could be help if they do.
Kennedy added she met with people at CFAC, before they reported to law-enforcement officers, and explained the process to let them know that the criminal justice system will be there when the person is ready to come forward.
She said she knows some are conflicted about disclosing an incident.
“There isn’t one answer for every single case. Some people are thinking, ‘I don’t want to report because I don’t want this person to go to jail’ or ‘I’m afraid to go to trial.’ I think it’s important for them to realize that there are multiple ways that a case can be handled,” she said.
Loomis said the week for CFAC was a chance to help people know what options are available if they or someone they love is the victim of a crime.
She said this year there was a special urgency because the number of children reporting they have been victimized is down, which Loomis said she believes is because they don’t have the same face-to-face access to mandated reporters in the schools.
“(We are) having to train teachers and educators to actually see child abuse via a video screen,” she said.