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Assisting victims of crime on the scene and beyond

Oped by Commissioner Cook

  • 16 May 2019
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 3651

Both staff and volunteers are highly trained in crisis intervention to help survivors, witnesses and families who have been traumatized by a death, serious injury, violent crime or a natural disaster.

Usually two people are dispatched for every call. Upon arriving, they sometimes separate family members and move them to another area of the house to try to get their attention away from the crime or death and to help them calm down.

People are identified as victims by their level of involvement in the incident and by the officers who responded to the scene. For example, a child present during a family violence assault on a parent also can be considered a victim. Sometimes a witness to a crime can be deemed a victim by law enforcement.

To contact the unit, visit http://www.wilco.org/SO/VA or call 512-943-1374.

When it’s impossible to physically respond to a call, the unit’s caseworker, Julia Cooper, calls victims to inform them of their rights and offer information for additional services. They partner with organizations like Hope Alliance — which assists with family and sexual violence — and the Williamson County Children’s Advocacy Center — which assists with child and sexual abuse.

In 2017, the state Legislature passed the Crime Victim’s Rights Act, allowing crime victims to contact crime victim organizations to discuss their rights and request services.

Cooper relayed a call from a victim who was scared she was going to be attacked again by her husband. Cooper calmed her down by reminding her of the protective order against him, and that she can always call 9-1-1 and anyone in the unit.

“Just letting her know we are on her side made her more at ease,” Cooper said.

A victim has the right to be informed of the defendant’s right to bail and parole procedures, and to adequate protection by law enforcement from harm and threats of harm arising from prosecution efforts.

For a full list of crime victims’ rights, visit the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s website at tinyurl.com/yylwztdv.

Unit staff and volunteers also help people apply for the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program found on the Texas Attorney General’s website at tinyurl.com/y2gn6wp9.

Nestorick explains that victimization can be emotional, financial, psychological or physical. It’s cyclical and often passed down from one generation to another.

Children who suffer physical and sexual abuse can either repeat these crimes later in life, or be re-victimized, not realizing the lasting effect of their own victimization.

Cooper added, “We try to reach out to victims to break the cycle.”

And crimes like homicides impact a community; they make people feel afraid and upset so the work of the unit is critical to protecting public safety.

Pam Lowthorp, volunteer coordinator, wants to make sure that victims are taken care of as well as she would want someone to take care of one of her family members in a similar situation.

The unit’s staff and volunteers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In 2018, the unit contacted or helped 500 victims. Among those, roughly 54% were female, 46% were male, and 8.5% were under the age of 18.

Nestorick lists one of her biggest challenges as not being able to reach as many victims as they would prefer because of limited resources — small staff and limited funding, and a never-ending need for volunteers.

Those interested in volunteering can visit http://www.wilco.org/SO/VA or call 512-943-1374.

I commend and thank our three county offices for the excellent services and resources they provide crime victims.


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