Whether it’s domestic violence, sexual assault or identity theft, victims of crime often feel vulnerable, scared and unsure of what’s ahead. Fortunately, a program through the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is available to help.
“The amazing team in our Victims of Crime Assistance program makes certain victims are treated with dignity and respect, and that they understand the law and their case,” explains Tim Lohmar, St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney. “They make this happen by serving as the liaison between law enforcement and the courts, and by helping individuals navigate the criminal justice system.”
The Victims of Crime Assistance Program started in 1991 to ensure the rights of crime victims and provide advocacy and other essential services. Four advocates and two interns assist individuals of all ages. The program, funded in part by a grant from the Missouri Department of Public Safety, served 4,521 residents from October 2019 through September 2020.
“By law, victims of crime are guaranteed certain rights, including participation in their case,” says Vickie Roberts, Coordinator of the program. “And we are there for them every step of the way.”
Each advocate, most of whom have masters degrees in social work and human services, has a specialized caseload. Advocates typically have their first contact with victims when a police report comes into the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and a decision is made to file charges. At the beginning of their case, advocates provide victims detailed information about the charges filed, their rights, and restitution information if applicable. They communicate with victims regularly throughout their case and are available to go to court with them if requested. Sully, a golden retriever trained to assist victims in court, especially child victims of abuse, is available as well. Advocates can help individuals obtain protective orders and access resources for crisis support counseling and transportation, if needed.
“We see and hear a lot of tough cases, and we’re often asked by others how can we do this job,” Vickie explains. “I think of everyone we’ve served and helped and think: How can we not do it?”
Victims of domestic violence and identity theft/fraud/financial crime make up the largest parts of the advocates’ caseloads. Currently, social media and the COVID-19 pandemic are creating the greatest challenges for Vickie and her team.
“With internet access and social media, it has become so much easier to harass and victimize individuals, and harder for law enforcement to track and document,” Vickie explains. “With COVID-19 forcing more people to stay at home, domestic violence cases are up, and now that school is back in session, we’re hearing more from mandated reporters about suspected child abuse cases.”
While it is the hardest part of her job, Vickie says the most rewarding part is helping children. “Seeing them stand up in court, make their own victim impact statement, and get their voice back is a phenomenal thing to see,” she says.
Visit the Prosecuting Attorney’s website for more information about the Victims of Crime Assistance Program and other resources.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Watch this video from the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for information and resources for assistance.