Fleeing from a domestic violence situation in New York, the woman arrived in Tucson with her three children and $50 in her pocket. Unable to reach her contact in the city and growing despondent, she walked into a police station and asked for help.
Police called volunteers with the Pima County Attorney’s Office Victims Services Division, who were able to get her to a shelter and put her in contact with a support system. She and her children were safe, and for a second all her troubles seemed to disappear. Her smile made the volunteers’ day.
The Victim Services Division is currently recruiting volunteers to serve as victim advocates. Crime is an unfortunate constant in our community, but you don’t have to be in law enforcement to help. This program lets us make a difference, and we should seize the opportunity.
The job is not for everyone, but volunteers speak of the sense of fulfillment they get when they give back and the importance of being there for people going through what may be the hardest times of their lives. The stories of success make the stories of heartbreak a little easier to handle. The satisfaction of helping a victim of assault get back on his or her feet balances the weight of delivering the news that someone’s son was killed by a drunken driver.
Advocates not only offer victims emotional support and information on available resources, but they also free up law-enforcement officers to do their job without worrying if the victims are taken care of.
The Victim Services Division of the Pima County Attorney’s Office, which was established in 1975 and has been expanded under current County Attorney Barbara LaWall, has served as a model for other similar programs nationally and internationally. Earlier this year, Victim Services Director Kent Burbank received the National Crime Victim Service Award presented by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The program has 24 staff victim advocates and more than 100 volunteers who not only support victims at individual crime scenes but during large-scale incidents as well. Staffers and volunteers have been called out to assist during the Oklahoma City bombing, the attacks of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Gabrielle Giffords shooting.
Advocates also help victims navigate the court system, informing them of their legal right to be present at all proceedings related to their case and the possibility of obtaining compensation. Over the last 15 years, Victim Services has obtained millions in compensation for victims, helping to cover medical treatments, lost wages and travel expenses.
Training to become a volunteer is free and open to all adults in the county. Potential volunteers must first attend an information session and go through a six-week course beginning Sept. 12. Those who want to continue on to be a victim advocate receive additional training. While helping victims of crime can sometimes be difficult, it is always worthwhile.