Local Opinion: Serving crime victims in the era of COVID-19
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Local Opinion: Serving crime victims in the era of COVID-19

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

This is Victims’ Rights Week, a time to reflect on how we support victims of crime in our community.

Pima County has long been a national leader in victim services. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted how County Attorney’s Office advocates provide services to crime victims. Almost all contact must now be by phone or videoconference. As Joni Mitchell sings in Big Yellow Taxi, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

For 15 years, I have worked alongside our victim advocates handling the very worst cases, crimes like murder, sexual assault, and child abuse. I have watched advocates deliver empathy and understanding to families during the most horrific circumstances they will ever encounter.

Our cases are not statistics. They are real people like you and me. One example is the Marana father fatally shot by an enraged driver while his children watched in terror from the family minivan. Our victim advocates provided much-needed support as this family navigated the criminal justice system.

Our advocates met often with this family to explain the uncomfortable things a victim family must endure. For example, during trial we presented the evidence of the killing. Advocates braced family members for photographs and questioning about their loved one’s last moments.

How do you support a grieving widow while she watches as her 15-year-old son is cross-examined about witnessing his father’s killing? Our advocates spent months in meetings building the necessary rapport to accompany this family through the trial. They explained the next steps, gave tissues when tears flowed, and listened with empathy when family members expressed grief, anger or frustration.

These same advocates support prosecutors as well, by allowing us to focus on evidence, objections and arguments. During this trial, I received word that a good friend and nationally renowned forensic psychiatrist had been murdered, gunned down outside his Scottsdale office.

During a homicide trial, there was not time to process my own feelings of loss, grief and anger. In our meetings with family members, I saw our advocates in a new light. A personal loss helped me comprehend the value of the empathic listening, patience, and understanding our trained advocates provide.

When the jury returned a guilty verdict, our advocates were there. The family expressed wide-ranging emotions. As always, our advocates helped us balance the need for listening with the need to address the next hearing, the sentencing where each family member could speak to the judge about the nature of their loss.

A sentencing in a case like this is extraordinarily difficult to watch. Two teenage sons told the judge what their father meant to them. Their widowed mother described the impact her husband’s loss would have on the lives of her children.

Sitting at counsel table, one struggles simply to maintain composure. Sadly, I have sat through dozens of these hearings. In my experience, the positive impact of trained victim advocates is measurable. Victims who work with our advocates are better able to testify at trial, talk to the judge at sentencing and understand the limitations of our criminal justice system. After all, we cannot provide the one thing they seek: to have their loved one back.

As we spend time in isolation during this pandemic crisis, take a moment to reflect on the trauma suffered by crime victims, and the even greater isolation they feel in the absence of in-person victim advocacy and support.

After we get through this health crisis together, let’s reaffirm our commitment to victim services in Pima County.

As a Democratic candidate for Pima County Attorney, Jonathan Mosher is a tested prosecutor and committed reformer. He has held the positions of Chief Criminal Deputy, Chief Trial Counsel and Felony Training Supervisor.

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