Help honor victims’ rights

Published 9:37 pm Monday, April 11, 2011

This week is Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office is commemorating the week with a self-defense demonstration and workshop tonight.

The event, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Triple T Sports Center, 619 E. Constance Road, is presented by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office and Suffolk Police Department. It will feature training in Combat Hapkido, along with general crime prevention information, refreshments and more.

The Suffolk victim/witness assistance office has been around for 25 years. The six or so staff members in the office provide valuable assistance to crime victims and witnesses and their families. They help them apply for state-funded restitution, help them understand the legal process, provide courtroom tours before trials and hold their hands during court proceedings.

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The services of the people who work in the victim/witness office are not even visible to most of the public. Voters don’t choose their names on a ballot every few years as they do with the Commonwealth’s Attorney. And unlike the prosecutors, the advocates usually don’t get their names in the paper during trial coverage.

Even to those who see them at work in the courtroom, it may look like they’re simply holding a rape victim’s hand during sentencing or passing out tissues to family members of murder victims during the trial.

However, there are so many more vital services that go on behind the scenes. The staff members in the office make sure victims are notified if the person who perpetrated the crime against them is transferred to another facility, paroled or escaped. They field phone calls on a variety of unimaginable topics. They make phone calls to victims as soon as possible after the crime has occurred to ensure the victims know that they, too, have rights. And they maintain relationships with the victims for years afterward to make sure the victims have access to follow-up services and other needs.

I would encourage anyone to go out to the free self-defense seminar tonight. It won’t prevent all crimes, but you never know when you’ll be able to use it to save your own life, or someone else’s.