|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - April 2009
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Victim services help break the chain of family violence
Polk County Enterprise - April 2009
Last year in Polk County, a man entered his home and ordered his wife of 15 years to write a hot check to buy him meth. She told him she would, gathered her three children and left. Her husband settled back to wait for her return. She did write the check, but was too scared to return home until the next morning. Her plan was to tell her husband she wanted a divorce. She walked inside the front door where he began hitting her in the face with his closed fi sts, he pulled her hair, then threw her to the ground where he continued to kick her while their children watched in horror. He then dragged her onto the porch where a neighbor saw what was happening and called police, according to Polk County Crime Victim Coordinator Sherry Sprayberry. All identifying information about this incident is kept confi dential to protect the victims When the police arrived, the man was arrested. Offi cers called an ambulance, but she refused treatment. She and her children were sent to the courthouse to seek a protective order. Once the application process was complete and the temporary order in place, she was advised that she was eligible for Crime Victims Compensation. She also learned she could get medical care and counseling through the crime victims program. She was enrolled into the Victim Information and Notifi cation Everyday (VINE) program, so she would know the instant her husband was released from jail. She was escorted to the hospital by an advocate to attend to her injuries. At the hospital, an advocate from SAAFE House was dispatched to assist her with clothing, food, transportation and shelter. She and her children, were on the road to a safer life. Through a collaboration of law enforcement, prosecution and advocacy, she has turned from victim to survivor. Twenty-fi ve years ago, most of the services that helped this victim were in short supply. Although many states had victims’ compensation, most programs were poorly funded. A few grassroots victims’ assistance organizations had formed throughout the nation, but relatively few victims had access to their services. Victims whose cases reached the criminal justice system found the courts bewildering and indifferent to their needs. No one helped them negotiate the court system, fi nd services or stay safe. Then, in 1984, in response to a report from President Ronald Reagan’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, Congress passed the landmark Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). VOCA established the Crime Victims Fund – supported by fi nes from offenders rather than taxpayers – to fund victim compensation and services throughout the nation and training for service providers. In the past 25 years, the Fund has grown from $68 million to more than $2 billion, disbursed in amounts determined by Congress every year. In 2006, VOCA grants helped fund more than 4,400 public and nonprofit agencies serving almost 4 million victims throughout the county. For our local domestic violence victim, VOCA opened the door to safety and hope. VOCA helped fund the advocate who counseled the woman mentioned above, and the victim compensation that paid for health care and counseling. VOCA helped fund the advocacy group with shelter and food. Other services, such as VOCA funded hotlines were available 24/7. Every year, for this victim and millions like her, VOCA offers the tools to build a better life. This year, National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 26 to May 2) celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Victims of Crime Act. During the last five years, Polk County has seen a marked increase in victim services. The Polk County Criminal District Attorney’s Office has a dedicated Victim Assistance Coordinator who works directly with victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, robbery, assaults and homicides. She assists with protective order applications, answers questions concerning the judicial process and court dates. She offers to accompany victims to court proceedings and acts as a liaison with all local law enforcement and advocacy groups. A Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) has been established to ensure victims of sexual assault are subjected to minimum exposure in a manner dedicated to their recovery. The SART Team is a collaborative effort of all local law enforcement, prosecution, family and protective services, advocacy groups and Memorial Medical Center of Livingston. SAAFE House has a team of advocates that respond to domestic violence and sexual assaults. They offer free counseling, transportation, a 24 hour hotline and shelter, as well as many other services. They discuss safety plans and assist families in the recovery process of rebuilding their lives with housing, jobs and education. Childrenz Haven will be a child advocacy group devoted to children who are victims of abuse and sexual assault. They will offer forensic interviewing, counseling and accompaniment. They will also be available for education and prevention training. Sherry Sprayberry can be contacted at the Polk County Courthouse Victim Services Office or by calling 936-327-6864.