ELKINS - No one expects to be the victim of a crime. But crime is something that happens when it is least expected and many victims of crime, particularly victims of felonies, do not know where to turn or what to do.
Fortunately, there are services available to victims of felonies designed to keep them informed of the proceedings of their case, and to support them in their time of need.
Three counties in the area have victim advocates - Randolph, Upshur and Lewis -while Women's Aid in Crisis service is offered in Randolph, Tucker and Upshur counties, according to information provided by Larry Messina, the communication director for Military and Public Safety in Charleston,
Four counties in the area are served by a Family Crisis Center - Hardy, Grant, Pendleton and Hampshire, Messina said.
Agencies like Women's Aid in Crisis, the Family Crisis Center and the Family Refuge Center are community based and are used more as a resource for emotional support, but not as a source of legal action.
Jayne Rawls, the victim services coordinator for the Randolph County Prosecutor's Office, said the services are something that people don't realize they need until they become victims themselves.
"A lot of people come to me without any knowledge of what to do next, or where to start in the process," said Rawls. "I try to provide them with comfort and direction, while keeping them informed of the judicial process and the progression of their case. I support the victims any way I can."
Rawls and Laura Queen, the victim services coordinator for Upshur County, said positions like theirs are partially funded by the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) federal grant.
Rawls and Queen help victims fill out applications for the West Virginia Crime Victim's Compensation Fund, which provides monetary support for medical expenses and travel and funeral costs.
"When people come to me they are often under stress, feeling emotional or have been injured in some way," Queen said. "I think seeing someone representing their voice and their right to be notified brings them some comfort from their situation. I think them knowing that they are being recognized, that someone is taking the time to support them - that's what they want."
Not all counties have victim's advocates available to the public.
Rawls said that just because someone does not have a victim advocate representing them in their county, it does not mean that they don't have protection of their rights.
"Victims can pursue this action themselves," she said. "They just have to remain informed and persistent. We are here to provide these services for them, to work with them, but it's something that any victim is entitled to do for themselves."
With each of their offices receiving 20 to 25 calls per day, and handling more than 200 cases per year, Rawls and Queen said there is definitely a need for these type of services in the area.
"It's sometimes daunting but overall it's a rewarding job," Rawls said. "You can hear it in their voices and see it in their eyes that you are making a difference and helping them."
Much of what victim advocates do is supported by the Victim Protection Act of 1984 which protects victims from a non-responsive criminal justice system, exploitation of the system to identify and punish offenders and the risk of a victim being threatened or intimidated.
The legislation also states "that while the defendant is provided with counsel who can explain both the criminal justice process and the rights of the defendant, the victim or witness has no counterpart and is usually not even notified when the defendant is released on bail, the case is dismissed, a plea to a lesser charge is accepted or a court date is changed."
The legislation was written "to enhance and protect the necessary role of crime victims and witnesses in the criminal justice process and to ensure that the state and local governments do all that is possible within the limits of available resources to assist victims and witnesses of crime without infringing on the constitutional rights of the defendant."
Contact Chad Clem by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.