The Texas Prosecutor, July-August 2017, Volume 47, No. 4

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW) events across Texas

During the week of April 2­–8, 2017, communities across the United States observed National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW). This year’s theme—”Strength. Resilience. Justice.”—reflects a vision of the future where all victims are strengthened by the response they receive, organizations are resilient in the face of challenges, and communities are able to seek collective justice and healing.
    The Office for Victims of Crime offers a resource guide each year that includes everything needed to host an event in your community. The resource guide may be obtained at http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw/index.html, or materials may be requested by mail by signing up for the NCVRW mailing list at https://puborder.ncjrs.gov/Listservs/Subscribe_NCVRW.asp.
    Numerous communities across Texas observed National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW). TDCAA would like to share success stories submitted by a few of our members.

Colleen Jordan
Assistant Director of the ­Victim/Witness Division, ­Harris County District ­Attorney’s Office
This year the Victim/Witness Division of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office hosted our second annual painting event. We called the event Paint a New Path and invited victim service providers, crime victims, and their families to attend. Participants de-signed and painted on blank canvases an inspirational picture or message that will be displayed in our office. We provided lunch, and everyone enjoyed themselves in a relaxed, intimate setting. District Attorney Kim Ogg joined us and visited personally with everyone.

Jane Adams
Victim Assistance Coordinator, Lamar County and ­District Attorney’s Office
Agencies that advocate for victims gathered in historic downtown Paris at the Culbertson Fountain to show support for victims of crime. The Third Annual Walk of Hope included law enforcement, CASA for KIDS, Shelter Agencies for Families in East Texas, Inc. (SAFE-T), our office’s VAC, Junior CrimeStoppers, Boy Scouts, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Children’s Advocacy Center, the Department of Family and Protective Services, the Child Welfare Board, and members of the community. We gathered for a hot dog lunch; a program including guest speaker Tom Gresham, the legal program director from SAFE-T; and live music with Krissy Green. The event culminated with a peaceful, one-mile walk with over 200 people carrying signs in support of victims.

Claudia Duran
Project Administrator, El Paso County District ­Attorney’s Office
As National Crime Victims’ Rights Week began, the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office joined victim advocates, local law enforcement, families, and friends to pay tribute to crime victims and advocate for victims’ rights through “Strength. Resilience. Justice.” The annual memorial honored each victim who lost his or her life due to violent crime by ringing a bell after each name was read. To date, there are 1,596 names engraved on the Crime Victims’ Memorial Wall.
    Each year, the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office hosts this event to bring the community together, raise awareness, remember loved ones, and provide support and comfort for one another. The Memorial Reading Garden continues to be a place for families and friends to reflect and remember, and it is our hope that we no longer add names to the wall.

Cynthia L. Jahn, CLA, PVAC
Director of Victim Services, Bexar County District ­Attorney’s Office
The Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s Office was privileged to collaborate with 40 different agencies this year to plan and participate in National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. During the week, organizations that assist and serve crime victims in Bexar County joined together to honor victims of crime and promote greater public awareness about their rights and needs.
    We kicked the week off on Monday with a press conference announcing the start of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Agency members gathered in a united community to bring awareness about crime and its aftermath, to advocate for victims’ rights, and to educate the public concerning the services available to survivors of crime.
    Later that day, members of the coalition participated in a Call-In Victim Hotline sponsored by our local ABC affiliate, KSAT 12. The public was given an opportunity to call in for information concerning the criminal justice system and referrals for victim services. We were able to assist over 200 callers.
    On Tuesday, we all gathered in commissioners court to receive a proclamation dedicating this special week to victim’s rights and services. It was an honor for the agencies present to receive a heartfelt thank-you for a job well done by our county’s leadership.
    Thursday was a busy day for us as more than 40 agencies gathered for our annual Victims’ Tribute. This is a very special service dedicated to victims of crime and includes a memorial wreath-laying ceremony and the lighting of our victims’ flame. The event was held in front of the historic Bexar County Courthouse where we were heard from the Honorable Crystal Chandler, Judge of County Court-at-Law No. 13. She shared with us her knowledge and experience in dealing with domestic violence cases and her work in seeing that justice is served for the thousands of victims of these cases annually.
    As part of our Victims’ Tribute, 40 individual wreaths were presented in honor of victims and victim service providers as our San Antonio Police Department and Bexar County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guards stood at attention. A candle was lit by the family of a young homicide victim to honor him and all victims of crime in Bexar County. The release of 12 white doves was a beautiful moment. Individuals who represented an aspect of the criminal justice system released the doves: a victim; prosecution and law enforcement; social services; and the medical community. The event was concluded with a moment of silence, a special 21-bike salute from Bikers Against Child Abuse, and a peaceful adjournment as a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.” This is an extremely solemn but uplifting event.
    Other events throughout this special week and the month of April included special activities for children within our local shelters; the “Cardboard Kids” campaign where over 70,000 cardboard figures representing abused children were revealed to bring awareness to child abuse in our community; National Denim Day; and various other agency events highlighting specific crimes such as DWI, domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault.
    Although all this activity can be exhausting, I know it was worth all of the effort. Not only is it such a special time to honor victims, but the planning and events also really brings all the participating service providers together, allowing us to work as a cohesive unit. Is it hard work coordinating and planning NCVRW? It can be—but at the same time, we know that this week has truly made a positive impact on our community! So don’t sit by next year and watch National Crime Victims Rights Week pass you by—reach out and make a statement, honor victims, and say thank you to your community’s service providers! Don’t hesitate to contact me if I can ever be of assistance with ideas or planning tips for NCVRW.

Claudia Arnick
Victim’s Assistance ­Coordinator, Dallas County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
A grant given to Trauma Support Services of North Texas (a counseling center for local crime victims) allowed us to post a billboard to make the general public aware of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. We highlighted the stories of four crime victims, asking them to share a snippet of their story or journey from the crime and then emphasize how they were helped and how now they are overcomers. We asked them to tell us what got them to the point of having courage to talk about it. Dallas County Criminal District Attorney Faith Johnson attended and spoke words of encouragement to all who attended.
    Supporters and community resources were present too: the Crime Victims’ Council of Dallas County, The Family Place, police agencies, victims’ advocates, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Victims Services Division, our regional coordinator of the North Texas area from the Office of the Attorney General’s Crime Victims’ Compensation, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s North Texas Division, just to name a few.
 
Jack Roady
Criminal District Attorney in Galveston County
The Galveston County District Attorney’s Office took part in a number of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week events. This year’s theme—“Strength. Resilience. Justice.”—highlighted the need for victims of violent crime to have the necessary resources to allow them to heal and receive the fundamental justice they deserve. The events also recognized crime victims, survivors, and their family members in our community.
    This year’s NCVRW activities kicked off with a candlelight vigil and balloon release at the Texas City Police Department. Other events included a community ceremony observing the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of 12-year-old Laura Smither from Friendswood; a resource fair hosted by the League City Police Department featuring victim service providers from across the county to create awareness and distribute resource information; and a Crime Lab and Sexual Assault Examination Kit training session for law enforcement and criminal justice personnel. The week’s observances concluded with a Crime Victims’ 5K Walk along the Seawall in Galveston, in which survivors and family members, service providers, and District Attorney staff members and their families participated.  

Amy Varnell
Victims Assistance ­Coordinator, Cass County ­District Attorney’s Office
On March 28, the Cass County Commissioners’ Court proclaimed the week of April 2–8, 2017, as National Crime Victims’ Rights Week by signing a proclamation to reaffirm Cass County’s commitment to victims’ services and criminal justice responses. I set up an information booth in the foyer of the Cass County Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Center during the week to make the community aware of crime victims’ rights and the services available to them.

Victim Impact Statement revision
This summer I have been invited to serve on the TDCJ-Victim Services Division’s VIS Revision Committee. The committee will meet several times to review the format of the VIS form, VIS Quarterly Activity Report, “It’s Your Voice” brochure, and VIS Recommended Processing Procedure. If you have suggestions that could aid our committee in making these documents user-friendly for victims as well as criminal justice professionals, please share your suggestions with me by email at [email protected]

VictimConnect resource
The VictimConnect Resource Center is a referral helpline where crime victims can learn about their rights and options confidentially and compassionately. VictimConnect can speak with victims in over 200 languages, and services are provided anonymously. The National Center for Victims of Crime operates VictimConnect, a nationwide victim resource center, under a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime.
    Victims can reach VictimConnect by phone, text, or online chat, and VictimConnect can refer victims to over 15,000 local victim service providers. You can learn more at https://victimconnect.org or by phone at 855/4-VICTIM.

In-office visits
Thanks again to each of the offices who invited me to come out for victim services assistance. Traveling across Texas and visiting each of your offices is so exciting to me! It is such an honor to be able to help VACs and prosecutors recognize services and resources available for crime victims and to share ideas on how VACs may assist the prosecutors for which they work.
    Please reach out to me via email at [email protected] or phone at 512/474-2436, and I will develop either group or individualized victim services training for your office.