The Embassy Suites in San Marcos was the venue for a dynamic seminar for key personnel (prosecutor office staff) and victim assistance coordinators (VACs) from all across Texas. Over 200 members gathered to hear speakers on topics from a difficult sexual assault case at Baylor University, victims’ nonlinear recollection of trauma, social media, and understanding the parole process. Many thanks to all of our very informative speakers! We appreciate your time and valuable assistance.
This seminar is held annually and provides key personnel and victim assistance coordinators from prosecutor’s offices across Texas a chance to network and get new ideas from others who do similar jobs in other counties. Mark your calendar for next year’s seminar at the Westin Oaks Galleria in Houston November 8–10.
Suzanne McDaniel Award
Tracy Viladevall, a VAC who has worked for the McLennan County Criminal District Attorney’s Office for over 15 years, was honored with TDCAA’s Suzanne McDaniel Award for her work on behalf of crime victims. The award is given each year to someone employed by a prosecutor’s office and whose job duties involve working directly with victims. The person must also demonstrate impeccable service to TDCAA, victim services, and prosecution.
Tracy exemplifies the qualities that were so evident in Suzanne McDaniel herself: advocacy, empathy, and a constant recognition of the rights of crime victims. Congratulations!
Testing defendants and victims for STDs
At the KP-VAC Seminar, W. Clay Abbott, TDCAA’s DWI Resource Prosecutor, and I presented a workshop on testing defendants and victims in sexual assault cases for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Although we realize that it might not come up very often for some prosecutor’s offices, I have found that when you need information about STD testing of offenders and victims, you need it, like, yesterday. We decided it was worth covering as a workshop at the seminar.
Years ago when I was a VAC in a prosecutor’s office, I received a call from the mother of a child victim of sexual assault. The mother was requesting that the perpetrator—a member of the family—be tested for HIV/AIDS and STDs. She also wanted information about having her daughter tested. She had read about her daughter’s right to testing in the Crime Victims’ Rights handout I had mailed to her in the victim packet. I felt so sorry for this woman and her child, and of course I wanted to do all I could to help her. But the problem was, we had never had such a request in our office, and we had to start from scratch to find out how to handle it.
My hope is that this information will be of future reference to you so you won’t have to scramble for information like I did.
Our workshop covered two areas of STD testing, testing the victim and the testing process for the defendant.
• A victim may request a free, anonymous HIV test and/or confidential STD test at a designated site and keep the test results confidential.
• Victims have a right to privacy.
• In Texas, specific sites are funded by the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to provide free, anonymous testing and confidential counseling.
For a list of anonymous testing sites, visit www.dshs.texas.gov/hivstd/testing.
An order can be presented to the district judge for the offender to be tested in jail or prison or while out on bond. Upon indictment, according to Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 21.31, in Sexual Assault, Aggravated Sexual Assault, Indecency with a Child, and Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child cases, upon the court’s own motion or on request of the victim of the alleged offense, the offender must undergo testing for HIV and other STDs. The defendant must pay the costs of the testing, and test results are released to both the defendant and the victim. The prosecutor cannot use the test results in any criminal proceeding.
A handout that Clay prepared is available below as a PDF. It includes all of the code sections that address testing; the Centers for Disease Control report on Sexual Assault & Abuse and STDs; and a sample Bexar County order to request testing of the defendant. Please email me at [email protected] if you would like additional information.
At this year’s KP-VAC Seminar, two women were honored with a Professional Victim Assistance Coordinator (PVAC) certificate. This designation as a PVAC recognizes professionalism in prosecutor-based victim assistance and acknowledges a minimum standard of training in the field. Applicants must provide victim assistance through a prosecutor’s office and be or become a member of TDCAA.
This year, Robin Sherwood, VAC in the Van Zandt County Criminal District Attorney’s Office (pictured below on the left), and Wanda Ivicic, VAC in the Williamson County Attorney’s Office (pictured below on the right), were given PVACs. Congratulations, ladies!
For next year, the application deadline is coming up quickly. Applicants must have either three years’ experience providing direct victim services for a prosecutor’s office or five years’ experience in the victim services field, one year of which has to be providing prosecutor-based victim assistance.
Training recognized for CLE, TCOLE, social work, and/or license professional counselor educational credits are accepted under this program. Training must include at least one workshop on the following topics:
• prosecutor victim assistance coordinator duties under Chapter 56 of the Code of Criminal Procedure;
• the rules and application process for Crime Victims’ Compensation;
• the impact of crime on victims and survivors; and
• crisis intervention and support counseling.
Applicants need to show that they have already received 45 total hours of training in victim services (which is equivalent to the number of hours in the National Victim Assistance Academy program created by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime). Training documentation may no longer be readily available for coordinators with extensive experience, especially in the case of basic training on Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 56. An applicant who has 10 years’ experience in direct victim services (five of which must be in a prosecutor’s office) may sign an affidavit stating that the training requirement has been met in lieu of providing copies of training receipts.
In addition, five professional references are required from individuals not related to the applicant. One of the letters must be from the elected prosecutor in the jurisdiction where the applicant has been employed, and at least one of the letters must be from a local victim services agency in the community who has worked with the applicant for one year or longer. The remaining three letters can be from other victim services agencies, victims, law enforcement representatives, assistant prosecutors, or other criminal justice professionals who have knowledge of the applicant’s skills and abilities in the field of victim services.
The deadline for PVAC applications is January 31, 2017. More detailed requirements and the Professional Victim Assistance Coordinator (PVAC) application may be found below as a PDF.
Victim Services Board for 2017
TDCAA’s Victim Services Board elections were held at the KP-VAC Seminar in early November. The Victim Services Board members represent a wealth of expertise in the field of victim services. The board’s purpose is to prepare and develop operational procedures, standards, training, and educational programs; coordinate victim assistance programs; and address all such other appropriate matters dealing with victim assistance programs and services in prosecutor’s offices across Texas. The board members serve as mentors and points of contact for their regions. Congratulations and welcome to the following new board members:
Chair: Adina Morris in the Palo Pinto County DA’s Office
Region 1: Laney Dickey in the Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
Region 2: Freda White in the Ector County Attorney’s Office
Region 3: Tamra Frey in the 452nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office
Region 4: Paula Thompson in the Wilson County Attorney’s Office
Region 6 & Secretary: Amy Varnell in the Cass County District Attorney’s Office
Region 7: Laurie Gillispie in the Erath County District Attorney’s Office
Region 8 & Vice Chair: Wanda Ivicic in the Williamson County Attorney’s Office
Training Committee Liaison: Cyndi Jahn in the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
Chair of the Board (immediate past president): Serena Hooper Payne in the Andrews County & District Attorney’s Office
A very special thank you to our outgoing board members, Dalia Arteaga and Angel Morland. Your willingness, dedication, and loyalty to serve on our Victim Services Board is so very appreciated.
Thanks to those 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 whom they work. Please reach out to me at [email protected], and I will develop either group or individualized victim services training for your office.