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Offering help & support to crime victims

By Ed DuBois

            Thirty years ago, efforts were made to protect the rights of crime victims and provide them with support and someone who can answer their questions about the criminal justice system.

            Today, counties employ victim/witness advocates who make themselves available to work with victims of crime.

            Wright County has gone a step further.  Two victim-witness assistance professionals, one in the County Attorney's Office and one in the Sheriff's Office, make Wright County's Victim-Witness Assistance Program somewhat unique among all of the counties.

            Jenny Paripovich is the victim-witness assistance coordinator in the County Attorney's Office, and Stacy Doyle is the victim-witness advocate in the Sheriff's Office.  They have both been on the job here a little more than a decade, answering questions, explaining the court process, keeping families informed about the status of their cases, and being there to provide support.


Before charges are filed

            Paripovich and Doyle said former Sheriff Gary Miller saw a need for crime victims in situations not involving the County Attorney's Office.  Sometimes charges are not filed by the County Attorney's Office, and sometimes a fair amount of time passes before charges are filed.  Miller began efforts to create a victim-witness advocate position and hire someone who could assist victims before the County Attorney's Office gets involved.  Doyle was the person hired for the position.

            Both Doyle and Paripovich provide services for which prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement officers have little time and not much specific training.

            "The work we do allows the attorneys and the officers to focus on their cases," Paripovich explained.

            Working together, Paripovich and Doyle have a goal to set up a seamless transition.  Doyle assists victims following an arrest or an incident, and then Paripovich takes over after charges are filed.


Support each other

            Besides helping victims, they help each other, as well.

            "We bounce things off each other," said Doyle.

            "Our job would be more difficult if we did not have each other," Paripovich added.

            They both feel they have support from their respective departments, and they said both County Attorney Tom Kelly and Sheriff Joe Hagerty have a strong belief in victims' rights.


Crime Victims' Rights Week

            National Crime Victims' Rights Week is being observed from April 6-12.  The theme this year is, "30 Years Restoring the Balance of Justice."  Three decades of progress on behalf of millions of victims since the passage of the Victims of Crime Act is being celebrated.

            Just 30 years ago, crime victims had no rights and no assistance.  The criminal justice system often seemed indifferent to their needs, and victims were often excluded from courtrooms and denied the chance to speak at sentencing, according the County Attorney's Office.  They did not have access to victim compensation or services to help rebuild their lives.  There were few avenues to deal with their emotional and physical wounds.  Victims were on their own to recover their health, security and dignity.

            Today, every state has enacted victims' rights laws, and they all have compensation programs.  More than 10,000 victim service agencies now help people throughout the country.


Information table

            In honor of Crime Victims' Rights Week, an information table has been set in the commons area of the Wright County Government Center.  The information highlights resources available to crime victims in Wright County.

            Paripovich and Doyle sometimes refer crime victims to specific programs, such as Rivers of Hope (which helps victims of domestic violence) and the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center.  They said a fair amount of collaborating with other programs takes place.


'What happens next?'

            They often hear from crime victims by phone and email.  Walk-in contacts also take place regularly.  Doyle said she sees walk-ins every week.  Because Paripovich is located in the same facility (Wright County Government Center) as the courts, she sees walk-in visitors daily.  (Doyle's office is in the Law Enforcement Center located just north of Buffalo.)

            A common question for Paripovich is, "What happens next?"  Most crime victims are not familiar with how the court system works.  Trying to figure it out can be confusing and frustrating.

            On top of that, victims are often already traumatized and dealing with pain and feelings of anger.  They often feel violated by an intrusion into their lives.

            The crimes involved with the Victim-Witness Assistance Program cover a wide range of offenses, everything from criminal damage to property and theft to criminal vehicular operation, domestic violence, sexual assault, and even homicide.


Inspired by victims

            Besides answering questions, the victim-witness service providers sometimes accompany victims to court.  Paripovich mentioned she sometimes helps with preparing victim impact statements.

            Paripovich and Doyle said they both have come away from the experience of working with victims feeling privileged.

            "Some families really impact us when we see their strength and how resilient they are at a very difficult time," Paripovich said.

            "We feel honored to work with them and to get to know them.  We learn a lot from them," Doyle commented.

            To see victims conquer their trauma, move forward and live for a better time is very fulfilling.

            Paripovich and Doyle were asked if their work gets them down at times.

            "We often talk about the effects on us," Paripovich said.

            "Some people are meant to do this," she added.

            Doyle commented that, although the work can be difficult emotionally at times, having the support of the County Attorney and Sheriff's Offices is a major positive factor.


Restoring the balance

            A Victim-Witness Assistance Program pamphlet distributed by the County Attorney's Office says, "If you or someone close to you is affected by crime, you may be shocked, angered and afraid."  But the Victim-Witness Assistance Program "is available to answer your questions and offer guidance through the maze of the criminal justice system."

            The numbers to call are 763-682-7340 (County Attorney's Office), 763-682-7349 (Paripovich), 763-682-1162 (Sheriff's Office), or 763-684-4537 (Doyle).

            Thirty years ago, victim-witness assistance hadn't been available.  But people like Paripovich and Doyle have been working on "restoring the balance of justice."


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