|Victims advocates provide support and encouragement|
|Written by Vickie Sandlin, Julesburg Advocate|
In November 1992, the voters of Colorado passed a resolution to include victim rights as a part of the state’s constitution. Advocates for victims insure that they are treated with fairness, dignity and respect.
Once a crime is reported, a victim becomes an involuntary participant in the criminal justice system, an experience that can often prove to be bewildering. This is where a victims advocate may step in.
Their duties include explaining, supporting, encouraging and consolidating resources to minimize psychological, physical, financial and emotional effects on the crime victim. However, not all victims are victims of crime but may be affected by trauma, such as the unattended death of a loved one.
Darlene Johnson of Holyoke is the advocate coordinator for Phillips and Sedgwick counties. Her assistant is Dottie Woltemath of Julesburg. Their volunteer staff includes Sarah St. Martin of Holyoke and Karen Ness and Kim Hensley, both of Julesburg.
Sarah St. Martin, Darlene Johnson, Dottie Woltemath, Karen Ness and Kim Hensley serve Phillips and
They work closely with law enforcement agencies, the district attorney’s office, the courts and resource agencies under the umbrella of the 13th Judicial District.
These women became victims advocates for a variety of reasons. For Johnson, it was a chance to return to her hometown and help others. Woltemath, who already had an interest in law enforcement, became an advocate after witnessing friends being re-victimized through the court proceedings.
For Hensley, it was different; she became involved as an advocate after she became an EMT and experienced her first traffic death. It was then that she watched Woltemath work and interact with the victim’s family. Hensley recognized she too had a calling to be an advocate.
“Victims should have a voice too,” said Ness, who is an advocate for personal reasons. “There is too much emphasis put on the perpetrator.”
As for St. Martin, she is the younger sister of Shawna Bergstrom, former Phillips County advocate and coordinator. The sisters suffered an unconscionable family tragedy. In 1995, their brother, Chad Harvey, was murdered while attending a party. St. Martin recalls sitting in a corner and crying inconsolably with no one to talk to. There was no advocate.
A victims advocate is available 24/7 and is dispatched through their law enforcement agency, whether a police department or sheriff’s office.
Oftentimes they are present to calm a scene, to console a victim and allow law enforcement to gather statements and evidence.
“Most crime victims don’t understand the legal process or the time it takes to prepare a case against the perpetrator,” said Johnson. “An advocate can walk with the victim through each stage of the case.”
Victims have the right to be assured in any criminal proceeding that the court, the prosecutor and other law enforcement officials will take appropriate action to achieve a swift and fair resolution of their case.
Unfortunately, there are not enough volunteers to cover the two-county area. Anyone interested in becoming an advocate or who would like more information should contact Johnson at the Phillips County Sheriff’s Office at 854-3644 or Woltemath at the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office at 970-474-3355.