By CHENQI GUO
Capital News Service
LANSING — Wendy King, a retired teacher who volunteers on a victim advocate team in Berrien County, is used to emergency calls.
“We’ve been called out for three times to the scene to help victims. We are the first responders,” said King, who is living in Berrien County.
Twenty-five volunteers work with King, who’s the secretary of the group and a group leader on the victim advocate team in Berrien County. Their job is to visit victims’ families with police officers, tell people about the death of their loved ones, stay with them and comfort them.
“All of them have gone through a 20-hour training program so they are capable of dealing with different situations,” Sheriff Paul Bailey said.
“Some of them are social workers; some are retired teachers who want to work for their community. After the training they’re able to provide professional counseling services,” he said.
The program is intended to prevent victims from falling through a crack in the victim services system. That’s because prosecutors’ offices don’t get involved until someone is charged with a crime, leaving “crimeless” victims without adequate legal or mental services.
For example, King described a situation involving Berrien County volunteers. “Once a young man was killed in a car crash at 9 o’clock and we were at his home making the death notification at 10:10. The prosecutor’s office wasn’t even involved,” she said.
Roberta Haney-Jones, victim rights program director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan said “If there is no charge, the victims don’t have the right of notification.”
However, only half of the counties have a victim services program, according to Kam Bradman, Michigan Sheriffs’ Association’s victim services unit trainer. Similar programs run in Gogebic, Marquette and Delta counties.
However, injured crime victims may qualify for financial compensation from the state, even if there is no arrest.
Meanwhile, Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, is pushing a bill to authorize up to $3.5 million for a statewide trauma system and treatment services for rape and sexual assault victims.
The co-sponsors include Reps. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard; Dan Scripps, D-Leland; Andy Neumann, D-Alpena and Dudley Spade, D-Tipton. The bill is awaiting a vote in the House.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.