Vancamp advocates for victims of violent crimes
It has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but for victims of violent crimes, the first step is often the hardest. Thankfully, they don’t have to make the journey alone.
Tyler County Victim’s Services Coordinator Toni Vancamp’s job is to ensure every victim receives the attention he or she deserves.
Domestic violence has persisted for centuries, but only recently have people begun to recognize it as a dangerous social problem and a crime.
Every 15 seconds in this country a woman is assaulted by her husband or intimate partner. About 95 percent of the victims of domestic violence are women; and an estimated three to four million American women are battered each year by their partners. But domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of gender. In fact, six percent of male homicide victims are killed by their wives or girlfriends.
Domestic violence also has a negative impact on communities. The quality of communities suffers when the health and well-being of individuals and families are destroyed but such violence. Violence can pass from generation to generation. Children witnessing the violence may learn that violence is a way to resolve problems and conflicts. Children of violent homes are physically abused or seriously neglected at a rate of 1500 percent higher than the national average.
Without intervention, domestic violence becomes more frequent and more severe over time. Vancamp stresses the importance of community awareness in regard to violence. “There’s no excuse for domestic violence,” she remarked. “It’s such a silent crime. But together, as a community, we can break the cycle of abuse.”
Vancamp added, “It’s important for the community to be informed and know the facts about domestic violence. It’s equally important for victims to know the dangers of battering and where to seek help in their community.”
In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Vancamp has planned a candle vigil to honor victims of domestic violence. The event will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at Veteran’s Park at the corner of Charles Street and Riverside Drive in Sistersville.
Sistersville resident Lisa Fox commented on the event. “What a powerful witness it will be to see the community speak up about this silent crime. I have read that one out of three women are victims of abuse, and so are their children. I know in my own life, and I have witnessed a close family member suffer from this violence.”
Many of the cases Vancamp handles involve domestic violence. Sadly, statistics prove many victims of domestic violence in Tyler County are not taking advantage of the services available to them through the Victim Services Division of the Prosecuting Attorney’s office. “Last year, a total of 66 domestic violence protection orders were filed in Magistrate Court. Out of those cases, I worked with four victims” Vancamp noted. “Assuming each protection order represented a different victim, this means 62 victims in Tyler County did not receive the attention or help they were entitled to through my office.”
Vancamp is hoping to change the statistics by increasing the community’s awareness of domestic violence and the services available in Tyler County. “Many victims are unaware this program exists,” stated Vancamp. “Victims have rights, and its my job to educate them about these rights, and help assure they are afforded their rights.”
She added, “Going through the criminal justice system can become very stressful. This program tries to alleviate that stress and make their experience as positive as possible.”
Her primary duty in victim’s services is to provide prosecution-based advocacy to victim’s of violent crimes where criminal charges are being pursued. This includes keeping victims informed about what is going on in court proceedings. Vancamp’s responsibilities also involve providing emotional support, crisis counseling, and personal advocacy. She also makes referrals to other social service agencies, aids clients with filing crime victims compensation fund claims, victim impact statements, and assists them with getting restitution ordered.
Most importantly, Vancamp acts as a liaison in communication between everyone involved in the case, including the prosecutor and the police. As the middleman in the communication web, she ensures everyone is aware of the other party’s thoughts and feelings regarding the case.
Often the victims choose not to press charges, but still need help. The Victim’s Advocate office provides services to victims of domestic violence when there are no criminal charges pursued. Vancamp can assist them in preparing a petition for a protective order through magistrate court and provide transportation to an emergency shelter, which is managed by the Family Crisis Intervention Center in Parkersburg.
The purpose of the Family Crisis Intervention Center is to advocate and support social change that will result in non-violent relationships, homes and communities. To achieve this much-needed social change, the center provides public education, direct services and programs related to the issue of domestic and sexual violence. Services are provided to victims in Tyler County, as well as victims in Calhoun, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Wirt and Wood counties.
Direct services provided to victims of domestic violence are shelter. 24-hour hotline, counseling, legal advocacy, parenting education, information and referral to appropriate community resources, a family visitation center, transitional housing and county outreach programs.
“Our local shelter plays a vital role in domestic situations,” Vancamp noted. “It allows us to remove a victim from a violent situation when they have nowhere else to turn. Once a victim is transported to the shelter, whether it be for one night, or one month, they are provided with all of the essentials. The shelter not only provides housing, food and the basic necessities, it also provides services to help a victim start a new life.”
But many victims choose to go back to their abusers even after criminal charges have been filed. For this reason, domestic violence has the highest rate of repeat victimization of any crime. “It is very hard for me when I find out that a victim has returned to his or her abuser,” Vancamp said. “There is always the fear that he or she will be re-victimized.”
Prosecuting Attorney D. Luke Furbee is not soft on domestic violence in Tyler County. “My office observes a ‘no-drop’ policy,” he explained. This means no charges can be drop against an abuser after criminal charges have been filed. Because of this policy, there have been occurrences of victims who have gone on to testify in court on behalf of their batterers.
In 2010-2011 the Victim Services Program served a total of 151 victims.This includes victims of violent, non-violent, domestically violent crimes. The program began in July of 2001 and over the last 10 years has served approximately 1,266 victims.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: When dealing with abuse, every second and minute matters. If you or someone you know if a victim of domestic violence, please urge him/her to seek help. Vancamp’s job is funded in part by a Victims Of Crime Act grant (VOCA). The Tyler County Commission provides an in-kind match, and pays for training. All services offered by the Victim’s Advocate office are free and confidential and are available without regard to age, sex, race, religion, national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or disability.