Victim advocacy group embraces new volunteers

KINGMAN – Kathy Cancik and Betty Munyon were happy that they received the Advanced Advocate Credential issued by the National Organization for Victim Assistance, but what makes them happier is the growing number of volunteers for the Mohave County Victim/Witness Program.

This year, 15 to 20 local residents have registered to work as volunteers for the program. All of them will attend 40 hours of legal-knowledge training and then begin to work as victim advocates right away.

“This is unprecedented for this program. We are really happy people recognize the importance (of the program), and are ready to contribute their parts to make this community a better place,” said Cancik, assistant director of the program, who has worked with the program for 10 years.

She gave a lot of credit to Miner stories about the program. She said local residents called her immediately after the stories published. People told her that they would have been registered to join the program much earlier if they had known the program was there.

The Mohave County Victim/Witness Program was first launched in 1990. The purpose of the program is to assist victims of crime from the investigation phase through the final phase of prosecution, sentencing and beyond if needed.

Over the past 16 years, the program has developed various services that include but are not limited to crisis intervention, court advocacy, victim’s rights notification, domestic violence advocacy and crime victim compensation.

As a volunteer, besides regular appearances in court and consultations with victims, one has to prepare to be at accident scenes, said Munyon, who has worked in the program for seven years. When accidents or emergencies occur and victims need help, KPD officers call Munyon, who then contacts volunteers to see who is available. Advocates usually arrive at the scene soon after officers arrive, and stay as long as victims need them.

“It’s so beneficial for us to be able to go to the scene first, because we then get an idea of what is going on and what those victims are going to be facing. Because law enforcement officers are usually the ones that give them the bad news, we are the ones there who bring them relief,” Munyon said.

In some cases, volunteers also work as communication liasons between police and residents.

“This is a small town. When something happens, news travels fast. If someone wants to know what was happening, and officers were busy dealing with traffic, we can also help explain what happened to inquirers,” Munyon said.

Though there is rarely any danger for victim advocates, from time to time they still have to take some risks to get their jobs done. When a man beat his wife and escaped before officers arrived, Cancik and Munyon brought the victim to a local motel and accompanied her throughout the night, fearing he could find his wife at the motel.

“When people trust you and count on you to help them get through the dark day, it’s great sense of satisfaction. Nothing can really replace (the feeling),” Munyon said.

The lack of financial compensation does not mean volunteers’ work will go unnoticed. NOVA will award experienced volunteers with qualification certificates. Four kinds of certificates ranging from basic to advanced will be awarded to volunteers according to their work and length of service.

Cancik and Munyon were awarded the highest level of certificates – Advanced Advocate Credential – this month. From now on, they can use CA, which represents Credentialed Advocate, after their names. Their service will be recognized everywhere in the country.

“This is not just awards for us. It’s more like an award for the program,” Cancik said.