Week set aside to celebrate victims' rights

SUZANNE ADAMS/ Miner<br><br><br/>The Mohave County Attorney’s Office Victim/Witness Program offers a helping hand to victims through a number of programs. Pictured standing from left to right are Victim’s Advocate Coordinator Betty Munyon, Eileen Matta, Restitution Advocate Brenda Truesdell, Julie Emard, Claims Investigator Judith Johnsen, Domestic Violence Councilor Karen Gracely and Domestic Violence Coordinator Pat Pirkle. Seated in front from the left are Director Rhonda Chastain and Assistant Director Kathy Cancik.

SUZANNE ADAMS/ Miner<br><br><br/>The Mohave County Attorney’s Office Victim/Witness Program offers a helping hand to victims through a number of programs. Pictured standing from left to right are Victim’s Advocate Coordinator Betty Munyon, Eileen Matta, Restitution Advocate Brenda Truesdell, Julie Emard, Claims Investigator Judith Johnsen, Domestic Violence Councilor Karen Gracely and Domestic Violence Coordinator Pat Pirkle. Seated in front from the left are Director Rhonda Chastain and Assistant Director Kathy Cancik.

Once the glitz and media buzz of a big criminal trial is over, the victims of the crime are often left trying to pick up the pieces of their lives.

There is at least one place in Mohave County that may be able to get some compensation for victims, the Mohave County Attorney's Victim/Witness Program.

The program will be celebrating Victims' Rights Week today through Saturday.

The program has half a dozen different offices that can help victims and witnesses seek compensation for medical costs and lost wages, seek restitution for property damages, seek help in domestic violence or abuse situations and help explain the criminal justice system.

Victims can file a claim for financial assistance for medical bills, mental health counseling, funeral expenses and loss of wages through the Victim Compensation Program, said Kathy Cancik, assistant director and Crime Victim Compensation manager. Victims can receive up to $20,000 in compensation, but there are some restrictions and not all victims will reach the limit.

All claims are checked and investigated by Judith Johnsen, the office's claims investigator. She checks receipts and statements from doctors' offices, insurance companies and others to make sure that money is being used wisely and is going to the right person.

Victims seeking restitution through the courts for damage done to property can get help from Restitution Advocate Brenda Truesdell. She can help victims fill out restitution claim forms and make sure that they have all the receipts necessary for their claim.

"It can take a long time to get any restitution back," she said. Sometimes victims won't see any restitution until the person who committed the crime leaves prison.

In some cases, a victim might have to return to court in order to collect a restitution order. In these cases, a lien is placed against the criminal's property.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone, anywhere. It's not just between a husband and wife or a parent and child, said Pat Pirkle, domestic violence coordinator. It can occur between any two people who have a relationship, such as a woman and her in-laws or a child and his grandparents or aunt.

Pirkle and Karen Gracely, a domestic violence counselor, can help domestic violence victims find their way through the maze of the justice system. The office often gets calls from police officers and deputies about domestic violence victims.

Pirkle and Gracely respond to numerous crisis calls, help victims navigate through the criminal justice system, help victims fill out forms for orders of protection and occasionally speak on the victim's behalf in court.

Betty Munyon and the many volunteers of the Victim Advocates Program also help victims.

Many of the volunteers are called out to crime scenes by law enforcement in order to help calm victims. Volunteers also help keep victims updated on what's happening in court with their case and provide a much-needed ear to listen to their concerns.

Each volunteer goes through 40 hours of intensive training and then a six-month probation period with a senior advocate before going out to handle cases on their own.

Current Director Rhonda Chastain started the Victim/Witness Program in 1990 with two volunteers. She currently has a staff of 10.

The office has offered services to more than 100,000 residents and helped more than 11,000 victims.

"We can always use more volunteers," she said, "but you have to love the job."

Many volunteers get burnt out after a few months due to the emotional stress from trying to help victims.

"We do whatever we can to get help for these victims," she said.

For more information on the program or to volunteer, call 718-4967 or stop by the office located on 325 Pine St.