Channeling the change

I have to respond to the article “Victims No More” in the April 16 Mountain Xpress. As one of several victim advocates who spent many, many hours working with Carol Yerkes, I do take great offense at her implication that no one in the criminal justice system cares about victims. I am a victim advocate for 25 counties in Western North Carolina and have over 900 victims on my caseload. At one time, there was an advocate for every one of these counties; due to state budget cuts, I now perform a job that was originally intended for over 20 people. Advocates in the criminal justice system are doing the very best they can with little to no budgets, tremendous caseloads and the emotional toll of hearing tragic stories every day.

I am also the co-chair of the Western North Carolina Crime Victims Coalition, which is a group of advocates from all over WNC who plan, raise the money and then hold a luncheon every year to honor victims of crimes and their families. Mrs. Yerkes attends our events every year. She is well aware that we focus on all of the participants in the system and what they bring to the table, as well as the victims themselves. She obviously has no idea [of] the immense amount of planning and expense that goes into this event, as she states that the week’s events “tend to focus on the contributions of police officers rather than the problems victims and their families still face.”

This year we gave awards in the following categories: Extraordinary Survivor (victim), Outstanding Medical Professional for Victim Issues, Outstanding Service Provider to Victims of Crime, Outstanding Legal Professional for Victim Issues, Outstanding Professional Working with Child Victims, Outstanding Investigator for Victim Issues and many others—all of which recognize and highlight the wonderful work so many are doing to assist victims in WNC. The purpose of our luncheon is to honor our victims, not force them to reveal themselves or discuss all that is wrong with the system. Mrs. Yerkes and I have had more than one discussion about the fact that many victims do not want to be “focused” on during Crime Victims Rights Week, but rather honored and given an opportunity to fellowship with others who carry their same burden of pain and loss.

There is a place to channel energies for change: It is through our lawmakers. And I have advised Mrs. Yerkes countless times to make contact with her senator as well as her representatives to let them know her concerns. It is the only way to foster change: Be the change you want to see!

In closing, I strongly disagree that victims are, as Mrs. Yerkes stated, “lost in the shuffle.” I am someone who finds victims every day, picks them up, dusts them off and fights like hell to help them!

— Melissa B. Reed
Victim Advocate, Fourth Division
N.C. Dept. of Corrections, Division of Community Corrections

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