By: Katie Sobiech
“Every 1.2 minutes, someone is robbed. Every 3.2 seconds, a property crime happens. Every 36.6 seconds, someone is assaulted. Every 5.7 minutes, someone is raped. Every 30.9 minutes, someone is murdered. Every 14.4 seconds, a burglary occurs.”
Lately we’ve been talking a lot about offenders, jail and prison, but behind every offender is a trail of victims that often have to deal with the effects of what they’ve gone through, for a lifetime.
It’s important to take a look at both sides of the spectrum when dealing with this matter. What happens to those who’ve been impacted by crime or violence? Who is there for them?
The Victim Assistance Program (VAP) has this covered. They work with police departments and are stationed all across Summit County.
Approximately 17,000 people were helped last year through this program.
This non-profit’s dedicated individuals show up at the crime scene, following through with them to the court room, to comfort those dealing with trauma.
“If there has been a violent crime or trauma, nine times out of ten, one of us advocates have been there to assist whoever’s in need,” Missy Klein, Community Education Liaison at VAP, said. “There is always someone on call.”
“We will stay with the affected individual and see that they get through the whole process,” she continued.
They go from the crime scene, to the hospital, to home visits – whatever is needed.
“Statistics show that the quicker the response (to a traumatic event), the better off people are. It lessens the trauma that much more. So it just helps those individuals that are affected get much further along in the game,” Klein explained.
VAP sets victims up with support services and does all they can to help in the recovery process.
What’s Going on in the City
“Crime doesn’t sleep. It’s going on all day, every day, all night, every night. There’s always something going on and you’re going to have that, unless you’re in a very rural area,” Klein said.
Klein educates different groups in the community, including civic and business, on VAP. She is also a first responder in crisis situations.
VAP has a very close relationship and unique collaboration with police, prosecutors, and the courts – working closest with the Akron Police Department.
They offer all of their services free of charge, 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day.
The idea for VAP was sketched out in 1972, on a napkin, when four individuals met at a restaurant to discuss their concern about the overwhelming amount of victims in the community.
“We saw more and more people being released from jail and prison and crime was going up,” Dr. Robert Denton, Executive Director of VAP, said.
They noticed that services to care for individuals who had suffered from the effects of violent crime were non-existent.
Having many years of experience in social welfare and services, Denton and the others drew up a plan for this organization that focuses solely on the victims of crime.
VAP is now housed in many different locations, including the Akron Police Department, Akron Children’s Hospital, and the Detective’s Bureau.
“That’s where it all started, when Dr. Denton pitched this idea to the chief of police back in ’72. They gave us a tiny room (at the Police Department) and we’re still there,” Klein said.
VAP will celebrate 40 years of service next year.
Not for the Faint of Heart
An advocate, or representative, from VAP is one of the first on the scene of most crimes/trauma in Summit County Ohio, along with police. This includes car accidents, suicides, or anything else of that nature.
VAP is the only agency in Summit County that goes out on suicides.
“We are a first responder. We do crisis intervention immediately. We assess their needs and determine a plan for them. We’ll get them over that initial hump, but then they have to endure the court system,” Klein explained
VAP advocates also assist in giving death notifications.
“It’s one thing to have a uniformed officer come up to your door at 3 o’ clock in the morning and say ‘I’m sorry your father was killed on his way home from work tonight’, then turn around and leave. We’re there to get a support system in place. To make sure that you’ve got everything you need and try to restore some type of normalcy to an otherwise abnormal situation,” Klein explained.
“Safety and security is our first task, then restoring normalcy,” Klein said.
Concern for Children
Children who witness violence are also big on VAP’s radar.
“Our concern is the crisis and trauma to the child… children who witness violence,” Klein said, “One scenario is that a few months ago there was a murder suicide. A husband killed his wife, then himself, and the children were there,” Klein explained, “So the advocates work specifically with kids and will even show up with a teddy bear to the children who’ve been affected and seen things.”
They have an advocate at the Akron Children’s Hospital Care Center, who deals specifically with child sexual assault.
“It’s beautiful teamwork over there. You’ve got our advocate, a victim advocate, CSB is usually involved, a caseworker, detective, nurse and doctor,” Klein said.
They also have an advocate at the juvenile court to assist teens affected by violence.
On Call 24/7
Not only does VAP receive notifications from the Akron Police Department, they also have their own crisis phone-line and walk-ins.
“Our phone rings all day long with people who have issues,” Shelly Koch, Director of Development, said.
“It’s 24/7,365. This program doesn’t sleep,” Klein added.
They have a full-time counselor in house and a trauma therapist.
The majority of their walk-ins are women suffering from domestic violence, who need a safe haven.
From Crime Scene to Court Room
“We go from the crime scene to the court system,” Koch said, “We go to court with them because it’s very emotional”
“Oftentimes, the victims will be re-victimized through the court system. It’s not intentional, but it happens. You know, court dockets are so full every day now-a-days it’s almost like a cattle call for the most part. So we need to be there to protect them,” Klein said, “Fighting tooth and nail to get the victims’ voice heard in the courtroom is huge.”
“Let’s say it’s a rape situation. If he or she is not physically and mentally able to face that person in court, our advocate will go in and read the statement,” Klein explained.
VAP speaks with prosecutors on behalf of the victims to get their stories heard.
“Say you’ve been up all night in a domestic violence situation, you’re rattled, you’ve not slept, you can’t think straight and you need order – we will assist you through that,” Klein said.
The victims often have to fill out paperwork and get it notarized at a bank.
“You can imagine what a hassle that is,” Koch said.
To free up victims from this, one of the VAP’s staff is a notary so it can be done right there at their building.
“Crime doesn’t discriminate. It crosses every line of income – it doesn’t matter. We work with a very diverse group of individuals,” Missy said.