SAGUACHE COUNTY — Domestic Violence Awareness Month ended on Halloween, but victimization doesn’t take a holiday.
The Saguache County Sheriff’s Office Victim Response Unit and the Center Police Department are recruiting volunteers to help crime victims throughout the county navigate court proceedings and leverage their rights.
Assisting Ellen Cox, who is the county’s Advocate Coordinator from the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office, Beatrice Casados has been advocating for crime victims since she was victimized herself more than 20 years ago.
Casados said, “I cover the Center area, and I cover most of our Spanish-speaking victims. We do need help. We need some volunteers, big time.”
Casados said she has worked with the sheriff’s office for almost six years, in addition to her job with the Center Police Department. Recalling a few volunteers, she said, “We had one in Crestone, and we had one that was based in the Moffat area.” She also said she had occasional help from a woman in Center.
Casados said volunteers receive extensive training. When law enforcement handles a situation, they work with the Victim Response Unit immediately. Volunteers arrive at the scene and begin the long relationship with victims facing multiple challenges.
For training, Casados said, “they will go on calls with us. They would learn about victim’s rights, sexual assaults, and unattended grief.”
Colorado is one of 37 states with a Victim Rights Law. In addition to a promise to treat victims with fairness, respect, and dignity, Colorado’s law aims to make sure victims “are free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse.”
According to the Victim Rights Act, victims can be notified automatically when courtroom dates are scheduled, for example. Some victims attend sessions in the courtroom, others listen anonymously, and Casados said some prefer to be debriefed by a volunteer after each hearing or important change in the process.
With time and venue changes for multiple appearances, court dates require tracking. Victim advocates communicate calendar changes and other updates.
Also, a victim can sign up to receive notification when an offender goes on probation. This requires paperwork, but the one-page form from the Colorado Probation Victim Notification Program includes fewer than 10 items.
When victims take time off work for court dates or meetings with justice officials, they have a right to work out agreements with employers to ensure continued employment. They also have the right to be informed of potential financial assistance, as well as protection if they are being harassed or intimidated.
For children who are victims of crime, victim response units use simple language to communicate the process, intercede in court if a young victim needs help, and advise district attorneys before they ask the child to be a witness.
Casados said all victims are offered services, and she estimated that roughly 85 percent of them accept the offer. She also explained how victim advocates from Saguache County hand off cases to District Attorney staff when proceedings move to the 12th Judicial District courtroom.
For more information about volunteering, call Cox at 719-655-2544. You can also ask to contact her at the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office. You can contact Casados in the Center Police Department — 719-754-3141.