The Columbus Dispatch explores victims’ assistance programs, part of a growing movement to help victims recover after a rape, the violent death of a loved one, a scam, a kidnapping or even a bank robbery. The programs now operate in the Columbus city and U.S. attorneys offices, the FBI office, the Franklin County, Ohio, prosecutor’s office and the state prison system. Nationally, the first programs began in 1972 as victims pushed for more rights. Since then, numerous state and federal laws have been enacted, and the federal Crime Victims Fund was established in 1984.
Advocates are part parent, part advocate and sometimes the only person victims confide in, said Jane McKenzie, director of Franklin County’s Victim/Witness Assistance Unit. When McKenzie started 25 years ago, she was one of three advocates in the unit, which is part of the county prosecutor’s office. Now, there are 11, including two in Juvenile Court. The advocates help victims of violent crimes that include homicide, sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking and child abuse. Advocates are assigned to cases after a suspect is indicted by a grand jury; each has about 90 cases. “We’re supposed to act as a support system as well as a liaison between the victims and the prosecutors,” McKenzie said.