Victim’s Rights Week: Restoring the balance of justice for 30 years

John Christensen The Chronicle-Express
Evelyn Watkins accepts Victim Crime Service Award from Judge W. Patrick Falvey as Bridgett Rosato, Sheriff Ron Spike, Yates County Chairman Tim Dennis, and District Attorney Valerie Gardner applaud.

The 2014 National Crime Victim’s Rights Week Ceremony was held April 9 at the Yates County Courthouse. “Thirty years ago, The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) was passed. Therefore, today we celebrate ‘30 years of Restoring the Balance of Justice,’” said Bridgett Rosato of Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes and the outgoing Yates County Victim Witness Coordinator,  who organized and led the event.

“We come together today to honor crime victims who have been affected in some way, shape, or form as a result of another person’s act,” said Rosato. “Victimization does not discriminate against age, gender, or ethnic background. Most people have been a victim at some point in their life. It could have been some form of bullying, lying, cheating on, or name calling. While these may seem small when compared to certain crimes, they can still effect someone’s emotions, even if it’s temporary in that specific moment.

“We would also like to honor the professionals who dedicate themselves to support, counsel, or provide services to crime victims,” said Rosato before introducing the staff of the Yates County District Attorney’s office. Yates County District Attorney Valerie Gardner spoke of her valued staff and the exemplary work done by Rosato in her time here. Gardner’s sentiments were echoed by Legislature Chairman Tim Dennis and Supreme Court Judge W. Patrick Falvey.

Each year, an award is given for exceptional service to crime victims. This year, Judge Falvey presented the award to Evelyn Watkins, Coordinator of Yates County Drug Treatment Court. The surprised Watkins accepted the award with humble discomfort. She spoke of how many drug and alcohol abusers have been the victims of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in their own lives.

Sheriff Ron Spike was the featured speaker for the event with a considerable perspective on the topic. “I’ve been in law enforcement for over 43 years, and at times like this I cannot help but think back to a time when victim assistance programs were non existent. Legislatures didn’t think about funding programs that could enhance victim rights, restitution, and services — let alone have an advocate work with victims of all ages for court testimony preparation and genuine support. In reality, victim’s rights are really all about ‘justice,’ and we have truly come a long ways.

“This year marks a milestone for the national theme of National Crime Victims Rights Week... and the progress that has been made since President Reagan signed the Victims of Crime Act into law in 1984… and the hard work that we’ve done in Yates County to ensure that every crime victim has a voice in our criminal justice system.”

He spoke of his many years as a Criminal Investigator, working hand-in-hand with volunteer victim advocates. “What started our local victims program was a case I had where an 8 -year-old boy was victimized in a rural area. I pride myself as being one of the charter victim advocates, because many of us at the time recognized the need for such, and such efforts continue today by so many individuals, and I would be remiss not to give recognition and thanks to Edie Mann and all her associates at Safe Harbors.” Spike also thanked Kerry Brennan, Drunk Driver Victim Impact Panel coordinator for all her work.

Speaking especially of domestic abuse victims, Spike expressed the need for vigilance and concern for elderly abuse, and for children exposed to violence or sexual assault, and who are then at risk for health and behavioral problems. In 2013, Yates County 911 received 273 reports of domestic abuse calls. “Many of those calls were witnessed by children,” Spike said.

“As Sheriff, I recognize the challenges victims face financially, physically, and psychologically, and I salute all the advocates; the victim and witness services workers and their families, those in law enforcement, prosecution, probation, judicial, corrections professionals, and elected officials, as well as the clergy and the countless others who volunteer for victims every day.”