Local programs focus  on helping crime victims

Posted: April 24, 2013

The Winchester Star

Jim Pearce
Pictured are Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney Alex Iden (left); Mandy Vecero, assistant director of Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney's Victim Witness Program, and program director Jim Pearce.

WINCHESTER — An annual public awareness effort recognizing crime victims’ rights began Monday.

This week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and the theme is new challenges, new solutions.

“There is a place and there is a time for victims, and this is their moment,” said Melissa Rice, Frederick County Victim Witness Program director.

Every municipality in Virginia has a victim witness program — which offers assistance and resources to victims of crime.

Assistance can be anything from courtroom tours to mock trials, notifying victims of court proceedings, giving courtroom support and explaining what goes on throughout the judicial process.

“A lot of people don’t know that there are programs out there for victims of crime,” said Mandy Vecero, assistant director of the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Victim Witness Program.

She said that they help all of the city’s victims, whether it be someone whose mailbox was hit with a baseball bat or family members dealing with a homicide.

The city office averages about 1,200 victims per year, and every case is different.

“For some victims, it’s just a phone call or restitution statements; some you spend hours working with,” Vecero said.

Director Jim Pearce said that 90 percent of their cases involve felony crimes.

He said that victim witness programs throughout the state rely on each other for advice about certain situations.

Rice said her office handles all the victims in Frederick County, which includes Stephens City and Middletown.

She said Victims’ Rights Week is important because it allows them to know that there is help for them and someone available to them 24/7.

Pearce estimated that there are about 120 programs in the state.

He said that some run out of local police departments and others out of commonwealth’s attorney offices.

City Commonwealth’s Attorney Alexander R. Iden said the local program is tremendously helpful to his office.

He said there isn’t always time to get to every victim, and the program is able to keep each person up to date about what is going on with cases.

Pearce said this week is all about the victims.

“We just strive to reach as many victims as we can and provide resources,” he said.

The Clarke County Victim Witness Program director was not immediately available for comment.

— Contact Melissa Boughton at mboughton@winchesterstar.com