Group helps victims rebuild lives |

Group helps victims rebuild lives

— Mary said she never could have gathered enough courage to leave her abusive husband without the financial and emotional support she received from a victims’ compensation fund.

“It was so reassuring to learn there were benefits to help us rebuild our lives. When the victimizer is also a family member and a family provider, it is very frightening to consider living without them,” Mary (not the writer’s real name) stated in a March 29 letter provided by the Routt County District Attorney’s office.

This week marks the 20th annual National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

The theme of National Crime Victims’ Week is “Dare to Dream,” which reflects the strides that have been made by victims with the courage to share their personal pain so that others might learn from their experiences.

It also reflects the reforms that victim service providers have made — reforms that resulted in more consistent and comprehensive assistance for crime victims. The success of victims rights wouldn’t be complete without justice officials who pursued a system that balances the rights of accused and convicted offenders with the rights of crime victims.

Colorado is one of 32 states that has constitutional amendments insuring victim’s rights, such as notification of and participation in court hearings.

Another important right for victims of violent crimes ranging from sexual assault to vehicular assault is financial assistance with counseling, lost wages and even new door locks.

In northwest Colorado, Victims’ Compensation Board members spend up to $20,000 a month on cases brought to their attention by social service workers and people such as Christine Mongillo, the victim and witness coordinator for the Routt County District Attorney’s office.

“Victims’ rights should be inherent. They are basic human rights — to be treated with respect and dignity,” Mongillo said.

In Mary’s case, the victims’ assistance helped get her children and herself out of a dangerous situation and into a safe place. It also helped her learn a new way of life. Other victims are compensated for medical bills or special equipment if an assault causes paralysis.

Victims’ Compensation Board member Nancy Stahoviak said the group doesn’t set limits on medical bills, but she said they can’t help every victim become whole again.

“Our goal is to help a victim get back to place where they were before,” Stahoviak said.

Before deciding how much money to contribute in each case, the board reads police reports and determines to what degree the victim contributed to the incident.

The Victims’ Compensation Board is scheduled to meet from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the courthouse annex hearing room at 136 Sixth St.

Stahoviak’s term expires in June, so the group will soon be looking for another Routt County resident to fill her seat.

The compensation board receives most of its funds from a surcharge levied on most court fines. For instance, a person convicted of theft, assault or driving under the influence of alcohol pays a $60 fee into the victims’ compensation fund.

Each state’s legislature determines how to generate money for the fund. Some states take money out of their general funds.

The district attorney is sometimes able to get restitution from the convicted person.

In Routt County last year, 102 cases of domestic violence were filed with the district attorney’s office and 13 cases of sexual assault were filed.

Mongillo urges anyone who knows of a crime to report it.

“Every time we fail to report a criminal or juvenile offense, that offender remains free to harm others,” Mongillo said.

Mary reported her husband’s assault and he was sentenced to prison. By sharing her story, Mary said she wants to urge people to help their neighbors in these situations, not turn the other way.

— To reach Michelle Bales call 871-4208 or e-mail

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