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Murray Journal

Murray advocates stand with victims of crime

Jul 25, 2019 11:34AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Victims of crime can contact the Murray Crime Victim Advocate Program for help. (Photo courtesy Murray City)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

“If you contact the police, I will kill you,” Amber’s assaulter told her. He had met Amber through an online support group and mentioned he wanted to visit Utah to hike the mountains and wanted a place to stay for three weeks while he adventured. Since it was just a platonic stay, Amber, a single-mom of two, offered him a basement room he could use, but those three weeks turned Amber’s life into three years of agony.

“I was literally held hostage in my own home. He cut off contact to my family. Controlled my phone,” Amber said. He manipulated Amber to the point of making her pay his way, including stealing her identity to commit fraud. The final straw for Amber was when he threatened her teenage daughter with a butcher knife, telling her to take her own life, and that, “her mom was there to clean up the blood.”

Being a victim of crime can be a traumatic experience, especially not knowing where to turn for help. Fortunately, Murray City has a Crime Victim Advocate Program, and Alissa Black and Julie Johansen can guide victims through the legal process and find support.

“Our purpose is to support victims of (personal) crimes. Those could be victims of threats, domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, child abuse, elder and vulnerable adult abuse, robbery, homicide survivors, assault and DUI with injuries,” said Black. “We offer victims information, emotional support, updates on their criminal cases, act as liaisons to officers and other organizations, and provide help finding resources and filling out paperwork. Advocates may assist victims or contact organizations on their behalf, such as other criminal justice or social service agencies to get additional help or information for victims.”

Amber, who asked her last name not be used, sought out the Murray Victim Advocates office three years after her attacker had come to her home. She heard about the office after a roundabout conversation with a co-worker who was a police officer. She had never heard of the office, but was desperate for any help and contacted Black.

The victim advocates offer assistance to both primary and secondary victims of violent crimes. In 2018, advocates were able to provide personal advocacy services to over 1,900 victims of crime. Domestic violence contributed to approximately 55% of the caseload for the advocates. In a large portion of those violent domestic cases where police were called to respond, children were present. The long-term effects of domestic violence can be catastrophic without appropriate aid and attention. Without the Victim Advocate Program, most victims of crime in Murray would not receive assistance and resources.  

After calling the Victim Advocate’s Office, Amber was told to meet with an attorney to get a protective order against her assailant. The attorney felt she had no case, but Black guided Amber through the process of filing for an order on her own. A judge gave her an immediate “emergency protective order.”

“I had no idea that there were so many resources. I could not have done it without her support,” Amber said.

Black shares one case where the advocates assisted a pregnant woman and her small child, both of whom had a primary language other than English. Her husband had pointed a gun at her and hit her in the stomach, and another child witnessed this. As she could not read or write much, even in her native language, advocates assisted her in securing a hotel room since shelters were full. 

According to Black, “Advocates found resources for her in the state that she moved to and worked through family and interpreters to assist them. She had a healthy baby, and she and the children are flourishing now that they are safe and no longer subjected to the abuse.”

Crime victims have the alternative option to contact a nonprofit organization advocate. “Sometimes, we work with victims of crime who are also working with nonprofit advocates as well. The catch is that the nonprofit advocates won’t know about or be able to access updates on the criminal case unless the court case is underway and they have access to the court database,” Black said.

Some victims can also choose to work closely with their detective, officer, and prosecutor (if there is one). There are also online resources and other survivors who provide support.

The victim advocates were able to get Amber’s assailant out of her home. After violating his protective order repeatedly, Black stood with Amber in court and the judge issued her attacker a 10-year protective order. 

“We’ve had great success with survivors of sexual assault seeking help and resources at the Rape Recovery Center,” stated Black. “It’s just not always that type of case, depending on where the victim of crime goes and what sort of help they are looking for.” 

Amber’s therapist helped her see she was being manipulated and that living in constant fear took a toll on her and her two girls. The advocates also arranged for the Murray Police to make regular patrols around her house.

Murray City is now looking for volunteers to help out with the program. With the support of Murray City, the advocate program recently wrote a grant for a part-time volunteer coordinator position that is fully funded by the Victims of Crime Act grant. Volunteer Coordinator Allison Wright is now in charge of recruiting, training and supervising a team of volunteers. The volunteers will help the office by making a difference in victims’ lives, such as Amber’s.

“She was a person who didn’t make a police report (for abuse) at first. Instead, she and her daughters met with us in our office to get more of a game plan and for help in options with the choices they were facing at the time. Having a plan helped her with the decision to involve the police then. Many community members and organizations ended up helping her,” Black said.

“We are ever so grateful for them and all that they have done for my girls and me. They have had a huge impact on our lives,” Amber said. Her attacker has since moved to another state and is wanted by police for other criminal activity, but for the first time in many years, Amber has found peace, and the Victim Advocates Office still checks up on her.

Those seeking the assistance of the Murray Crime Victim Advocates office can call 801-284-4201 or 801-284-4203. Those seeking to be an advocacy volunteer can contact Volunteer Coordinator Allison Wright at [email protected]