MISSOURI — This week marks the 40th anniversary of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
Fortunately, victims of crime – or the families they leave behind – don’t have to go through the judicial process by themselves.
Most prosecuting attorney’s offices in Missouri have a person who works directly with victims of crime. In Newton County, Matt Stewart is the crime victim’s advocate. He says many of those victims or their family members haven’t ever encountered the legal system before and often don’t know what to expect.
Matt Stewart, Newton County Prosecuting Attorney Victim’s Advocate, said, “Victims of crime didn’t ask to become a victim of crime, they didn’t ask to go through this process, and it’s important that we make them whole either financially or by punishing the criminal, so it’s really important to have this role in place and focus on the victim and make sure their voices are heard and that their kept in the loop as to how things are going.”
It can take years between the time someone is arrested and charged with a crime, to the time he or she is finally tried, or if the case even goes that far. In some cases a plea bargain is struck between prosecutors and the person charged.
For many victims it’s the first time they’ve had anything to do with the criminal law process, and they’re often surprised just how slow that process can take.
Because the process can take a long time, Stewart says it’s not unusual for the advocate and victim to continue a long term dialog.
“Yeah there’s times as a victim’s advocate that you kind of develop relationships with some families and so even after the process is finished, there may be times where we’ll reach out to them just to see how they’re doing, there’s times they’ll call us just to see if there’s anything going on with appeals or anything, yah there’s a lot of times that continued contact even after the case is finished.”
94 of Missouri’s 115 counties have a victim’s advocate. Stewart, a Former Joplin Police Chief, will be leaving his position in Newton County soon to take over as the Executive Director of the Children’s Center of Southwest Missouri.