Victims Assistance Programs difficult, yet rewarding
By Kyle Mooty
They have one of the most difficult jobs anyone should have, yet they want others to experience the joy they occasionally receive that makes everything worthwhile.
The Victims Assistance Programs at both the Lockhart Police Department and Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office need volunteers. Tina Ramsey, Victims Services Coordinator for the LPD, had five volunteers working with her. She needs more.
Deputy Sandra Martin, Director of Victim Services for the sheriff’s office, has no help. Her schedule has kept her so busy she hasn’t had time to start a volunteer program.
The greatest reward, Ramsey said, are the hugs.
“I know there are people out there that want to help,” Ramsey said. “We just need someone there that can be there.”
Ramsey said the program “touches your heart.”
Cindy Gonzales of the Caldwell County District Attorney’s Office is also involved in the victims assistance process.
The victims are both male and female and can be victims of a variety of traumatic events such as domestic or sexual violence, fire, or natural disasters.
“One victim came up to me and said, ‘Tina, thank you for being that light at the end of the tunnel.’ Imagine someone telling you that. I still get goosebumps. So, it is very needed.”
Both Ramsey and Martin are looking for volunteers.
“Any volunteers would be extremely helpful,” Martin said. “Lots of people want to donate prizes, donate money, which is great, but we need more volunteers. We’re drowning. We can use all the help we can get.”
Anyone interested in volunteering to the Victims Assistance Programs can call the Lockhart Police Department at 512-398-4401, or the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office at 512-398-6777.
Victims Services began in Caldwell County n 1996 with as many as 54 volunteers but has drastically declined. Its purpose is to assist, support, and provide resources, as well as provide on-scene intervention.
“If someone calls 911 and an officer gets there and says, ‘Oh my, this person needs help,’ the officer will then call us out to the scene,” Ramsey said. “We act as a liaison for the victim. Going to court is hard and all of the laws are changing. We are there to help them through that. If you have one person you can go to, that cuts out a lot of stuff. They’re already going through a bunch of stuff. They don’t need to go through more. That’s what we’re here for. We are helping them get through that process a little easier.
“Do you know how intimidating that is when they go to court? You’ve got to see your abuser. Guess what? I’m a cool cheerleader. I’m going to sit right where they can see me so they can look at me or they can look at Cindy or Sandra. They don’t have to see that person. If anyone tries to talk to my victim, I’m like, ‘Excuse me, you need to go back.’ We make sure they don’t have to talk to anyone. We get them in a secure room where they’re away from everyone.”
Ramsey and Martin are called to a scene regarding a wide range of reasons.
“We will go out and help people with a fire,” Ramsey said. “Their house has just burned up. Can you imagine going home tonight and having your house not there? What would you do? It’s traumatic. We’re there to help them pick up those pieces. Can we fix that house? No. We’re just there. Sometimes, I’ve gone to places and said, ‘I’m just here. If you need me, fine. If you don’t need me, fine.’ Just having that person there can make all the difference to one person.”
“We make sure they’re getting to safe ground. We partner with Red Cross, and we actually open a shelter. That way we’re making sure their needs are met.”
Ramsey and Martin are also there when someone has been a victim of rape or abuse.
“We will go to the victim’s house, and we will take them to the hospital,” Ramsey said. “Putting them in the back of a squad car re-victimizes them. Who usually goes in the back of a squad car? The bad guys, the criminal, so you’re just re-victimizing them again if you do that. You’re letting them know that the perpetrator was right, you’re the one getting in trouble. So, if they don’t have a personal vehicle, I’m putting them in an unmarked car or I’m taking them myself to the hospital. Sandra is doing the same thing. This makes it a little easier process for them.
“I’ve had a 6-year-old all the way to a 78-year-old in my car. I’ve had men that I’ve helped through this process as well. It goes both ways.”
Martin said she will also provide transportation, whether it’s to an appointment or a hospital, perhaps a women’s shelter, or even bring in CVC (Crime Victims Compensation), such as a case where a victim had to be flown to her nearest family across the country.
The CVC has helped with plane tickets, gas, rent, utilities, anything Martin said is a result of someone having gone through such a traumatic ordeal.
Death notifications are also part of the job. Ramsey said it’s some of the worst news people will ever receive, but it has to be done. She said she has helped from everything to calling others to putting on a pot of coffee.
The Victims Assistance Program also helps with getting free counseling for those grieving.
“There are resources out there, and I’m going to walk them through that,” Ramsey said. “We’re there from beginning to end. If they call 911, we’re there until the body leaves. We’re making sure people are calm if there’s a lot going on. It’s hard, but you know what, we’re there.”
Volunteers’ qualifications include the following 10 items:
* Believe in justice with a heart
* Background Check
* 21 years of age
* Good driving record
* Respect and uphold confidentiality
* 40 hours of in-house training
* Attend seminars
* Monthly meetings
* Ride-a-longs with police/EMS/fire
* On-call capabilities
“What happens when a person gets beat up and they have to go to the hospital?” Ramsey asked. “ Who pays that bill? Does the bad guy? No. The injured person, because that’s who it’s under. When you go to the hospital and you put your name under there, they’re going to come after you. We help them get that money back in their pockets. I’ve been doing this for 18 years, 13 of which were volunteer years. Since I’ve been here, we’ve put $93,000 back in the victims’ pockets.”
Martin and Ramsey often work in tandem. Regardless, there are always two Victims Service personnel that arrive on scene.
“For safety reasons, if we don’t go out in two, we don’t go out,” Ramsey said. “And you follow up with the victim the next day. Sometimes, it’s really bad and they just need their space.”
The Victims Assistance Program also works with elder abuse situations and has become involved with SALT (Seniors And Law Enforcement Together), including working with scam issues.
They also work with survivors of suicide. Sometimes there are signs, Ramsey said, “so we act on it and help them get counseling. We also help the family get through it.”
The program works on matters ranging from child abuse, deaths, family violence, sexual abuse, sexual assault, runaways, stalking, and CVC (Crime Victim Compensation).
Gonzales helps victims with court processing, going over matters such as protection orders.
The Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office has awareness events such as the Domestic Violence Awareness Walk, Child Abuse Awareness Month, and more.
“Anybody who is interested in helping, let me know and I’ll get you in doing anything that we can have you doing,” Martin said.
Ramsey said that aside from monetary donations, people are asked to “spread the word.”
Ramsey told a story of a child who had been assaulted and had to go to the hospital. After going over some “uncomfortable” matters, everyone went outside, and the girl raced around to Ramsey’s vehicle to give her a hug.
“I meant that much to that little girl,” Ramsey said. “She went through a lot of stuff, and to have that kid come back and say thank you is amazing. I went through 13 years as a volunteer because it was so big in my heart, and still is today.”
In other business at Golden Age Home:
The Give65 Event is almost over, but people can still make a gift and support older adults in the Lockhart community.
Visit www.give65.org/GoldenAgeHome to make a gift of $10 or more — every gift matters as we work to achieve our mission of 65 Years of “Christian, Compassionate Care.” Your gift also has a chance to be matched.
Donations will help provide a supportive housing community designed for older adults that need extra help in their day-to-day lives but don’t require 24-hour nursing care. This is the perfect arrangement for those who may no longer be able to live safely at home. Our goal is to provide some assistance while our residents live an active and purposeful life.
You have until July 14 to make a gift donation. Such gifts will help the vulnerable aging adults. Golden Age Home serves age with independence and dignity, something everyone deserves.