Victims Of Crime Call For Improved Support Services

April 28, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

At 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 16, 1989, Melanie Mooney was knocked down and sexually assaulted while she was walking through a park near her Edgewood home.

That experience led Mooney to decide she should play a role in helping crime victims. So this summer, Mooney plans to enter a training program for volunteers at the Sexual Assault Resource Center so she can help other victims of crime. The center provides counseling and shelter for battered spouses and victims of sexual assaults.

"It took me about six months to come around," said Mooney, a woman in her early 20s who wants to become a police officer. "Without (counseling from SARC) I don't know where I would be today."

FOR THE RECORD - An incorrect name and telephone number for the Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center (SARC) appeared in a story in the April 28 edition of The Harford County Sun, "Victims of crime call for improved services."
The correct telephone number is 879-3486.

Mooneysaid she considers herself one of the lucky crime victims. She has been able to cope with the anguish from her attack and she now hopes to use the experience to help others.

She was one of five crime victims and five advocates of crime victims rights who testified Wednesday at Harford Community College during a public hearing sponsored by the state Board of Victim Services.

The hearing was offered as part of Victims Rights Week, April 21-27. The board held hearings acrossMaryland last week, and the one on Wednesday was for residents of Harford and Cecil counties.

State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran,who presided over the hearing, said information collected will be used to improve services for crime victims in Maryland.

Those testifying Wednesday tended to sound the same theme about Harford's need toincrease the availability of counseling for crime victims. The county also should establish police and prosecutor training for interviewing crime victims so they are sensitive to the concerns of the victims, they said.

Mooney testified that she found most of the investigators from the county Sheriff's Department who worked on her case understanding of her concerns about the stigma that some victims feel following a sexual attack.

When the man accused of attacking her wentto trial, Mooney said, SARC counselors were on hand to show her to the courtroom, instructing her where to sit during proceedings.

Thedefendant, 18-year-old Daniel R. Ramey of Edgewood, pleaded guilty to charges of battery and fourth-degree sexual assault, documents in Harford Circuit Court show. He was sentenced to six years in prison --all but six months of the sentence was suspended.

But not every crime victim has a good experience with the Maryland legal system, testimony at Wednesday's hearing showed.

Paula Haavistolo, of Rising Sun, told the state board that she doesn't think the Cecil County State's Attorney's Office had enough time for her case because of a large caseload.

The Cecil prosecutor's office needs a full-time advocate to work with victims and witnesses to help them through trial proceedings, Haavistolo said.

Haavistolo told the board she was sexually assaulted in March 1989. The defendant was found guilty, but is now appealing his conviction, she said.

During court proceedings, Haavistolo said she felt like she was the one on trial. She said she was accused by defense attorneys of fabricating the story of the attack.

Without a victim advocate to help her, Haavistolo said she had to face the accusations -- which she called "character assassination"-- on her own.

"Had I known ahead of time what was facing me," she said, "I would have in no way filed these charges."

Tammy Breymaier, who represents Harford County on the state Board of Victims Services, said the county has increased the services available to crime victims, but there is room for improvement.

"We in Harford County do have shortcomings," Breymaier said, "but they can be overcome."

One shortcoming the county should address is the need for counseling services for crime victims when arrests are not immediately made, Breymaier said. Most victims now only get services such as referrals forcounseling as their case proceeds through the judicial system.

She added that the county needs to provide more assistance to victims during court proceedings, including notification of trial and hearing dates of the accused.

"We don't want there to be victims of crime," Breymaier said. "But if there are victims of crime, we don't want them to be a victim of the system, too."

The county has a number ofservices available to crime victims, Breymaier said.

But some aren't taken advantage of, such as the county victim-witness coordinator's office.

Terry Smith, the county victim-witness coordinator, said she does not receive many requests for escorts during court proceedings. She added that her office updates victims on the status of cases.

Services are available through the victim-witness coordinator in the State's Attorney's Office, the Sheriff's Department and the county Department of Juvenile Services, Breymaier said.

On the other hand, other crime victim support services are overloaded and can't meet demand.

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