Advocate office helping hand for victims

By Clarissa Kell

ESCANABA — The Victim’s Advocate unit in the Delta County Prosecutor’s Office provides support in and out of courtroom proceedings for victims and survivors of all crimes.

“Well essentially we work as a team, Melissa (Middaugh) and I both do. We are advocates for victims and survivors of crime, so not just sexual assault and domestic violence but all crime. However, we often do see many domestic violence and sexual violence cases. We are here to help navigate them through the criminal justice process,” said Katie Menard, the victims witness coordinator.

As soon as a police report involving victim(s) comes into the prosecutor’s office, the unit reaches out and becomes involved.

Melissa Middaugh, the victims outreach coordinator, explained once a report comes in she contacts the victim of the crime to check on them and make sure they’re in a safe space.

“We work with them from that point all the way through the closeout of the case,” she said.

The services the Victim’s Advocate Unit provides goes beyond just in the courtroom.

Menard said they do provide support in the courtroom, but they also can find different resources for those who are in need of other services like a safe space or child care.

During criminal court proceedings, defendants have certain rights. Menard said, through the Victim Rights Act, so do victims of a crime.

“Often times, we hear a defendant has the right to a speedy trial, and those different things — the Miranda Rights — but victims have rights as well. So we are here to help them if they would want to exercise those rights and to utilize their voice,” she said.

The victim’s advocate team can help with restitution for the victim. Restitution is money defendants have to pay victim to help compensate for an injury or loss.

The team also helps victims with their impact statement — a statement the victims can read themselves or have read on their behalf at a sentencing hearing.

“We both advocate. We talk with victims, we advocate on behalf of the victims with the prosecutors, as well. So we are constantly liaising with the prosecutors to ensure they know what the victim would hope for in a case,” Middaugh said.

Delta County Prosecutor Brett Gardner described victim advocate units as the hub of his office because there are very few victimless crimes.

“When you think of crime, you think of victims and that’s absolutely true. A victim unit is the hub for the office,” he said.

Making sure the people forced into the position and title of victim are supported is something the office aims to provide, Gardner added.

The month of April is dedicated to sexual assault awareness. With over 50 percent of the cases they handle involving domestic violence and sexual assault, Middaugh and Menard strive to be the strongest voice for victims and survivors.

Menard explained sexual violence usually goes hand in hand with domestic violence.

“The reporting to law enforcement, in general, is under reported. It takes a lot of strength and courage to get medical attention, to seek out and report,” she said.

Both Middaugh and Menard explained how grueling the criminal system process can be for victims as they have to relive their trauma when they see the perpetrator in court and how long the process can take.

Menard said one cause of under reporting i that some victims think no one will believe them.

“We are trying to change that, as much as we can as an office,” she said.

Both positions held by Middaugh and Menard, and the unit itself, are funded through grants.

Gardner said he is so thankful for the passion Middaugh and Menard have for their work.

“We are very fortunate in this office to have two victim advocates that have the experience and the background that they do in these areas. They bring into this community and to the victims, empathy and the knowledge of the system and the resources that are available,” he said.

Gardner added, it was time he spent interning and volunteering for a victim’s advocate group in a prosecutor’s office during his undergraduate years that led him to his career choice.

“Victim rights are what should bring a prosecutor to prosecuting,” he said.

Resources for all crime victims can be found through Delta County Prosecutor’s Office Victim Service at 906-789-5115, Delta County Regional Care Advocacy Center at 906-399-0145, Hannahville Victim Service at 906-280-2657, HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response at 877-HOPE-k9s, MADD Victim Services at 906-474-9346, and Tri-County Safe Harbor 24 hour crisis line at 1-800-682-1649 or 906-789-1166.