Desk of the DA: Victims’ Services in Westchester

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore’s monthly message for February is about services offered to crime victims and their families in the county:

Crime can have serious physical, psychological, financial and other effects on victims. As District Attorney and a former judge, I know how frightening and overwhelming it can be for victims who, through no fault of their own, come into contact with the criminal justice system. This is why I consider the Victim’s Justice Center (VJC) of the District Attorney’s Office an essential part of our mission to provide support to crime victims and their families.

In 2010, over 7,300 members of the community received assistance, information and guidance at the VJC, which is located in the District Attorney’s Office in the Westchester County Courthouse in White Plains. VJC services are free of charge. The multi-lingual staff provides information about victims’ rights, safety planning, and resources available to them.

The VJC offers counseling and therapy at its offices, as well as referrals for support groups for families of homicide victims and victims of rape, childhood sexual assault, incest and elder abuse. The staff of the VJC provides referrals to shelters or safe houses if appropriate, as well as referrals to other agencies for services tailored to victims’ needs and the type of crime. VJC counselors accompany victims and their families to criminal court proceedings and provide interpreters to assist with translation if necessary. VJC staff assist victims in preparing victim impact statements to be read in court at the time of sentencing of a convicted offender.

The VJC provides help with applications for financial assistance from the New York State Office of Victim Services to compensate victims for lost income, funeral expenses for victims of homicide, medical and counseling expenses and loss of essential personal property. The VJC connects victims and their families to New York’s Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) Program which provides prisoner status and release dates for convicted felony offenders in the state prison system.

At the District Attorney’s Office, we understand that victims of crimes, especially violent crimes, may lose their sense of personal safety and security. Taking the first steps by reporting the crime and seeking assistance can make a difference in moving forward. If you are a victim of a crime, contact your local police department to report it immediately. If you need help coping with the physical, psychological and financial impact of the crime, please contact the VJC for assistance.