By COLLEEN SMITH ARMSTRONG
Editor/Publisher, Islands Sounder
When a crime is committed, the effects ripple outward and can touch many lives.
Victims of crime experience numerous difficulties such as understanding the legal system, testifying in a courtroom and sorting through raw emotions. San Juan County has free resources to help navigate through these challenges.
“It doesn’t matter if your crime is current or if you were victim in the past and still have questions,” said Christine Miller, a victim advocate for the Crime Victim Service Center, which is run through the prosecutor’s office. “Sometimes people are witnesses to a pretty violent crime and they need support ... it’s not just always the spouse or the relative who is affected. Sometimes community members need help.”
The center is funded by state and federal money from the Office of Crime Victims and the Department of Justice. It has been based out of Friday Harbor since 2006 but serves all county residents.
“The prosecutor has done a stellar job in making sure that San Juan County has these services for victims,” Miller said.
The crime center has a small staff, but is part of “Region 12,” which includes Skagit County and Bellingham and portions of Snohomish County.
It offers services to crime victims and their non-offending family members, friends, secondary victims, and witnesses. Miller can lend guidance to victims whose cases are currently in court, give investigative interview support, help fill out protection and anti-harassment orders and provide medical advocacy for those who are injured as a result of crime and qualify for financial compensation from the state.
“If the victim is also a witness, we make sure they are well cared for during the day of their testimony,” Miller said. “We give them a safe space … when a victim is going through a trial, it’s extremely stressful.”
The center does not offer therapy, but refers clients to local resources like Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services, counselors and medical facilities.
“We can open doors and ask questions and guide them in the right direction,” Miller said.
The center handles victims of robbery, identity theft, assault, vehicular incidents, harassment and hate crimes. It also provides assistance for family members of homicide victims.
Miller says the courts see a lot of mental health issues and more elder abuse and identity theft than most people realize. A common scam is someone posing as a grandchild in an emergency and in need of a wire transfer.
“We want victims to feel that in our society today, there is support,” Miller said. “We will do our best to listen to you and do what we can to find a proper resource.”
How to reach the Crime Victim Service center
Christine Miller can be reached at 370-7610. The office is located on Second Street in Friday Harbor across from the courthouse.There is also a 24-hour crisis line for victims of crime: 1-800-346-7555.