The victim’s advocate had to sit close to the door, phone in hand and not on silent, ready to answer a voice shattered by crisis even during a ceremony to remember crime victims on Wednesday.
“People call anytime, day or night, and we have to be ready to receive that call from someone in a dangerous situation or from the hospital,” said Barbara Stephens, a victim’s advocate for the Armed Forces Services Corporation on Fort Hood, an organization geared toward helping domestic abuse victims. “We stand by the phone but we hope it doesn’t ring because that mean’s they’re getting along with each other. They’re getting along.”
Around 50 people like Stephens gathered at the Harker Heights Police Department headquarters Wednesday morning for Ribbons to Remember, a ceremony in honor of Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
In attendance were victims, victim’s advocates, law enforcement officials, district and county attorney’s office personnel, and representatives from nonprofit groups.
Many placed a ribbon around the peace officer’s memorial statue at headquarters to remember someone special they have helped; some wrote a message to the victim on their mind.
The ribbons will remain for the rest of the week.
It was the first year for the Ribbons to Remember ceremony, said Misty Biddick, executive director of Aware Central Texas. She said last year folks gathered at the Bell County Justice Center to plant flowers as part of Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
“We’ve come this far but there’s still a lot of work to do,” Biddick told the Herald.
Through the years she has seen it all, from working in a prosecutor’s office to helping adults on probation, but what has been rewarding is seeing victims turn their lives around.
“Being able to take trauma and turn it into something good is because of the support that enabled them to be successful,” she said.
Biddick said a patchwork of agencies — public, private and nonprofit — help victims. “Law enforcement makes the first contact with victims, and then other agencies get involved, such as the Children’s Advocacy Center,” she said. “The sooner we can get services such as counseling to victims, the sooner they can start the restorative process.”
In addition to possibly suffering physical and emotional trauma, crime victims also often need help monetarily. “If the door gets kicked in and the windows are shattered, they need to find money for a new door and a new lock,” Biddick said.
Harker Heights Police Chief Phil Gadd reflected on the lasting impact of crime on the victim, their families and friends, but said help is available.
“Volunteers, victim’s advocates and professionals stand by victims the entire way,” he told the gathering. A partnership with “nonprofit organizations such as Aware, Lone Star Legal Aid, Families in Crisis and Teach Them to Love Ministries leads to a better future for all crime victims. We support the rights of victims to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect.”
Also speaking to the gathering were Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza and Bell County Attorney James E. Nichols.
Nichols said his office handles 800 to 1,000 assault cases every year.
“When you meet someone on the job, you know they might be dealing with the most horrible thing that could happen to them,” he said.
Nichols said a young lady with her daughter recently approached him at a local grocery store and thanked him for his help. “She said they’re back on their feet and the kids are doing better,” he said. “It gets me up in the morning and keeps me going to know that real people are really grateful. So just say a prayer and carry on.”
Garza also was passionate about making sure the room full of helpers knew they were appreciated.
“Every single one of you can come with stories of victims of crime and what they have had to endure,” he said. “You have made a difference in somebody, somehow, some way ...”
Hosting the Ribbons to Remember ceremony were Aware Central Texas, the Bell County Crime Victims Coalition, the Central Texas Family Violence Task Force and the Harker Heights Police Department.