Victim advocates are unsung heroes


As so much of the outside or media “hype” surrounding criminal cases revolves around the defendant and their actions, the other side, that can often seem forgotten is the side of the victims. Our office works very closely with victims of crimes, and our ability to do so is enhanced by the dedicated team of victim advocates that work with us. This specialized unit within the prosecutor’s office is called the Victim Services Unit — or as we most often call it — VSU.

As unsung heroes in the justice system, you may not have even heard about victim advocates or the Victim Services Unit. And yet, their role is arguably one of the most important ones in the justice system. Our four-person unit is comprised of victim advocates who are specially trained to support victims of crime. Not only do they offer emotional support and physically accompany victims through court proceedings, they also work with other local criminal justice and social services agencies to provide resources for crisis intervention, safety planning, and so much more. Our VSU also has a dedicated specialist, who can assist anyone (not just victims of crime) with filling out and filing of civil protection orders.

I am very proud of the advocates that make up our VSU department and the work that they do. Last year was a big year for them as, in 2023, they opened 407 new cases; handled 1,845 emails or calls to our hotline for safety planning, community resources, and civil protection orders; met with 222 walk-in clients; and attended 249 hearings or court filings. In addition to all of that, after a change to Marsy’s Law last year, they absorbed the role of advocacy for victims in the Delaware County Juvenile Court.

We have many years of consistency and experience in our department. Trish Wright, our director, is a registered advocate, a licensed social worker, and has been at our office for 15 years. Megan Powell has been a part of our staff for 11 years and is a registered advocate. Megan Dillman is a registered and credentialed advocate who joined the team five years ago. And Caitlin Groh, who will be celebrating her one-year anniversary with us very soon, is working on becoming a registered advocate.

This unit was primarily funded through federal grant money from the Department of Justice, but in recent years, the funding for victim advocacy groups has been slashed by the federal government. To date, only 16% of funding for our advocates come from the federal government. These funding cuts not only effect local government agencies like ours, but the cuts also effect places like Turning Point, our domestic violence shelter that provides direct and emergency services for victims. You can probably imagine my facial expression when I read about the bazillion dollar foreign aid package that was just approved by Congress, but Americans are left with a complete and utter failure AGAIN to actually fund programs that serve our citizens who — through no fault of their own —become victims of crime and those who serve victims like our advocates.

You might be wondering what types of victim-oriented offenses our advocates assist with. The most often occurring offenses in Delaware County are financial crimes, including identity theft and fraud. The next highest victim-oriented offense in the county is domestic/family violence. And not far behind are cases involving stalking, harassment and menacing.

If you have become a victim, it may be difficult for you to ask for help, but you will find our victim advocates to be welcoming and have access to many resources you may not be aware of. No question is too small, and we want to help. You can reach our Victim Services Unit directly at 740-833-2710. As always, if you are in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1. You don’t have to have an actual case to speak with one of our advocates.

Melissa A. Schiffel is the Delaware County prosecutor.

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