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Funding reduced for Victim Services

August 08, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - For nearly every crime, there's a victim. They've been battered, robbed, injured in a car accident or harassed. Some have dealt with a loved one's murder. Others have children who have been sexually assaulted.

They have questions. Michael Ropp has answers.

Ropp is director of Victim Services, a Berkeley County agency supervised by the prosecuting attorney's office.

During the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, Victim Services assisted 579 people. Of those, 373 were victims of domestic violence and 136 were assault victims. Eighteen were involved in drunken driving incidents, including three accidents that resulted in a death.

Seven cases involved adults who were sexually assaulted, and 23 cases involved children who were sexually assaulted.

Five clients are survivors of murder victims.

During a presentation to Berkeley County Commission Thursday morning, Ropp said the Victim Services' Division of Criminal Justice grant was reduced from $53,000 last year to $33,280 this year. The grant allows for the salary of one person - himself, Ropp said.

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The reduction partially can be attributed to more money being needed for homeland security efforts, Ropp said.

Although the commissioners may not want to hear it, Ropp told them that in five to seven years they probably will have to begin funding the program.

Services available to victims include compensation for medical bills, lost wages, counseling and funeral expenses, Ropp said after the meeting. The office frequently refers people to other agencies that might be of assistance.

Duties of the agency include keeping victims apprised of court dates and ensuring their rights are not violated. They will meet with a prosecutor and gain an understanding of how the case will make its way through the court system, Ropp said.

When children are victims, Ropp will take them to Circuit Court and introduce them to the bailiffs and judge, to try to help them be more comfortable when it comes time to testify, Ropp said.

Sometimes a victim, especially in a domestic battery case, will use a police officer as a referee and later ask that the charge against his or her spouse be dismissed, Ropp said.

Others truly want to pursue prosecution, he said.

As he reviewed the statistics during the commission meeting, Commission President Howard Strauss asked Ropp whether the number of domestic violence victims can be attributed to drug and alcohol problems.

Ropp said no. He said increased awareness is causing more victims to come forward than in years past.

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