Being a victim of a crime can be a tragic and emotionally jarring experience. To make matters worse, most people who experience a crime don’t receive the help they need. One recent study revealed that roughly 76% of victims in Washington state experiencing a legal problem did not get the support they needed.
“The worst part is when somebody’s a victim of a crime and they didn’t ask to be put in that situation and then they’re faced with their life getting turned upside down.” – Melissa Isenhart, Victim Support Services Advocate
Fortunately, there are resources available. Enter Victim Support Services (VSS), a local nonprofit that provides free advocacy services for any victim of crime or person inadvertently impacted by crime. With advocates in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, Snohomish, and King counties, VSS has a wide reach in northwest Washington.
A Community of Support
According to Melissa Isenhart, VSS’s advocate for Whatcom, Skagit, and Island counties, the 45-year old agency can provide an “unlimited” range of support options for clients.
“Since we’re a community-based organization, we’re not limited in what we can do. We can have a lot more encompassing approach,” Isenhart says.
VSS provides emotional support, assistance with paperwork such as Crime Victims Compensation and the Address Confidentiality Program, limited emergency financial assistance, and a slew of other helpful services.
Assault, bullying, homicide, and theft are just a few types of crimes VSS encounters. Most support comes in the form of one-on-one meetings between client and advocate, but as Isenhart shares, they strive to provide “whatever people need in the moment.”
While victims must make first contact with VSS, once connected, “it’s a very client-centered approach,” Isenhart says. “It’s finding out what [clients] need and helping them achieve that.”
A Canine Companion
One of the newest members of the VSS team is Davie, a yellow lab. After being trained as a service dog with Brigadoon Service Dogs in Bellingham, he got “hired on” to the VSS staff and now plays an important role in helping victims feel comfortable during uncomfortable moments on the road to recovery.
Davie often joins clients when they go to court, and can even sit in the witness box when someone is testifying. Isenhart admits that Davie’s presence in the room can make even the hardest days more manageable.
“[Davie] almost makes an unbearable process something that somebody looks forward to because they get to see [him],” she says.
A Call for Community
VSS faces looming funding cuts, so people in the community are encouraged to give back. VSS currently operates the Crime Victim Hotline, and volunteers are always needed to run the 24/7 phone line. To work the hotline, volunteers must complete a free, 40-hour Core Advocacy Training required by Washington state guidelines. Once certified, volunteers can answer hotline calls from the comfort of their own home and phone.
Community members can also make monetary donations and participate in VSS fundraisers, both of which play a vital role in allowing VSS to continue operating.
“We’re not planning on closing our doors. We’re not planning on going anywhere,” Isenhart says. Victim Support Services, Everett, 360.756.1780 (Whatcom), 360.756.1780 (Sedro-Woolley), 888.288.9221 (Washington State Crime Victim Service Center Hotline), victimsupportservices.org