by Becky GINOS
LAYTON—When someone is the victim of a crime it’s not always easy to work through the court process. That’s where Karen Arroyo, Layton City Victim Services Program Coordinator comes in.
“We provide services to victims of crime and keep them notified of hearings, etc.,” said Arroyo. “We want them to be involved in the process so their voice can be heard.”
The program is part of the Layton City Attorney’s Office and funded through a VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) grant and the city. It has been in place for more than 20 years. Arroyo has been there for 10.
“We help with safety planning, protective orders, stalking injunctions, shelter and counseling,” she said. “We access what we can to help connect them with other agencies.”
Cases come to her in different ways. “They can be criminal court cases that our prosecutors are working on,” said Arroyo. “Or the police might get involved before it becomes a court case and it is filtered to me. Then we reach out to the victim by mail or phone. The court process can be slow so we usually have contact long before that is initiated.”
However, they provide services to anyone. “People can walk in, call or email us,” she said. “The majority of walk-ins have been referred by the police or they’re looking for help for a friend or family member.”
Although the office assists with all types of crime such as theft and fraud, 65 to 70 percent are domestic violence cases, said Arroyo. “By the nature of what we’re dealing with those cases take more time,” she said. “We see quite a few violations of protective orders, etc. and give a lot of referrals to Safe Harbor.”
The office is busy. “We generally provide services to about 1,200 people a year,” she said. “Those numbers have grown over the 10 years I’ve been here. Services can be on the phone, in court or just a letter, depending on what the victim needs.”
She’s pleased to see a growth in victim services in the county. “For a long time it was just the county and Layton,” said Arroyo. “Then about two years ago Clearfield started one and now there are programs in Syracuse, Clinton, Bountiful and Kaysville. That’s really exciting.”
The bulk of what they do is explain the court system. “It can be pretty daunting,” she said. “Victims ask, ‘how could he plead not guilty when he clearly did it?’ We have a lot of Kleenex on hand; it can be a very emotional topic for people. The criminal justice system doesn’t leave with both sides happy.”
Sometimes victims don’t want to press charges at all so they’re angry and others want the maximum penalty for a first offense. “That’s probably not going to happen,” she said. “But just explaining the process can help alleviate that stress.”
Above all, Arroyo just wants people to seek help. “All the services are free and a protective order doesn’t cost anything,” she said. “You don’t even have to give your name. We can go over the situation and offer resources. We’re always happy to make a safety plan. We try to give people as many options as we can so they can be in charge of what’s best for them.”
Arroyo enjoys her work but it can be difficult. “It can be frustrating to law enforcement to see the same people over and over again,” she said. “But it’s absolutely critical in this work not to judge people. I look at it as planting seeds that will grow into something when they’re ready.”
She said not every case is going to turn out the way they want. “Those who go back to an abusive situation, we don’t know why but we have to accept it. Then I’ve had some come back to tell us where their life’s at now and that is really exciting.”