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Advocates proud of progress, but say challenges remain

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 24. 2013 2:19AM
Emma LaBrake, 3, kisses a picture of her mom, Melissa LaBrake, as her grandmother, Lori LaBrake, places it on a table at the front of the chapel at St. Paul's Church in Concord Tuesday night as names of victims of crimes in New Hampshire were read during a memorial service. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD - The theme for this year's National Crime Victims' Rights Week is "New challenges, new solutions," and the director of the state Office of Victim Witness Advocates said challenges facing advocates are elder abuse, human trafficking and terrorism.

Sandra Matheson said New Hampshire residents who said human trafficking is not an issue here are wrong and said it will need to be addressed.

Speaking at a morning gathering at St. Paul's Church, Matheson said she is proud of what has been accomplished in New Hampshire in terms of victims' protection since her office was established in 1987 by then Gov. Stephen Merrill. She said great progress has been made in a number of areas, including crime victims rights and compensation, victim witness advocates and child advocacy centers.

But the unveiling of Victims, Inc.'s 19th Memorial Quilt, and the other quilts displayed at the church that honor victims of crime, including drunken and negligent driving, were a reminder of the widespread impact of loss.

Matheson introduced outgoing Attorney General Michael Delaney, saying: "He's always been out front on these issues." Delaney said the event is an opportunity to honor not only the victims, but also those who have taken up the effort to assist them.

He praised the late Peter Michaud, who died in February. Michaud spent the last 15 of his 30 years working for the state as Victim Services Administrator with the New Hampshire Department of Corrections.

Delaney praised Michaud's efforts not only in New Hampshire but also on a national basis. Michaud was the co-founder of the National Association of Victim Service Professionals in Corrections and built the association's website to facilitate communications among all corrections-based victim assistance programs nationally.

Matheson also praised Michaud, saying he had no advocacy experience when she hired him, but: "He changed the culture of the department of corrections." Michaud was also responsible for the statewide automated victim information and notification program.

Delaney recognized as "a tremendous colleague" Kathy Kimball, a retired New Hampshire State Police detective sergeant who serves as coordinator of the New Hampshire Sexual Assault Resource Team (SART) Initiative.

Kimball, who has spent more than 25 years advocating for victims and working to improve police responses to sexual assault, received the National Sexual Violence Resource Center Visionary Voice Award, which recognized one person in each state for their outstanding advocacy and community work to end or prevent sexual violence.

Delaney praised Matheson, who will retire at the end of this year, saying she started as a homicide advocate, but has expanded and taken on other issues, working with their victims.

He said this year's theme is an effort to ensure "All victims of crime receive the support services they need and deserve." Crime affects not only the immediate victim, said Delaney, but also the community and the state. Crime has "repercussions that touch us all," he said.

Delaney introduced Gov. Maggie Hassan, saying she has provided support for child advocacy centers and the Attorney General's Cold Case Unit and restored troopers and advocates in her budget.

Hassan also spoke of the widespread impact of crime, saying the injury total for the Boston Marathon bombing has been dramatically increased, from early reports of 170 to 180 to 264, based on reports from 26 hospitals in the Massachusetts Hospital Association.

Hassan said many people, who considered themselves fortunate not to be badly injured, decided to let hospitals treat those more seriously injured or tried to "shake it off."

But they finally sought needed help, Hassan said.

"When you've been the victim of a crime, come forward so we can help," she said.

She said violence affects every one of our communities and said: "A crime can make a person feel alone, but it doesn't have to be that way."

She thanked the survivors who attended the event, saying: "You are beacons of hope. Your bravery inspires us.

Because of the rain, the Clothesline Project Display, organized by the AmeriCorps Victim Assistance Program of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence was set up in the church basement instead of the State House lawn.

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