By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

Victims of crime in Del Norte County are urged to seek out help.

This is the message the countys Victim Witness Program wishes to impart as National Crime Victims Week begins next Monday.

We try to ensure the safety of crime victims, explain some of the benefits available and show people their options, said program coordinator Barbara Tanner. People in crisis can have difficulty making decisions. They often have to depend on spouses for support when these are the very people they need protection from.

A statistical breakdown provided by the agency shows domestic violence is by far the leader in creating victims in Del Norte.

Easily, these cases take up nearly 50 percent of our time. Where other crimes can go in trends, like theres been a rash of sex abuse crimes lately, domestic violence is pretty consistent every year. But we are not driven by statistics here - its people that are important, Tanner said.

Some aid the program offers is supporting witnesses in court, getting compensation to victims for medical bills, and issuing civil restraining orders and criminal stay-away orders.

Also, if someone is arrested for a sex crime and there is an exchange of bodily fluid, we get the suspect tested, Tanner said.

One option available is therapy, and Tanner said advocates encourage victims to seriously consider pursuing it.

Therapy is definitely the biggest one, she said. A lot of times the victims will say Im OK, Im OK. But six months down the road they begin having trouble, so its important that they be signed up right away.

Grants used by the agency do not come from tax dollars but are funded through criminal fines and judgments, according to Tanner. Crime victims end up being paid by the criminals, so it all comes back around, she said.

The grant from the Child Abuse Treatment Program supplies the advocates with $175,000 per year and is used primarily in obtaining therapy for children.

Another is the Victim Witness Grant of $106,476 per year. This is the general fund used for all crime types, Tanner said. Whatever their needs are we can be pretty creative in meeting them. They just have to be crime related, she said.

The criminal aspects of the program can sometimes pose problems, according to Tanner, as the advocates are under the same wing as the district attorneys office.

There is sometimes a conflict between the victims interests and what the prosecution needs to do, she said in relation to victims testifying against defendants. But Mike Riese, who prosecutes all the sex abuse cases, has been very aware of the victims needs and concerns and he is protective of them.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Riese said the success in Del Norte in prosecuting sex-related crimes is because of teamwork between the agencies involved.

Its because of the team approach we use, he said. (County) Detectives like Alissa Mehlhoff and Gene McManus will get the victims acquainted with and help guide them through the court process. This takes away the uncertainty they might feel about whose case it is.

Mehlhoff also uses an informal approach in dealing with children involved in always stressful sex abuse cases, she said.

Most of these kids have never seen the inside of a courtroom, she said. So I will take them over and show them the empty courtroom, tell them the questions they will be asked and assure them that if they ever feel uncomfortable they can always look over at me and I will give them a smile.

Victim Witness advocate Alison Baxter said that although new positions have been added to the program recently it hasnt reduced the workload.

Business has been good, but I dont know if thats good, she quipped. I can say this: business just keeps picking up.