04/30/2009

susan russellWarren resident Susan Russell was one of two Vermonters who testified this week in Washington, DC, before the Senate committee chaired by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.

The hearing, "The Victims of Crime Act: 25 Years of Protecting and Supporting Victims," was held on April 28.

This week is National Crime Victims' Rights Week, and 2009 is the 25th anniversary of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), which established the Crime Victims' Fund. The Fund serves roughly four million crime victims every year.

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Russell is a crime victim survivor and currently serves as a criminal justice and victim services consultant. She holds a certificate from the National Victim Assistance Academy and Vermont's Victim Assistance Academy. She is also a National Organization for Victim Assistance credentialed Victim Advocate. She testified about her experience with the Crime Victims' Fund, and about crime victims' need for support from the criminal justice system. Excerpts from Russell's testimony follow:

"Seventeen years ago, a man who resided in the same small rural community as I kidnapped, raped and nearly killed me. This man slashed two of my car tires and then followed me. It is highly likely that he had been stalking me for some time, as several years after my assault, I learned that he had broken into my husband's truck prior to my assault and had stolen identifying information. This man held no regard for life as after begging and pleading for my life he fractured my skull in three places with a tire iron, broke several facial bones and left me to die in a remote wilderness area.

"I can recall gaining consciousness hours later, cold, shivering, naked and in intense pain. I recall touching my head and feeling something sharp and protruding. As a trained Emergency Medical Technician, I knew that I was in serious trouble and needed help. Somehow, I managed to stumble through the woods a tenth of a mile where there were five teenagers camped. They managed to keep me warm and awake and two of them hiked three miles to the nearest phone.

"Upon arrival at the emergency room of the second hospital, I had a team of nurses and doctors working to prepare me for surgery. During this time my husband was brought in, and he immediately passed out and was escorted out of the emergency room. During my three-week stay in the hospital, the rape crisis advocate came several times to talk and/or listen. And after I returned home I was able to call the rape crisis hotline any time day or night. Rape crisis centers, which provide a host of victim services such as this one, are funded with VOCA funds.

"At the time of my assault I worked as a hiking/canoeing guide. I subsequently lost my job and had no income. It took me many months -- really many years -- to recuperate physically, and part of my recovery hinged on physical therapy -- something not covered by my medical insurance. The medical bills alone even with health insurance reached over $30,000. Another VOCA-funded service which I benefited from is the Victims Compensation Program. Vermont's Victim Compensation will allocate $10,000 per victim for things such as medical costs including physical therapy and counseling. These are two of the services I so desperately needed and would not have had access to if it were not for VOCA.

"Soon after my assault I was contacted by the State's Attorney Victim Advocate and we found ourselves having to go through the criminal justice system. Again due to VOCA funds we were able to have a victim advocate help us navigate the criminal justice system. I am quite certain I would never have survived the criminal justice system without the information and support provided by the victim advocate. Fortunately for all of us, due to having a way to be involved and informed, a plea agreement was met and the offender was convicted and sentenced to 25 to 35 years.

"In closing, I would like to state that had I not had these VOCA funding services I would not be here today. I'd also like to add that these services helped my husband and I remain together as next month we will celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary. There is no doubt in my mind that without VOCA funding services I would not have been able rebuild my life and recover in a manner that moved me from a victim to a survivor. Thank you again for inviting me here to share my story."

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