For 35 years, the Marion Victim Assistance Program (VAP) has been a support and guide to local victims of crime. Betsy Abbott and Courtney Rittenour connect crime victims to resources including emergency assistance, emotional support, and guidance through the court system.
These women have helped thousands of local victims of all types of crime, including assault, domestic violence, violation of a protection order, and theft. They help victims of all ages, from children to senior citizens. Their support is provided at no cost to Marion County residents. The majority of their cases are victims of misdemeanors in Marion Municipal Court, though they also assist with those dealing with felony crimes.
“Many times, we go to Marion General Hospital to accompany a victim through a sexual assault exam,” said Abbott. “If the victim is over 18, advocates will not call law enforcement unless that is the wish of the victim. Advocates provide information on all of their victim rights, an explanation of what happens if the sexual assault is reported and what happens if it is not reported, as well as details on felony hearings.”
Advocates provide ongoing support including safety planning, assistance filing civil protection orders, and connection to local counseling services. They help regardless of whether the courts are involved.
“This is especially important in murder-suicides where the suspect is dead but a family is left with the aftermath of the tragedy. Since there is no one to prosecute, the prosecutor’s office does not receive the case,” Abbott said. “In these cases, VAP advocates assist the surviving family of the victim with filing victim compensation claims for funeral expenses, counseling expenses or various other services, as well as being a liaison between law enforcement and the surviving family.”
These women provide a Trauma Response Intervention program for adolescents and a support group for children. Counselors may be reluctant to see a victim until a court case is completed, which may take a year or longer, so this fills an important need. They also help regardless of whether a victim is documented. One elderly local man suffered a brutal assault but was reluctant to report it to law enforcement due to his immigration status. VAP helped him feel comfortable enough to press charges against his attacker.
“These ladies will bend over backwards and do everything they can to help the victim of crimes in our community. We have a great working relationship and they help us tremendously by ensuring that victims get the assistance that they need,” said Lt. Ed Brown, MPACT Coordinator for the Marion City Police Department. “Sometimes the victims just need someone to talk to or someone to go to court with them to give them support and strength to testify. Many times, the need is much more and they have programs and/or referrals that they will make to help victims get through whatever horrible event brought them to us. I cannot say enough good things about the Marion Victim Assistance Program and the ladies that work in that office. They make a huge MPACT in our community.”
The Marion City Law Director Mark Russell agreed.
“As a prosecutor for more than 20 years, I have observed firsthand how valuable the services and advocacy provided by the Marion Victim Assistance Program are to victims of crime in our community,” Russell said.
In 2019, these two women provided support to 616 victims of crime in Marion. In 2020, the VAP became a division of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. It is also an affiliate agency of United Way of Marion and Marion Community Foundation. The VAP kept their office open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Without VAP, there would have been no one to assist with the Municipal Court victims. We know that that crime did not stop,” Abbott said.
In addition to providing direct support to local victims, Abbott and Rittenour collaborate on local awareness and prevention efforts, including putting teal ribbons around downtown Marion for Sexual Assault Awareness each April.
For help or more information, call VAP at (740) 387-4401.