MANTI— Having a victim advocate isn’t something new in the county, but something that is making a big difference, according to Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels.
Stephanie Sorensen started working in the County Attorney’s Office as the victim advocate in No- vember of 2019, the third person to hold the job. Of the three advocates, she has served the longest.
“Whether it’s getting restitution, helping navigate the criminal justice system, being a comforting or listening ear, her role is helping victims obtain their version of justice,” Daniels said.
Funding for the program comes from the federal Violence Against Woman Act (VOWA) and the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). Both the VOWA and VOCA are admin- istered by the U.S. Department of Justice with some involvement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The DOJ makes grants to the Utah Office for Victims of Crime (UOVC), an agency of the Utah Department of Corrections.
UOVC makes subawards to counties for victim advocate programs. For this fiscal year, 2022-2023, Sanpete County was awarded $47.764, down from last years amount of $58,193.
Daniels said the state keeps cutting back, but when it does, the county commissioners have “stepped up” to keep the program running.
While the job of victim advocate can be very difficult, it is also rewarding, Sorensen said. She loves helping victims/survivors realize that although they are going through something hard at the moment, it doesn’t dictate how their life will be forever.
“Seeing them process their experiences with growth and regained confidence as they go through the criminal process to get back to normal life is very rewarding,” Sorensen said. “I want them to realize that this is not their whole story, just a chapter in their book.”
Trying to help people at their most difficult moments and not being able to just make it all go away is hard, Sorensen said.
“Restitution is very hard in many cases, which is hard to see, because everyone deserves to be made whole,” she said.
Sorensen feels very strongly about the need for a victim advocate in Sanpete County, and she wants citizens to know if they have been victimized, there is local help. The first step is to contact her office by calling 835-2131 and selecting Option4 for the county attorney. Ask for the victim advocate.
“Citizens need to know that as victims, they have an important role in the criminal justice system that includes reporting the crime, testifying at trial and presenting a victim impact statement” in court, she said.
Often, victims who show courage can prevent other people from becoming victims, too, Sorensen said. People need to realize that as victims come forward, they also help the offender by starting the accountability process.
Daniels said he works hand- in-hand with Sorensen on many cases. “When I am prosecuting a sex abuse or rape case, I always meet with the victim of the crime, and Stephanie is always in the meeting with us,” he said.
Daniels said that Sorensen’s responsibilities include attending court hearings, listening to victims, becoming a friend to many in the court system, and teaching someone to love themselves knowing that what happened wasn’t their fault.
“A huge part of her job is making sure the victim receives restitution,” Daniels said. “If the person convicted of a crime fails to pay, we (the County Attorney’s Office) go after them.”
If a perpetrator is in prison and has no money, the victim advocate can help the victim pursue the restitution from the UOVC, which is involved in collecting restitution from criminals but also has some public funding.
Sorensen’s other duties include informing individuals of their rights as a victim of crime.
“Victims and witnesses of crime have fundamental rights in the criminal justice process to ensure that all victims are treated with dignity, respect, courtesy and sensitivity,” she said.
Sorensen said she also pro- vides emotional support, resources and referrals, according to the type of crime that was committed. She helps the victims through the criminal justice process and ensures that they understand the process and their role.
“One of my biggest roles is to be a liaison between the prosecutors in our office and victims. Every case is different, and every individual is different. The attorneys in our office want to know how victims feel about their specific case and what they want to happen,” she said.
She said the one question she always wants to know from victims is, “What would justice look like for you?” Then she works to achieve that outcome to the greatest extent possible.