New advocate in Pennsylvania supports crime victims

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HARRISBURG -- Here's hoping you'll never need to speak to victim advocate Jennifer Storm or require the services her office provides.

But should you need to, she wants you to know what is available.

"A lot of people have no clue that victim rights even exist until, unfortunately, they have to; until someone like me is sitting in your living room after your son has been murdered and I'm telling you," Ms. Storm said.

The newly appointed victim advocate for the state, Ms. Storm was confirmed unanimously by the state Senate and sworn in earlier this month.

Created in 1995, the Office of the Victim Advocate exists to represent the rights of crime victims before the Board of Probation and Parole and the state's Department of Corrections. The office provides services such as letting victims know about the whereabouts and movements of an inmate within the prison system, information about restitution, when an inmate could be coming up for parole, and the opportunity to provide testimony before an inmate is paroled.

A victim advocate essentially serves as a navigator or liaison for a crime victim, Ms. Storm said.

"It's really walking people through the various systems -- sometimes it's criminal, sometimes it's juvenile, sometimes it's civil. It truly depends on the circumstances of the crime and the desire of the victim. ... My role is to really just quietly be next to that person, and educating them just every step of the way," she said.

Ms. Storm lives in Cumberland County, in Central Pennsylvania, and previously served as the executive director of the Dauphin County Victim/Witness Assistance Program.

"Jen is a powerful and inspirational writer, speaker and teacher. More importantly for prosecutors, Jen is a tireless advocate who has the compassion to share a victim's pain and the fortitude to speak up on a victim's behalf," said a statement from David Freed, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and district attorney of Cumberland County.

Having been a victim of a crime herself -- she was raped at age 12 -- Ms. Storm can personally understand what many victims experience. "I was thrown into an arduous criminal justice system that I had no idea how to navigate" at the time, she said.

Ms. Storm said a goal for her new role will be to visit all 67 counties in the first two years of her six-year term, and develop a stronger relationship with local victim services organizations.

"Crime victims have rights," she said. "And they never have to walk through the system alone."

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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