St. Charles puts crime victims first

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 23, 2009



HAHNVILLE – In any given month, St. Charles Sheriff Greg Champagne said his deputies handle more than 400 incidents of crime – from as simple as a stolen bike to as serious as a recurring domestic abuse battery.

“Lots of people have some level of interaction with the Sheriff’s Office,” Champagne said. “I was finding it all too often that some victims feel forgotten in the system. They file a report, and that’s it. People always want additional follow-up, and we were not doing enough to satisfy that.”

The newly opened Crime Victim Assistance Center alleviates that problem. Champagne explained the center is staffed with liaisons that handle follow-up calls to and from an assortment of crime victims. He said that the information fills in gaps in an investigation, which often leads to a better ultimate result.

“With interaction, we develop additional info on various cases,” Champagne said. “The leads collected are then forwarded to the detective bureau. Any fragment of information can lead to a break in a case.”

Champagne said when it comes to incidents such as theft, residents should be more aware of identification and characteristics of valuables in the home.

“Serial numbers, model numbers, specific features are all extremely helpful in an investigation,” Champagne said. “When deputies comb pawn shops for stolen goods, it helps to have something to go on.”

Although it is designed to handle a wide array of crimes, the center’s key focus is the handling of domestic abuse and domestic violence cases. A staff of counselors, social workers and sheriff’s deputies are in constant contact with victims to ensure each case is handled adequately and properly.

“We try to empower and encourage each person that walks through our doors,” said Trish Hattier, a social worker at the Victim’s Center. “We want them to know that they don’t have to deal with an abusive relationship. With the right help, you can walk away from it.”

Champagne said the center goes beyond the state mandate of notifying victims when suspects get released. In addition to the regular counseling, the staff offers support during court appearances, monetary assistance for relocation and medical expenses, advice on whether to stay or move and forensic interviews that document acts of abuse.

“We take video statements from the victims so that they can explain and account for each incident,” Hattier said. “The court can see first hand how the victim suffered at the hands of their batterers.”

A testament to the success of the center is 22-year-old St. Charles resident Cora Shaw. Shaw, a repeat victim of domestic violence, had forged a rift between herself and her family because she didn’t want to come to terms with the abusive relationship she once had with the father of her young son.

“I was living a lie, pretending to be happy,” Shaw said. “I was actually hurt, depressed and ready to take my own life. All because he took away my pride.”

Shaw explained she finally broke down and sought help at the center after her mother took out a life insurance policy on her.

“When she bought that policy, it made me feel like someday she would be burying me,” Shaw said. “That’s not how I wanted to go down.”

Hattier said when Shaw came to the center and talked with counselors, they found that she was suffering more than 21 symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

“She was only 17 when this relationship began, and she wasn’t talking to anyone about it,” Hattier said. “After witnessing the hurt she was suffering, it was Cora’s sister that finally came forward to force an intervention.”

Shaw now sees herself as a survivor who wants to make others like her understand that it is not too late to get out.

“It happens everyday, and I just want to help break the cycle,” Shaw said. “I discovered that there is no need to settle for anything.”