Q & A WITH ACPO VICTIM WITNESS COORDINATOR RAYMOND ROYSTER & VICTIM WITNESS ADVOCATE MELODY KIRBY
~Victim Witness Advocate Melody Kirby, how long have you served in the ACPO Victim Witness Unit and how many Human Trafficking cases/clients have you assisted with services?
VICTIM WITNESS ADVOCATE KIRBY: I’ve been working as a Victim Advocate for the past 16 years and during that time, I’ve serviced five clients, with three in total.
~Where does a Victim Witness Advocate begin in the process of servicing a survivor/victim of HT?
VICTIM WITNESS ADVOCATE KIRBY: I always take time to gather as much information and review the case prior to contacting the victims or family members. Next, I like to introduce myself and then explain the criminal justice process in detail to ensure that they understand their rights as a victim. Following that, I explain the current status of the case with the victim and/or family member depending on the situation. Afterwards, I offer support and provide information regarding services that would be beneficial to them. Lastly, I follow up with them to provide status updates and reassess for additional services.
~How difficult is it for these individuals to cooperate and receive assistance from the ACPO Victim Witness Unit?
VICTIM WITNESS ADVOCATE KIRBY: I have found that it is difficult for victims to cooperate and provide information at times because they have significant fear of retaliation from the offenders. Additionally, the victims are often transient and do not have stable phone numbers or addresses to send or correspondence. Victims also do not generally want to testify in court because of the extreme fear of further acts of violence against them and their families.
~How important was the recent passage of the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act, regarding the expungement of criminal offenses of Human Trafficking survivors/victims?
VICTIM WITNESS COORDINATOR ROYSTER: I feel that that passage of the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection and Treatment Act, allows the victim to not only have their records expunged by the courts, but it also gives hope to others who are fearful of coming forward to ask for help. This bill is very beneficial to all victims of human trafficking not just those that are being sexually exploited. It educates the public about the other forms of human trafficking which include labor and gang activities.
~Have you witnessed success stories with victims/survivors of Human Trafficking that you have serviced?
VICTIM WITNESS ADVOCATE KIRBY: On one occasion, I had the pleasure of supporting the victim during their substance abuse recovery by continually offering positive encouragement. During this time, the victim was also able to secure stable housing and employment. This allowed the victim to become financially stable and independent. The victim was then able pay off other court fines and attend all necessary court hearings to avoid any further judgements against the victim. I was also able to research and find mental health support services for the victim. I was also able to provide emergency food gift cards to aid the victim while they were getting on their feet financially. Lastly, the victim was able regain custody of their children and provide a safe and stable life for them.
~How would you describe ACPO’s Victim Witness role and commitment to the survivors/victims during their safe transition from a life of Human Trafficking?
VICTIM WITNESS COORDINATOR ROYSTER: I would continue to always remind the victim that they are valuable and heard. It is important, as an advocate, to always make time for all victims regardless of their current predicament so that they understand that we are not here to judge them while they are suffering and, in many cases, simply surviving. We will always try to be a beacon of hope and source of for information before, during and after their case comes to this office.
Anyone with information involving serious crimes is asked to call the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office at 609-909-7800 or go to the Prosecutor’s Office Web site at http://www.acpo.org/tips.html and provide information by filling out the form anonymously on the Submit a Tip page. People can also call Crime Stoppers at 609-652-1234 or 1-800-658-8477(TIPS) or visit the Crime Stoppers Website at http://www.crimestoppersatlantic.com/. Crime Stoppers offers cash rewards for information leading to the arrest and indictment of those who commit crimes in Atlantic County.