BY REBECCA BRATTEN WEISS
Harrison News-Herald Reporting Journalist

Sarah Devore has been employed as the county’s victim coordinator since February 2021, when she was hired by prosecuting attorney Lauren Knight. Since then, she has worked with victims of crimes ranging from traffic violations and disorderly conduct to domestic violence and assault.

Devore’s work is important for the court system. Under Ohio law, every prosecutor’s office in the state has a government employee in the position of victim coordinator — sometimes also known as a victim advocate. The News-Herald talked to Devore recently about her work assisting crime victims.

Devore shared that crime victims might sometimes be uncertain about navigating the complicated court system. She assists with that and ensures the victims are informed of their legal rights. She helps them seek restitution if they have experienced financial loss and act as their liaison with the prosecutor’s office. Another essential part of Devore’s job is keeping victims informed on how the case against a defendant is proceeding and when hearings will be held. And when the prosecutor is preparing to make the defendant an offer, the victim is notified first.

“Victims’ views are respected,” Devore explained. If a victim has strong views regarding a proposed sentence, it might sometimes influence an outcome. However, she added, some cases last a long time, and victims’ perspectives and preferences may change.

Any time a case involving a victim is heard in court, Devore is present on the victim’s behalf. And she sometimes represents the victim by reading their prepared statement to the courtroom.

Though victims have a right to appear in court should they choose and make their statements themselves, Devore explained that many prefer not to. Sometimes this may be because it is difficult to travel or get time off. But in other cases, simply being in the defendant’s presence can be a trauma trigger. “Sometimes a victim will tell you they were doing OK — until they get the reminder about the hearing,” Devore said. So, not only is Devore there to represent the victim but also to protect them from a potentially traumatic situation.

Devore also stressed respecting a victim’s right to make a statement or not, but she also wished more victims would want to make statements — it’s important for them to be heard. “It’s their experience. It’s their life.”

Devore has a degree in human services and is drawn to working with at-risk persons. “I believe if you’re in a bad situation, you don’t have to stay there,” she said.

As to how she deals with regularly seeing the more negative aspects of humanity, Devore said having a strong support system is crucial. “I have a wonderful family at home and a supportive husband.”

Probably the most difficult part of her work is assisting in domestic violence cases. “Culturally, there’s a lot of victim blame,” she explained. And this might mean that domestic abuse victims have been conditioned to think it’s their fault.

Devore would like the public to know victims have specific rights within the legal system. “But the legal system is complicated,” she said. So crime victims need to ask questions and be clear on the protections available to them.