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Meet your government: Foley helps crime victims

POSTED: May 17, 2009 10:45 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Bethany Foley has been working as the victim services director for the Hall County District Attorney's office for more than a year. Foley, originally from Macon, began working for the district attorney's office as a victim advocate.

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For victims of crime, the criminal justice system can be confounding and frustrating, often with waits of many months, sometimes years, to see a case resolved.

In Hall County, Bethany Foley and the staff of the Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Victim Assistance Program are there to guide the way.

Foley, director of victim services since January 2008, spends a lot of time on the phone or in the courtroom, working to reassure crime victims that their case, while one of hundreds, is important.

"A lot of our phone calls are from people who just need to talk to someone," Foley said. "We’re not counselors, but we can listen. People get frustrated and call and just need to vent sometimes, and that’s OK."

Foley, a native of Macon and graduate of Georgia College and State University, has been with the Northeastern Circuit district attorney’s office since 2006. Previously she worked at Gateway House, a local shelter for battered women, and was a victim advocate for district attorneys in Butts and Baldwin counties.

The Northeastern circuit’s seven-member victim assistance staff provides victim support for felony cases in Hall and Dawson counties. Last fiscal year, the office served around 2,000 victims. From October to March, nearly 1,200 victims were served by Foley and her staff.

All crime victims are entitled to be notified when a defendant is due for a court hearing, and if they choose to attend, be accompanied by an advocate. They also can be referred to outside agencies for victim services, like Gateway House or Rape Response. Some victims are eligible for money from a compensation fund for medical bills and other expenses associated with a crime.

Much of Foley’s work involves explaining the processes within the courts to folks unfamiliar with the workings of the judicial system.

"We try to educate them and answer any questions they have," Foley said.

Sensitivity and empathy are key, she said.

"We have to realize that we’re looking at it from a different perspective. It’s affecting their life, so you kind of have to put yourself in their shoes and handle it in the most sensitive way possible."

Foley said some of the most common questions she and other advocates field include "Do I have to testify?" "What kind of sentence will he get?" and "When will the case be closed?"

Because of the sheer volume of cases going through the court system, justice is rarely swift, which often leads to frustration from victims who want to know when they will see a resolution.

"I try to explain to people that the courts do not move quickly, and that their case is extremely important, but there are hundreds of others."

Victim advocates work closely with the prosecutors and investigators of the district attorney’s office to see that crime victims are well-served, she said.

"Everybody works really well together," Foley said. "We’re all working toward the same goal."

In some of the more complex and time-consuming criminal cases, the advocates build relationships with victims over many months that can last after the case is resolved, with grateful victims continuing to call or write afterward.

"Some send us Christmas cards with pictures of their kids, and that means a lot to us," she said.

"There are days I love my job, then there are days that are harder than others, but it’s rewarding," said Foley, who lives in Jackson County with her husband, Josh.

"When you close a case and a victim is happy, and they feel like they got justice and they thank you, that puts it in perspective and makes it all worthwhile."



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