Bimbo Brewer is one of the first people who crime victims and witnesses turn to when they ask “why?”
In the Hall County Sheriff’s Victim Witness Protection/Assistance Unit, Brewer and Anita Buffington are on the front lines when tragedies occur, responding to the scenes of violent crimes and making death notifications in homicides, suicides, overdoses and fatal wrecks.
The reactions they see are varied and unpredictable.
“We blow the dam, and then we ride the flood,” Brewer said. “You ride the flood until it starts subsiding, and then you find a way to funnel the family to better areas.”
Brewer and Buffington’s two-person unit is often the first stop in a continuum of victim services that includes advocates in the solicitor and district attorney offices, as well as at least five local agencies dedicated to helping people through difficult times.
“We step in and try to start helping them make a little better sense of the most chaotic situation that they’ll ever be in,” Brewer said.
“We just try to help them get through those terrible first emotional moments.”
Brewer said with all the local services now available for crime victims, “there’s a lot of awareness of victimization.”
“This has not always been this way,” Brewer said.
This week is National Victims Rights Week, which will be observed locally with a ceremony at noon Friday on the Gainesville square.
The 1984 Victim of Crimes Act requires victims to be informed throughout the criminal justice procedure, with updates on a defendant’s trial status and the ultimate disposition of the case, said Stephanie Woodard, Hall County’s State Court solicitor-general.
“Since the establishment of the judicial system, the defendant has always had rights,” Woodard said. “It’s a relatively modern development to bestow rights on the victims.”
In addition to keeping more than 5,000 crime victims informed in 2009, Woodard’s office coordinates with outside organizations to help victims of domestic violence.
Hall County is fortunate to have a strong network of victim services available, Woodard said.
Gateway House provides services for domestic violence victims, Rape Response advocates for sexual assault victims and the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children is dedicated to helping child victims of abuse. The Children’s Center for Hope and Healing provides counseling for children and teens. Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, represent children’s interests in court.
“Gainesville is so service-rich, with so many groups providing services for victims,” Woodard said.
Volunteers working in all areas of victim services will be among those present for Friday’s ceremony, when up to 100 butterflies will be released in an act of symbolism.
“It’s about putting that (victimization) behind you, instead of letting something painful and difficult in life define who you are,” Woodard said.