Mississippi  Department of  Corrections

Rick McCarty  

Phil Bryant

Interim Commissioner   

 Governor  

 

 

 

Handbook for Victims of Crime

 

A Handbook for Victims of Crime in Mississippi
                            

This handbook is a project of the

Mississippi Department of Corrections – Division of Victim Services

 

 

Introduction

Being a victim of a crime can be a very difficult experience. Each person copes with the aftermath of victimization in a unique way. Whether you or a family member has been victimized, you may feel anger, guilt, shame, insecurity, fear, powerlessness, and depression. You do not have to go through all of these emotions alone. Many people can help you understand this experience and can support you through the recovery.

 

This handbook has been written specifically for crime victims. The more you know about the criminal justice system, the more comfortable you will feel as various events occur. We know this information will not solve all your problems or answer all your questions, but we hope it will serve as a useful guide to explain how and where to find help.

 

Pre-trial Process

The United States has an adversarial system of justice in which we consider a person innocent until proven guilty. We demand a fair process for all people charged with crimes, to reduce the possibility of an error that would convict an innocent person.

 

Following an arrest and before trial, the court may hold several hearings. The number of hearings often depends on the seriousness of the offense. These hearings may include:

 

Initial Appearance

After a warrant is issued and a suspect is arrested or otherwise charged, the case officially enters the criminal justice system. Ordinarily, the first appearance a defendant makes before the court after an arrest is at arraignment. The court advises the defendant of the nature of the charges, assures legal representation for him or her, and sets bail.

 

Bail

The Mississippi constitution guarantees a defendant the right to bail if the court concludes the defendant will appear for trial and will not endanger the victim or the public. However, the constitution also gives victims the right to be protected from further harm by the defendant and to speak at the bail hearing. The judge will decide whether to impose bail and conditions of release to protect the victim and the public. If a defendant posts bail and then fails to appear for any scheduled hearing, the cash or property may be forfeited to the state government and an arrest warrant issued.

 

Grand Jury

A Grand Jury may consider the case. The Grand Jury is made up of citizens who hear and review the prosecutor’s evidence against the accused person in a closed hearing. This process may occur either before or after an arrest is made. If the Grand Jury finds sufficient evidence to take a case to trial, it will issue an indictment. Police officers, victims and witnesses appear by subpoena (court order). They give testimony that usually does not become part of the public record, although there are exceptions. No one is permitted to observe grand jury proceedings, although if you receive a subpoena to testify, you must go.

 

Pretrial Motions

The judge often holds several court hearings before the actual trial. One of these may be a suppression hearing in which the defense challenges part or all of the prosecutor’s evidence. The purpose is to ensure that all evidence was gathered properly and within legal limits.

 

Guilty or No Contest Plea

Following all the pretrial hearings, the case is ready for trial. However, a defendant may choose toenter a plea of guilty to a charge, which means there is no trial and no presentation of evidence or witnesses. The prosecutor reads a brief statement of facts into the court record, and a summary of any agreements about the plea. A defendant can plead guilty or no contest. A no contest plea means the defendant can be convicted and sentenced for the criminal charges, but the plea cannot be used to prove the offense in a civil case.

 

Timing

Although Mississippi has rules to assure that trials are held promptly, you should understand that the pretrial process may take six to twelve months, or more, to complete. The prosecutor and the court cannot control all of the delays in the process. Continuances are inevitable and may cause you great stress. Keep in mind that court dates often change.

 

The police officer, prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, jury, and probation officer play important roles as the case moves through the court.

 

The following information explains the responsibilities of each person.

 

Police

When a crime occurs, usually the first person to respond is a law enforcement officer who investigates the offense. The officer in charge may gather physical evidence, question witnesses, photograph or video the scene, and collect as much information as possible. If police find enough evidence to show that a specific person committed the offense, they may file criminal charges against that person or refer the case to the county or municipal prosecutor. Police officers may or may not arrest a defendant when they file charges.

 

Once you report a crime to the police, you should understand that the case can go forward even without your consent or cooperation. In cases of domestic violence and child abuse in particular, victims or parents of victims sometimes change their minds about wanting to see the offender prosecuted. However, these are serious offenses, and the prosecutor may take the case to trial anyway. A victim advocate can help you sort through your feelings about this issue.

 

If the police question you, you should talk as honestly and openly about your relationship with the defendant as possible. If you are a survivor of a homicide victim, you also must give open and honest answers about the victim. Withholding background information can hinder the investigation. You may add information to your statement as you remember things more clearly. Tell the police about any items of evidence that may be helpful to the case.

 

The police officers must remain objective in their investigation and look at all possibilities. Often the police cannot give the victim much information until after they question or arrest a suspect. The police may keep certain information about the crime private, in order to confront a suspect who knows details of the crime only the perpetrator could know.

 

You may want more information from the police and the prosecutor than they can give. The investigative phase of a crime can be very hard on victims and survivors. This is a good time to call a victim support group for assistance.

 

In some cases, police identify a suspect but do not have enough evidence to file criminal charges. In other cases a suspect is not immediately identified. Police keep the case files for serious crimes open for a long time. Crimes sometimes are solved long after they occur. The police will not stay in constant contact with you, but you may contact them regularly.

 

Medical Examiner

Homicides must be reported to the medical examiner or coroner of the jurisdiction where the victim is pronounced dead or where the body is found. Often it is the medical examiner who decides that the person did not die from natural causes, and orders an autopsy to be performed. The purpose of the autopsy is to determine the cause of death and to independently document any trauma suffered by the victim. The medical examiner may order an autopsy without getting a signed consent by the next of kin. The medical examiner will keep control over the body of the victim until it is released to the funeral home of your choice.

 

Victims of sexual assault may be asked to submit to a medical exam at a nearby hospital. If the sex offense has just occurred, an immediate medical exam may provide evidence crucial to conviction of the offender, and your cooperation is tremendously important. These exams may be traumatic both for adults and children. Most larger communities have victims’ organizations that will send a trained advocate to the hospital with you. If no such advocate can come, you can bring a close friend or family member with you to the hospital.

 

Victims of domestic violence, physical child abuse, assault, and drunk driving also may be asked to submit to a medical exam. The sooner these exams take place after the offense, the more evidence can be preserved. Although these exams generally are less traumatic than exams for sex offenses, you still may want to bring an advocate or a friend with you for support.

 

The investigating agency may have to hold your personal possessions as evidence. The police agency or prosecutor handling the case will decide what can be released to you.  But you do have a right to these items as soon as is possible.

 

Prosecutor

The prosecutor is an attorney who is the legal representative of the government. The prosecutor represents the interests of the people of a community against an individual who has been charged with a crime. One or more prosecutors take charge of the case through all pretrial hearings, the trial, and certain appeals. If the case goes to trial, the prosecutor must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the defendant committed the offense. Prosecutors generally do this by having witnesses testify and by presenting physical evidence.

 

Many cases do not go to trial because the accused pleads guilty or no contest. Sometimes the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest in exchange for the prosecutor’s promise to dismiss or reduce some charges, or to make favorable recommendations at sentencing. This arrangement is called a plea bargain or plea agreement. In deciding whether or not to offer a plea bargain, a prosecutor looks at the strength of the evidence, the credibility of the witnesses, and the likely sentence. Although victims have the right to confer with the prosecutor, the ultimate decision to offer a plea bargain rests with the prosecutor. The prosecutor considers society’s best interests, not just the individual interests of the victim or the victim’s survivors.

 

The prosecutor or a victim-witness coordinator can give you case information and advice on dealing with defense attorneys and reporters, help prepare you for trial and sentencing, and give you information on applying for crime victim compensation. The district attorney’s office has pamphlets on sexual assault, domestic violence, victim’s rights, and safety planning.

 

Defense Attorney

The constitution guarantees a person charged in any state or federal court the assistance of counsel before he or she can be validly convicted and punished. A person accused of a crime who cannot afford a lawyer is entitled under the constitution to have counsel provided at trial and on appeal. The lawyer must zealously advocate whatever is in the best interests of the client, not the interests of the prosecutor, judge, society, or victims.

 

State and federal courts have established rules of evidence, rules of procedure, and principles of constitutional law. The defense attorney’s main duty is to make sure that the prosecution and court follow the rules. The defense attorney need not prove that the defendant is innocent. Instead, the defense attorney ensures that the defendant’s legal rights are not violated.

 

You may feel shock and anger at the strategies the defense attorney uses. You may hear unpleasant or untrue things about you or about people close to you. Cross-examination by a defense attorney can be unnerving and upsetting. Try to stay calm and answer questions as simply and honestly as you can. The assistance of a victim support group can be very helpful at trial.

 

It may sometimes seem that the defendant has more rights than the victim or than society. However, it is important to have a competent and thorough defense attorney representing the defendant. A good defense attorney decreases the chance of judicial or trial error and therefore decreases the chance that the courts will overturn the conviction on appeal.

 

A defense attorney or a defense investigator may want to speak with you before the trial. You are not required to talk to them. They cannot tape record any interview with you without your permission. It is advisable to speak with the prosecutor before providing any information to the defense attorney or defense investigator.

 

Judge

The judge has many functions in the criminal justice system. First, he or she must make impartial decisions. A judge cannot take sides in a criminal case and must treat both the defendant and the state fairly. The judge cannot have any personal contact with the victim or members of the victim’s family while the case is pending. The judge cannot have exparte (one-sided) contact with any of the attorneys, witnesses, jurors or other people involved in the case.

 

A judge decides what evidence can be admitted in the case, using case law, rules of evidence and rules of procedure. Judges also must manage the timing of the case by setting deadlines and requiring the prosecution and defense to meet these deadlines.

 

Victims and their families want the case resolved as soon as possible so that they can go on with their lives. However, they must remember that many things can slow down the case.

 

A judge or jury may try a case and decide guilt. At a trial, the prosecution first presents evidence and testimony. The defense then may, if it chooses, present testimony and evidence on behalf of the defendant. The defendant is never required to testify, but may do so if he or she chooses.

 

After hearing all the evidence, the judge or jury deliberates and reaches a decision. A jury’s decision in a criminal case must be unanimous. If a jury cannot reach a decision, the judge may set a new trial before a different jury. After a felony trial the judge schedules a later time for sentencing. In misdemeanor cases, the judge may sentence the defendant immediately.

 

Jury

A jury is a panel of citizens randomly selected from the community. Before seating jurors in a criminal case, the judge or attorneys question potential jurors. The questioning helps choose fair and impartial jury members. For example, a jury member should not have special knowledge of the offense or be related to any party in the case.

 

The jury decides if the prosecution has proven the defendant guilty, based on the evidence presented in court. Jurors usually do not hear information about the character of the defendant or the victim, to assure that they decide the case based on the current offense and not on feelings about a person’s past behavior or character. Sometimes you may feel frustrated about what 

facts the judge will and will not allow the jury to hear.

 

If you decide to watch a trial, you need to understand that you cannot attempt to influence the jury in any way. Some of the evidence and testimony may be very painful to hear, but reacting in any way could be considered grounds for a mistrial. Jury members may feel sympathy for victims, and an outward display of emotion could affect their ability to remain fair and impartial. 

 

Also be careful about conversations in hallways, elevators, restrooms, or even restaurants near the courthouse. Jurors could be present and overhear these comments.

 

Your Role as a Witness

As a victim, your role as a witness may be crucial in assuring prosecution. If you receive a subpoena you should go to the designated place at the proper time. In major cases the prosecutor may talk with you before trial to hear the facts as you know them.

 

Even if you do not wish to testify, the prosecutor may continue to prosecute the case. This is because crimes are offenses against society as well as crimes against the victim. The prosecutor may subpoena you as a witness.

 

If you testify, try to remember the following tips for effective testimony:  

 

  1. Always tell the truth. Do not guess at answers or offer your opinion unless the judge asks you to do so. If you don’t know the answer to a question, simply say that you do not know.

  2. Think before you speak. Make sure you understand the question. Answer only the question asked and then stop. Don’t memorize your answers.
  3. Speak up loudly enough for everyone in the courtroom to hear you. Answer questions out loud so that the tape recorder picks them up instead of nodding your head.
  4. Try to stay calm. Do not become angry or argue, even if one of the attorneys is hostile or implies something that you think is untrue.
  5. Stop talking if an attorney objects or if the judge interrupts. Begin again when the judge tells you to continue. If you have forgotten the question, ask for it again.
  6. If you are asked whether you have discussed the case with anyone, answer truthfully. It is perfectly permissible to have talked with the police, prosecutor, defense investigator or attorney, family and friends.

 

Probation Officer

If the defendant is convicted of a felony, either by trial or by guilty plea, the case is assigned to a probation officer. The probation officer is an employee of the Department of Corrections. In most felony cases, the judge sets the sentencing date several months after the conviction so the probation officer can prepare a pre-sentence report.

 

A pre-sentence report or investigation is a study of the offender that includes prior criminal history, education, jobs, drug/alcohol involvement, and mental health treatment. The report also states the facts of the case briefly, and describes the effect of the crime on the victims.

 

The victim impact statement is an important part of the pre-sentence report. This statement lets you tell the judge about the physical, mental, emotional and fiscal injury you have suffered. You may ask for restitution and for conditions of probation to help protect you and your family. You may give an oral statement to the pre-sentence investigator, or send a written statement to the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney. You have the right to speak at sentencing in addition to making these other statements.

 

After sentencing, a probation officer is responsible for supervising the felony offender during any term of probation. The probation officer monitors the offender to make sure that the offender follows the orders of the court. The probation officer assists the offender in finding work, training, housing, and treatment. 

 

Sentencing/Restitution

Sentencing is usually the last action of the trial court. After conviction of an offender, the judge imposes some sanction or punishment within the limits set by the legislature. A judge will have some leeway, but the criminal code sets out the minimum and maximum length of sentence.

 

The sentencing hearing usually is fairly short. Evidence may or may not be presented during the hearing. The defense attorney will make a statement on behalf of the offender, noting factors that the judge could use to lower the penalty. The prosecutor will give the government’s position, which may include reasons why the judge should lengthen the sentence. The offender may speak on his or her own behalf, and the victim may speak as well.

 

Sentences can have several parts: jail time, suspended time, probation conditions, and fines. Jail sentences may range from no time in jail to more than 99 years. At the time of sentencing, offenders receive credit for any jail time served prior to trial and sentencing. The judge may suspend part or all of a jail sentence and place the offender on probation. The offender stays on probation for a specific time, with restrictions on activities. Probation conditions may require an offender to keep a job or stay in school, support a family, or get counseling or substance abuse treatment. Probation conditions also may require the offender to stay away from you or to pay you restitution. If the offender does not meet these conditions, the judge may put the offender in jail, or impose other restrictions.

 

If you have suffered out-of-pocket expenses as the result of property damages, lost wages or medical expenses, the judge may order the offender to pay restitution to you. It is important to specify losses when requesting restitution and to keep receipts for your expenses. The judge may hold a hearing to prove the amount of restitution. Restitution payments can be collected while an inmate is in prison. Offenders often make payments weekly or monthly and the payments are forwarded to the victim. In some cases, a victim can get a civil judgment to enforce the order of restitution. Restitution in criminal cases covers only your actual expenses. To recover for pain and suffering or loss of companionship, you must file a separate civil lawsuit against the defendant.

 

Appeal and Post Conviction Process

Offenders convicted at trial may appeal their cases. This means the entire case, from investigation through sentencing, can be reviewed by a higher (appellate) court. The defense submits a written brief noting the areas where errors may have occurred. Common reasons for appeal include an invalid arrest, improperly admitted evidence, and incorrect jury instructions. Some offenders also may appeal the length of their sentences. The prosecution submits a brief responding to the offender’s arguments. These briefs, along with a transcript or tape of the trial, go to the appellate court for review. The attorneys also may present oral argument before the court.

 

The appellate court may either affirm the conviction or overturn the trial court decision. If the court overturns the conviction, the prosecutor sometimes retries the case.

 

A convicted offender also may ask the trial court judge to modify the sentence or overturn the conviction. The offender may argue that the defense attorney was ineffective, new evidence has been discovered, or the judge misunderstood the law. Sometimes new evidence and testimony is given to support a motion for this type of post-conviction relief.

 

The appellate and post-conviction process may take quite some time and may add to your frustration with delay. You have the right to be notified about these proceedings and to attend them if you have registered with the prosecutor’s office for notification. However, most appeals are won by the prosecution. Many victims feel better if they allow the burden of the appeal to rest with the prosecutor, and spend the waiting period working on their own recovery process. If you have questions about appellate procedure, ask the prosecutor’s office or the local victim assistance program for more information.

 

Parole

Parole lets an offender serve the last part of a sentence in the community supervised by a parole officer. Rather than releasing inmates without controls, parole provides for the gradual reintegration of the offender in the community, subject to conditions set by the Parole Board.

 

The Parole Board is independent of the Department of Corrections. Laws decide eligibility for parole, but the five citizens on the Parole Board decide whom to actually release. The scheduling of a parole hearing does not necessarily lead to the release of an offender. The parole board considers the seriousness of the offense, the offender’s past criminal record, adjustment and treatment while in the institution, and plans for the future. The parole board also considers the victim impact statement and the future safety of the victim and society.

 

The parole board will notify victims and survivors of scheduled hearings, if the victim or representative has registered for notification.  If you change addresses, send your new address to the appropriate agency. After receiving notification of a hearing, you may write to the board about your feelings, appear in person to testify, or take no action.  The parole board holds revocation hearings if the offender does not comply with the conditions.

 

Legal Rights of Victims and Survivors

It may appear to you that the court system favors the accused. However, victims and survivors do have rights. Mississippi has passed laws that address the rights of victims, and Mississippi also has a constitutional amendment to complement and strengthen the statutory law. These rights also apply to the parents and guardians of child victims and the survivors of victims who have died.

 

· To be notified of all charges filed against any person for the crime committed against you.

 

· To be notified of any criminal proceedings, other than the initial appearance, as soon as practical, and of any changes that may occur.

 

· To talk with the prosecutor prior to the final disposition of your case, including giving your views on any nol pros (dismissal), reduction of charge, sentence recommendation, and pretrial diversion programs.

 

· To talk with the prosecutor prior to the beginning of the trial.

 

· To receive a transcript of the trial, at your own cost.

 

· To have the trial held without unreasonable delay.  (The trial judge, in determining whether to grant any continuance, should make every reasonable effort to consider what effect granting the continuance would have on the victim.)

 

· To be present throughout all criminal proceedings, including any hearings, arguments or other matters scheduled by and held in the presence of the judge.

 

· To be provided a waiting area at trial separate from the defendant, his relatives and his witnesses.  (If a separate waiting room is not available or its use is impractical, the judge is to do what is possible to minimize contact of the victim with the defendant, his relatives or defense witnesses.)

 

· To have the prosecutor petition the court that you or any other witness not be compelled to testify at any pre-trial proceeding or at trial to any facts concerning your identity, residence or place of employment that could put you in danger if you have been threatened with physical violence or intimidated by the defendant or anyone connected with him.

 

· To be present at any proceeding where the defendant is going to enter a guilty plea and be sentenced.  (The judge cannot accept a guilty plea unless you are present or the prosecutor can assure the judge that every reasonable effort has been made to contact you and notify you of your right to be present.  At the hearing, the victim has the right to present to the judge an impact statement or any information about the criminal offense or the sentence).

 

· To be given the date of a conviction, acquittal or dismissal of the charges.

 

· To be given, after a conviction, information about the function of a pre-sentence report and the name, address and telephone number of the probation officer preparing this report for the judge and about the right of the defendant to view the pre-sentence report.

 

· To make an oral or written impact statement to the probation officer preparing the pre-sentence report for the judge.  (In making his report, the probation officer will consider the economic, physical and psychological impact of the crime on the victim and the victim’s family).

 

· To be present at sentencing and to give the judge an impact statement or any information that concerns the criminal offense or the sentence.

 

· To be informed as soon as practicable of the sentence imposed on the defendant.

 

· To be given the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the appropriate agencies and departments to whom further requests for notice should be provided.

 

· To be given by the Attorney General’s Office or the District Attorney, information about the status of any appellate proceeding and any appellate decisions within five (5) business days after the status is known or the decision issued.

 

· To be told when the defendant is released, if he or she is allowed to post bond after conviction, pending an appeal.

 

· To be notified of any escape and subsequent recapture of the defendant.

 

· To have any property belonging to you that was taken during the investigation returned as soon as possible.  (If the property is necessary evidence, the prosecuting attorney may ask to be allowed to substitute photographs where possible).

 

· To be notified within fifteen (15) days prior to the end of the sentence of the date the prisoner is to be released and to be notified of any medical release or of the death of the prisoner.

 

· To be notified that you may submit a written statement, audio or video recording to be placed with the prisoner’s records and considered at any review for community status of the prisoner or prior to release of the prisoner.

 

· To be notified and allowed to submit a written or recorded statement when any parole or pardon is to be considered.

 

· To testify at a criminal proceeding or participate in the preparation of the trial without any loss of employment, intimidation or threat or fear of the loss of employment.

 

The person who harmed you may not always be in custody. Sometimes the offender cannot be arrested immediately. Later the offender may be released on bail, probation, or parole. As a victim, there are several things you can do to protect yourself and your family from further harm.

 

You can work with a victim advocate to create a personal safety plan, a plan of action to follow if you are victimized again or if you feel you are in danger. If you are thinking of leaving a violent relationship, you should be aware of the increased risk of violence when you leave. Safety plans are also wise in cases of sexual assault, sexual abuse of a minor, stalking, and harassment. A victim advocate can help you increase your home security or move out of the house, travel safely between home and work, and avoid dangerous situations.

 

Where domestic violence has occurred, you can request a protective order from a judge even before criminal charges are filed. The court can order the offender not to harm, threaten, or contact you, not to enter your home or workplace, to move out of the house, to surrender weapons, or to participate in batterers’ intervention programs. The court can also grant you temporary custody of your children. Forms for requesting a protective order are available at every courthouse and through victim organizations, and no attorney is needed to apply. If the offender violates the protective order, call the police immediately. Keep your protective order and safety plan with you at all times.

 

If the offender is convicted, you can speak at certain hearings where the offender’s release from custody is being considered, including bail hearings, sentencing and parole hearings. At these hearings, you can tell the judge or the parole board why you are afraid of the offender and what could be done to protect you. If conditions are imposed that the offender does not follow, the offender can be arrested. Tell the prosecutor and the Department of Corrections if you would like to be notified about future hearings, and give them your new address if you move.

 

If you feel threatened or harassed by the offender or someone associated with the offender, you should contact the police, the prosecutor, or a victim advocate immediately. You have the right to be protected against threats and future harm.

 

Media

Crime victims and survivors may find dealing with newspaper and television reporters very difficult. Graphic photographs or TV footage, release of your name and address, and aggressive attempts to interview you may distress you. If the report leaves out information or is inaccurate, you may feel more traumatized. As a victim, you have a right to say no to any or all contact with the media.

 

You should talk to the prosecutor before talking with reporters. The defendant may be able to use your statements to request a change of trial location if there has been too much pretrial publicity, or you may be cross-examined on your statements at trial. You may wish to release only a written statement through a spokesperson, after consulting with the prosecutor.

 

If you agree to an interview, you may set conditions for it, such as the time and location, the presence of a friend or advocate, request for a certain reporter, review of direct quotations from you before they are printed, and the type of photographs to be used. You have the right to shield your children or other vulnerable family members from interviews. Try to do what is best for your own peace of mind.

 

Crime Victim Compensation

If you or a family member have been a victim of a violent crime and have financial losses resulting from the injuries that are not covered in full by insurance or any other source, the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Program may be of some assistance to you.

 

The Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Program provides financial assistance to victims of criminal acts who have suffered bodily injury or death.  Compensation is awarded for medical care, rehabilitation, counseling services for the victim and the victim's family member(s), funeral expenses, loss of wages for the victim or claimant, and loss of support for dependents of deceased victims.  Awards payments shall not exceed Fifteen Thousand Dollars ($15,000) in the aggregate.  Additional limitations apply. 

 

The Division of Victim Assistance of the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Program can assist crime victims with other expenses not covered by the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Act.

 

You can get application forms from law enforcement, district attorney offices, service providers and hospitals. You also may contact the Crime Victim Compensation Program directly at Post Office Box 267, Jackson, MS  39205 or call 1-800-829-6766 or visit their website at http://www.victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/get-help-bulletins-for-crime-victims/crime-victim-compensation .

 

Victim Assistance Programs

Many crime victims find it difficult to understand court procedures and their role in them. Others are overwhelmed by the emotions that often accompany victimization. Luckily, programs in Mississippi serve crime victims and their families in many ways. They exist to help you and support you, and you should not hesitate to call them. Go to our web-page at www.mdoc.state.ms.us and click on victim services to view listings of local service providers throughout the state.

 

Many areas in Mississippi have services for people who are victims of sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and domestic violence. These agencies often have crisis lines, emotional support, temporary shelter, and emergency assistance. Counselors there may go with you to medical exams and court proceedings, act as your advocate in difficult situations, help you find out court dates and case information, help you make plans to protect yourself and your children, and refer you to counseling and social services. These organizations often lobby for changes in laws and court procedures to better protect the interests of crime victims. Many have rural outreach programs to work with victims in outlying areas.

 

Many social services programs meet specific needs. Ask your victim advocate for a referral if you think you may need alcohol or drug treatment, legal advice, mental health counseling, job counseling, suicide prevention, help with your children, housing, or other problems. Many of these services are free or available on a sliding scale geared to your family’s income.

 

Grieving and Healing

Victims of crimes may experience a great deal of anger, survivor’s guilt, hatred, self-blame, guilt and confusion. Your sense of trust and order may be shattered. You may experience a wide range of feelings and behaviors and have little ability to control your emotions at any given time.

 

These emotions are very personal and may continue for months or years. Victims may experience nightmares, insomnia, periods of uncontrolled sobbing, occasional hysterical laughter, nausea, headaches, fatigue or a general feeling of going crazy. Family relationships may change as individuals react differently to the trauma. Victimization may lead to financial stress, family discord, divorce, alcoholism, and a variety of other problems. Everyone has a different reaction and a different timetable for healing. It is important to grieve and acknowledge the impact of your experience.

 

Begin by treating yourself with kindness and recognizing that healing happens slowly. Do not set unrealistic expectations and do not let others set timetables or pressure you into "getting on with your life."  Do things when you are ready, not because others are telling you to do them. It is all right to be angry, to feel sad, or to cry. Take time to lament.

 

Healing can be facilitated by telling one’s story again and again. Build a network of support for yourself and other family members to help you get through these difficult times, and realize you are not alone. Many others have experienced the same problems and can help you work through your experience. You can benefit greatly from calling one of the victim assistance organizations listed on our website at www.mdoc.state.ms.us: Victim Services.

 

Victims and survivors of serious crimes can help themselves and others by turning their victimization into a force for positive change. Many victims volunteer their time to working in shelters, answering crisis hotlines, talking to legislators, and speaking on victim impact panels. Your time and commitment can help the community move toward greater justice and healing for all victims of crime.

Mississippi Code Annotated - Crime Victims’ Rights