Group Helps Crime Victims 'Get On With Their Lives'

Posted: November 03, 1991

When the man on trial for raping your daughter is seated just rows away in the courtroom, how do you stop yourself from taking the law into your own hands?

If a member of your family has been killed or assaulted and the investigating police officers don't have time to answer all your questions, to whom can you turn?

The answers can be found through an area agency that helps crime victims and their families overcome the trauma of being crime victims. The Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA) in Bucks County helps 2,000 victims each year, said Marilyn Thuss, a victims' advocate and specialist in helping families cope with the slaying of a loved one.

NOVA-enlisted trained counselors try to help victims confront their attackers in court and "get on with their lives" after criminal trials, Thuss told a luncheon Wednesday of a dozen members of the Citizens Crime

Commission of Bucks County.

"We want victims to go away from (their experience) able to function," Thuss said of her support group's role of being "nonjudgmental listeners" and offering guidance free of charge. NOVA, a nonprofit agency with offices in Sellersville, Levittown and Doylestown, was founded in 1974 as Women Against Rape.

It is the only county group that provides services to crime victims, although its main focus is to aid victims of sex crimes. People are usually referred to NOVA by police or their attorneys, Thuss said, who added that it was an agency the public generally knew little about but came to depend upon.

"We can see the devastating effects that crime can have on people," Thuss said. "They do suffer tremendously at the hands of criminals."

What's worse, she said, is that victims tend to feel intimidated in a courtroom setting and throughout the process of a police investigation. That's when NOVA staffers and volunteers step in.

"We're a nonthreatening presence. We're not an authority figure. But we're there for them," Thuss said. "We explain the whole (criminal justice) process and stay with them every step of the way."

Sometimes NOVA representatives put victims at ease by giving them a tour of the courthouse before a trial, she said. Sometimes, they provide a shoulder to lean on.

The number of sex crimes in recent years in Bucks County has remained steady, but the number is high enough so that there are 30 people on a waiting list for NOVA counseling.

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report of 1990, prepared by the state police bureau of research and development, 84 rapes were reported in the county and 39 cases resulted in arrests.

In the category of sex offenses, which includes incest, indecent assault, indecent exposure, sodomy, seduction and statutory rape, 295 cases were reported, and 125 resulted in arrests last year. In 1989, there were 89 reported rapes, with 40 arrests, and there were 277 reported sex offenses, with 118 resulting in arrests.

Thuss' luncheon address was the final part of a three-part program on victim-oriented programs in the criminal justice system, said George Oppenheimer Jr., executive director of the county Citizens Crime Commission.

The group earlier heard presentations on the state Crime Victims' Compensation Board and the organization A Woman's Place, which helps victims of domestic violence and personal assault, Oppenheimer said.

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