Helping victims in many ways

“Editor’s note: This is part two in a three-part series. Sherri Bevan Walsh has wanted to be a prosecutor for as long as she can remember. When she was attacked 22 years ago, her passion to make a difference in the community didn’t falter – it grew stronger.”

Editor’s note:
This is part two in a
three-part series.

Sherri Bevan Walsh has wanted to be a prosecutor for as long as she can remember.

When she was attacked 22 years ago, her passion to make a difference in the community didn’t falter – it grew stronger.

Walsh’s enthusiasm for her job is obvious. She hits the table as she speaks and her voice raises when she describes some of the criminals and their effect on the victims with whom she works.

Her goal is to bring justice when it is needed and to not let victims of crimes be victimized a second time by the criminal justice system.

The trial process for victims can be exhausting, and emotionally and physically draining.

Victims have rights under our revised code. They have the right to participate in the process and be heard as to their feelings about a sentence that an individual receives. They have a right speak at a sentencing hearing.

We go even further so their rights are protected, Walsh said.

Her office’s way of helping of victims deal with their situation is the Victims Advocate Program.

We do things like keep them notified of court appearances. We give them a lot of support, meet them in court and sit with them. (Sometimes) a victim has to stay outside the courtroom for hours. We stay with them, and answer questions, Walsh said.

The Victims Advocate Program also refers victims to counseling services and helps them if they’ve lost time at work or have medical bills to pay.

We make sure that they understand the process and that they truly understand what’s going on, Walsh said. We don’t want them to be confused by all the legal talk. It’s our job to make sure they know what is happening.

The Victims Advocate Program also has a connection with the University of Akron.

We’ve had an active coordination with the School of Social Work, Walsh said. Many of the masters program students need to have an internship and several have done it with us. We’ve hired several of the interns to be victim advocates.

As the chair of the State’s Victim Assistance Advisory Board, and a former victim, Walsh has used past experiences to aid in the support of those whose lives have been affected – but she said the job isn’t always easy.

People say sometimes, ‘How can you do a job like this day in and day out?’ We hear and see the worst of the worst so often, and people say ‘Doesn’t that get depressing?’ We’re dealing with all this horror and tragedy and you’re meeting people whose lives have just been shattered.

Walsh knows that her involvement with victims is vital to getting them the justice they deserve.

What we also see is all the good we do for these crime victims and the community when someone gets put away for a long time and we feel like the community is safer, Walsh said. As a prosecutor, you tend to focus on that, the good you can do and the good you can make out of the horrible crimes that sometimes occur.

Walsh said that her office doesn’t resolve a case without victim input and makes every effort to make sure all agree to the resolution of a case.

When she reflects on her own trial process, she realizes that she didn’t have a big part in it. That’s something she doesn’t want any victim to have to experience.

The victim is the person who has suffered the most and they should be satisfied with the result of the case, Walsh said. I want them to leave the courtroom feeling that justice was served.

Having a role in the trial process can be a traumatic experience for the victim, Walsh said. At first, most victims don’t want to have a role in the process – they just want it to be over.

Having known what it is like to go through a trial and not have a large role, Walsh always encourages them to take the stand if they feel they can.

A lot of times, victims are scared to get in front of everyone and have to recount the whole situation.

But, a lot of victims I’ve worked with have come up to me after they took the stand and said, ‘I’m really glad I did this. I felt like I got the last word and that’s what I needed.

And while Walsh has devoted a lot of energy and time to helping victims, she also puts a lot of effort into helping people not become victims of crime.

Caution is a word that Sherri Bevan Walsh repeatedly emphasizes.

For her, it is an imperative action that all must take when going through their daily lives.

There are random acts that occur that are beyond anyone’s control, Walsh said. Any time you’re out walking about, be aware of your surroundings.

Though the assaults in the university area between September and January occurred at night, Walsh and 12 other women were attacked in broad daylight over the course of several months 22 years ago.

Walsh stresses that point: A person can become a victim of crime at any time of the day.

While there is no way for individuals to completely protect themselves, Walsh’s experience reminds her that certain precautions can be taken to aid in one’s safety.

Don’t daydream – always be looking around. Always be paying attention, she said. A lot of criminals like to sneak up on people and catch them off guard and surprise them.

(You’re) going to scare off a lot of criminals because they don’t want to be identified. If you’re on the ball, they’ll look for a weaker target.

What saved Walsh, though, was the self-defense course she took her senior year of college in 1982.

A lot of the moves I learned in the classes were key, Walsh said. (You) can’t just take them and never think about them again, though. You need to practice them.

Walsh spoke highly of the University of Akron’s attempts to deter violent acts on and off campus.

Making such classes mandatory would never be a bad idea, she said, since getting students to sign up can often be the hardest part.

In addition, the University of Akron Police Department recently announced it will conduct free house safety checks to those who request them.

Absolutely every person should take advantage of it, Walsh said.

Times were a lot different when she was in college from 1979 to 1982, Walsh said, which is why she holds UA’s efforts to maintain a safe campus in high regard.

Looking back on when I was in college, (rapes and assaults) were never publicized. There was a certain sense of not wanting the bad publicity.

(The University of Akron) is getting the message out there, and trying to address the problem.