Advocate helps victims face court

William Thompson

Donna Townsend, the Quay County District Attorney’s Victim Advocate, helps victims of serious crimes negotiate the legal system. She often finds herself lending support to a victim as a lengthy trials bears down on the victim’s emotions. “Some of the trials are really tough emotionally,” said Townsend, “but I get a good feeling from working with victims in major cases. It feels good to know that I was able to give support and answer many of their questions.”

Townsend serves as a kind of liaison between a victim and district attorneys. “I try to answer the victim’s questions, “ she said, “ but if he or she has a question for one of the attorneys I can relay that question to the attorney.
Townsend is sometimes the first contact a victim has with the judicial system. “Sometimes the police or hospital personnel will call me to the hospital when there has been a rape victim,” said Townsend. “I can explain to that victim, in general, her legal options.”

Quay County District Attorney Ron Reeves said Townsend’s main function is to serve as an enforcer of victim’s rights. Among those rights are the right of a victim to confer with the prosecution, the right to notification of court proceedings and the right to information about the conviction, sentencing and imprisonment of the accused. “By law the district attorney’s office has to provide a victim advocate to victims of certain serious crimes,” said Reeves. “Donna Townsend often goes above and beyond the duties of a victim advocate. She often becomes a kind of “mother” figure to victims.”

Townsend said she is not uncomfortable with being seen as a mother figure to victims, male or female.
“Many times I keep in contact with victims long after their legal issues are resolved,” said Townsend. “Sometimes a victim will call me and we will discuss the victim’s feelings concerning a trial that happened in the past. Everybody here in the district attorney’s office has a sense of being a part of the victim’s family in a way.”

Townsend can often be seen running errands for victims inside Quay County Courthouse on days when court is in session. She can also be seen consoling victims and members of the victim’s family. Sometimes she simply offers a hand to hold on to while a victim listens to difficult court proceedings. “I try to make them feel comfortable. I get them coffee and things like that,” she said. “Sometimes, just before a victim testifies I will bring the victim up to the district attorney’s office and try to get the victim to relax. Often we will talk about something other than the trial just to get the victim’s mind off the trial for a little while.”

Townsend said her work with victims is preferable to sitting behind a desk all day. “I was a secretary in the district attorney’s office before I became the victim advocate nearly two years ago,” she said. “I really like the one-on-one contact with victims. It’s much more rewarding than just sending letters out to people.”