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Crime victims' groups unite

Rally Monday at the Lucas Co. Courthouse for Rights Week

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Diane Docis, who helped organize Take Back the Night on Saturday in Oregon, is to speak at Monday night's rally on fighting victim isolation.

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Carol Plenzler vividly remembers nearly 14 years ago wanting to talk through the shock and pain of her sister's death by a drunken driver.

But at the time, she recalled, there were no Mothers Against Drunk Driving advocates in Toledo and she was lost as to where to turn.

"There was no presence here in Toledo at the time and I felt alone," said Ms. Plenzler, who now volunteers as an advocate for the organization. "I can relate to [victims], the pain you feel when you don't feel that anybody is there for you.

"I'd like to be that person who is there for them," she added.

Advocates such as Ms. Plenzler from a variety of victim's rights organizations will host a rally Monday to help ensure that no one else endures a tragedy alone.

Planned as a kickoff for National Crime Victims Rights Week, the rally is the effort of more than a dozen local organizations who are working together to spread the word that help is out there.

IF YOU GO

What: National Crime Victims Rights Week rally

When: 5 – 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Lucas County Training Center, 711 Adams St., directly across the street from the McKinley statue.

Participating in the event are Behavioral Connections Victim Services; Crisis Response Team; Family Services of Northwest Ohio; The Hope Center; Independent Advocates; Legal Aid of Western Ohio; the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office Senior Protection Unit; Mothers Against Drunk Driving; the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction Office of Victim Services; Parents of Murdered Children and Other Homicide Survivors; Toledo-Lucas County Victim-Witness Assistance Program, and Victims' Forum.

"Part of what is so powerful about an event like this is seeing that you're not alone," said Diane Docis, the Sexual Assault Education and Prevention Program coordinator at the University of Toledo and a speaker at Monday night's rally.

She stressed that violence is often isolating for victims, and said, "Here you will see the community support."

In years past, National Crime Victims Rights Week, which runs through Saturday, has been recognized with a short vigil. This year, organizations came together in an effort to let the community know that help exists in a variety of places.

And although each group may have a different focus, they maintain a common goal: "To show that we as victim advocators are there as a support group," said Russ Simpson, a member of Parents of Murdered Children.

"A rally like this is to emphasize the resources that we have here in northwest Ohio to help victims," he added. "Victims can come and pick up information anonymously or speak to someone."

Also speaking at the event is Roxanne Swogger, a program administrative assistant with the department of rehabilitation and correction's Office of Victim Services.

Ms. Swogger said she will tell about the many programs offered to victims even after the prison door has slammed on the offender.

"Just because the person goes to prison, doesn't mean the victim is all better," she said. "Our office is part of a restorative justice philosophy. … Part of what we do is [programs] for the offenders and part is doing outreach, to let citizens of Ohio know about what information is available."

Ms. Swogger said that while some victims do not want updates on offenders, others wish to stay informed. She said there are about 51,000 offenders in Ohio's prisons and about 45,000 victims on notification.

Areti Tsavoussis, director of the Victim Assistance Division for the Lucas County prosecutor, said no one group took the lead in the event, but instead, advocates from across the region worked together to help bring information and services to those touched by violence.

She said not only do many victims find solace in advocates from victim rights organizations but often, they support each other.

"Collectively, we're working together to try and reach out to as many victims of crime as we can," she said.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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