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Advocating for Families in and out of the courtroom By Yolanda Wallace

The Office for Victims of Crime designates a National Crime Victims’ Rights week each year in April. This year’s theme was enforcing Victims’ Rights, Expanding Access to services and ensuring equity for all victims. This past May 2022, I spoke at the States Attorney’s Victims Advocate conference, held in Bloomington, IL. The title of my presentation was “Look What Grief Built.” I gave tips on how empathy could help with the families they advocate for in the courtroom.

I shared with the group that the programs I implemented were because I was so angry that they weren’t present in my city. One of the many programs I implemented was to assist families in the courtroom.

I have worked with the Peoria County States Attorney’s office as a Victim Advocate since 2010, volunteering my time to sit with families in the courtroom and help them write victim impact statements while supporting them as a survivor. Some of the toughest cases that hit the courtroom have been assigned to me. My relationship with victim advocacy started with my case after the killer was found guilty of killing my 20-year-old son, Jon Buckley, in 2006. Before that, I never knew how much work went into being a victim advocate. I was grateful to have a victim advocate in the courtroom during my case, and I only wish I had one that had been through what I’d been through. That’s what inspired me to assist in the courtroom.

During Crime Victims’ Rights Week, I highlight the advocates. They are a great resource to families. It is tough to be a Victim’s Advocate in the courtroom. Why you may ask? It’s tough because some cases end up in a murder trial, and grief is tough. They have other cases like Domestic Violence, Auto-related accidents, disputes, etc.

Hattie Green
Yolanda Wallace and Sherry Bennett

The first thing you must do as a victim’s advocate is to be a good listener. There are high emotions in the courtroom. Then, you also have to have a lot of patience and be very empathetic to each person you serve.

My very first Victim Advocate has retired. Her name was Hattie Green, and she lent her ear to everyone who needed to talk. I spoke with her recently in an interview visit, and she told me she had been a Victim Advocate for the States Attorney for 30 yrs.

Another Victim Advocate, Sherry Bennett, retired in June 2022. She has been there for about 20 yrs., and I’ve had the chance to work with her in the community and in the courtroom.

My partnership with the Peoria County States Attorney’s office has comforted many families during their courtroom trials. My goal is to continue to “Expand Access” for families in and out of the courtroom.