Bountiful’s Victim Advocate ‘an asset to community’Nov 08, 2021 10:11AM ● By Tom Haraldsen
Bountiful Assistant City Attorney Yvette Donosso, left, confers with Ashley Stewart, the city’s Victim Advocate. Photo by Tom Haraldsen
BOUNTIFUL--There are probably few things more intimidating to most of us than going into a courtroom – whether it be for jury duty or, as is sometimes necessary, an actual hearing. Fear of the unknown, lack of familiarity with judicial procedures, or simply not knowing how to tell your story are all reasons victims can feel a hesitancy to take an issue or problem in front of a judge.
In the mid-70s, communities around the country began instituting victim advocate programs for their residents. It has grown exponentially in Utah, and Bountiful started its own victim advocate program in 2017 when the city was awarded a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant to help fund a position.
Ashley Stewart has served as the Bountiful City Victim Advocate since 2018. She works and coordinates with Yvette Donosso, Bountiful’s Assistant City Attorney, as they deal with their weekly load of cases.
“My role is to try to help victims through the court process and help them to understand what’s going on as well as find their voice,” she said. “I want to make sure they have a say in what is happening with the case that involves them, and I give Yvette the background she needs about the victim and their point of view, their desires and hopes of what might happen, along with any information that might be helpful as Yvette is looking at the case moving forward.”
There are some misconceptions that victims have when they start a court procedure. Stewart said a lot of victims “have the idea that whoever has offended them will go to prison for life. I explain to them what the realities are as far as outcomes in a case. I don’t want them to get to court and get blindsided, so I explain ahead of time what they are getting into and what they can expect.”
She said those she serves often have good ideas for restitutions or recommendations.
“If the victim thinks substance abuse is a cause for the action where they’ve been victimized, they hope the defendant is referred to counseling or treatment,” she said. “They have great insight into the situations that led to the abuse.”
Her “clients” aren’t just those in a domestic abuse situation. She works with residents who are seeking judicial remedy for thefts, criminal mischief, assaults, and other crimes that by statute are misdemeanors. That said, primarily it is domestic violence cases that come across her desk.
“Domestic violence is a big problem everywhere, and Bountiful is no exception,” Stewart said. “Every year we are seeing more and more cases.”
Some of that abuse is verbal, and a lot of it is electronic communication harassment, especially now with online platforms like Snapshot and Facebook, in addition to text messaging.
“It’s not just between couples who are divorcing,” she said, “it’s a problem in dating as well. Harassment is often a form of threat, and the Domestic Violence Act applies to that as well. We’ve had victims that have done everything right as they meet someone new online. They’ve gone back and forth for months with emails or FaceTime, asked all the right questions and have set up a first date in a very public place. Even with that, sometimes bad things happen.”
Of the cases that she handles, about 65 percent of the victims are females, meaning 35 percent are males. And yes, men can be victims of domestic violence or abuse as well. In the past few years, an increasing number of DV cases have also involved same-sex couples.
“Having Ashley as an advocate is so important,” Donosso said, “because even though we’re a such a small city, it’s not unusual for us to have 80 cases a week. And that’s just criminal cases, not traffic court cases. She’s an asset to the community, because it’s imperative to have someone like her hold victims’ hands through the process.”
“It’s a rewarding job,” Stewart said. “It’s a challenging job. But I love being a resource to help people. I’m glad to be here for them.”
Next week, a look at Yvette Donosso and her work as assistant city attorney.
Stewart can be reached at 801-298-6137 or via email at [email protected]