To raise awareness about victims of crime, three organizations at Sam Houston State University will host a week of events on campus, including a panel discussion by victims and advocates and a booth with important resources.
The events are being held in recognition of National Crime Victims Rights’ Week, April 6-11, which promotes victims’ rights, honors victims of crime, and recognizes victim advocates in the field. This year the event celebrates its 30th anniversary of victims’ rights in the United States with the theme of “Restoring the Balance of Justice.”
On Monday (April 7), the Crime Victims’ Institute, Crime Victim Services Alliance and the Abuse Survivors Support Group will host a special program on crime victim rights, which will feature victim advocate Stephanie Frogge and two crime victim survivors, Justin Lopez and Bill DeSpain. The panel discussion will begin at 3:30 p.m. in the Criminal Justice Center’s Hazel B. Kerper Courtroom.
The Crime Victim Services Alliance also will have a booth in the SHSU Mall Area from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on through Thursday (April 10) with informational resources on victims’ rights and services. The brochures and information will include a wide array of crime victim issues, from identity theft to sexual assault.
Frogge is the assistant director of the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue at the University of Texas at Austin.
Lopez, an SHSU student, started “Angie’s Awareness Angel” to increase knowledge and support for domestic violence victims after his mother was killed by an ex-boyfriend in 2012.
DeSpain’s son Justin, a senior criminal justice major, was killed by a drunk driver on Labor Day weekend in 2004.
While victims’ rights are included in the Texas Constitution and state laws, it is often up to victims to advocate for themselves, according to Frogge.
The Texas Constitution focuses on the right of crime victims “to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy throughout the criminal justice process,” and state laws describe the rights of victims when dealing with law enforcement, prosecutors and courts, including the rights to information in their case, to participate in the criminal process, and to provide a victim impact statement, she said.
As a 30-year veteran of victim advocacy, Frogge has seen the results of victim rights issues firsthand. She is the former national director of victim services for Mothers Against Drunk Driving and served as director of peer support for the Tragedy Assistance Programs for Survivors in Washington, D.C. She has worked in the areas of trauma response, victim services administration, and victim assistance and activism.
Crime victim survivor also will share their experiences.
On Sept. 12, 2012, Lopez, lost his mother, Angela Renee Fontenot Lopez, to domestic violence. She was murdered in her Santa Fe home by her ex-boyfriend, in front of her 12-year old daughter.
Lopez, 23, is now raising his sister in Bryan-College Station and founded “Angie’s Awareness Angels,” which raises funds and awareness for domestic violence issues.
From the moment he learned of his mother’s death, Lopez said he began receiving services from a victim advocate. Two days after the death, the advocate guided Lopez and his sister to the district attorney’s office to take his sister’s statement and kept the family up to date on developments in the case. The advocate was also available to answer any questions that arose.
“She sort of became our best friend,” Lopez said. “She would call to check up on us; we were treated like royalty. When something like this happens, this is so important. We just wanted justice.”
The advocate sat behind the family during the six-day trial, providing warnings whenever autopsy pictures were shown or medical personnel testified about the trauma his mother suffered.
“She was on top of it all,” he said.
After returning from his best friend’s wedding and visiting with friends at home on the Labor Day weekend, Justin DeSpain was broadsided by a car of teenagers as he neared his parent’s home in Kingwood.
The teenagers had been drinking, and DeSpain was killed instantly.
It would be more than 12 hours before his parents were notified about his death.
The 18-year-old driver was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to six years in prison.
In declaring the short sentence, the judge explained that she believed in rehabilitation. After serving only 18 months, the suspect was released and was then arrested for another DWI within about a year.
The judge in the second case sent the driver back to prison to his complete his original sentence, as well as additional time from the second conviction. He will be released after serving his full term in July.
Bill DeSpain said the criminal justice system treated his family with dignity and respect, notifying them by letter and email before every parole hearing.
He also said SHSU was also very supportive, allowing his family to collect his degree posthumously during commencement exercises.