A voice for the voiceless... Zinn provides help to victims

LORI ZINN

Lori Zinn’s line of work involves much more than just sitting behind a desk inside the Lamb County & District Attorney’s Office.

Zinn, Lamb County’s Victim Assistance Coordinator, works with assault and domestic violence victims and in her words, “gives them a voice” and hope at the same time.

“My role is to work with anyone who has been injured in some way because of assault or domestic violence,” she said. “On occasion, I also work with people who might have been burglarized, but usually to collect full restitution on the victim’s behalf. But a majority of my time is spent working with assault victims.” She added, “Ultimately, I hope to give victims hope...I give them someone who says I believe in you. I also want them to know they can stop the cycle and abuse. They don’t deserve what they’ve been through or what’s been done to them.”

This is why Zinn feels it’s important for victims to know the type of assistance available to them if ever needed.

She said in 1979, the Texas Legislature passed the Crime Victims’ Compensation Act, creating the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund and the Crime Victims’ Compensation (CVC) Program. The mission of the Crime Victim Services Division is to assist in the compassionate and effective delivery of crime victim services by offering information, resources and financial assistance to crime victims and the organizations that assist them.

It also aims to encourage greater victim participation in the apprehension and prosecution of criminals and provide financial assistance for crime-related expenses that cannot be reimbursed by insurance or other sources incurred as a result of a violent crime. Zinn said unfortunately, this does not include the reimbursement of property damage or losses due to property crimes. She said State law requires that reimbursement first be sought from other sources, such as health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, auto insurance, or Texas Workers Compensation.

Zinn said the program aims to help victims of crimes involving conduct that poses a substantial threat of personal injury or death and is, or would be, punishable by fine, imprisonment or death. This includes sex offenses, kidnaping, aggravated robbery, assaultive offenses, arson, homicide and other violent crimes in which the victim suffers physical or emotional harm or death. It also includes motor-vehiclerelated such as Failure to Stop and Render Aid, DWI, Manslaughter, Criminally Negligent Homicide, Aggravated Assault, Intoxication Manslaughter and Intoxication Assault.

Crime doesn’t pay, but in Texas, criminals do.

In recent years, 88% of the money in the CVC Fund came from court costs and fees from convicted criminal offenders

Zinn said victims of violence and their families must deal with the emotional, physical, and financial aftermath of crime.

In order to qualify, the crime must be reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency within a reasonable period of time to allow investigation and prosecution of the crime.

The victim or claimant must provide necessary and required documentation. The victim or claimant must not have contributed to the crime or been an accomplice.

The victim or claimant cannot submit false or forged information. An award of compensation to the victim or claimant cannot benefit the offender or an accomplice of the offender.

Individuals may qualify for benefits which may be used for specific and limited expenses such as: Medical, hospital, physical therapy or nursing care bills or medications, psychiatric care or counseling, loss of wages, travel and possibly lodging due to medical treatment, loss of support, burial services, flowers, caskets, urns, grave markers, transporting the body to another state or country, crime scene clean-up related to the removal of crime scene elements that may cause further trauma to the victim or family members, child or dependent care as a new expense directly resulting from the crime. Pre-existing child care costs are not reimbursable, replacement costs for clothing, bedding, or property seized as evidence or rendered unusable as a result of the investigation, address confidentiality and one-time relocation expenses for family violence, human trafficking, and stalking victims or for those sexual-assault victims attacked in their own residence.

Zinn said for example if someone has been in an abusive relationship, and they are assaulted and wants to move away, CVC program can help with that.

“They have that option,” Zinn said. “The majority of the time, the person would have to relocate using their own funds, but the state will reimburse them.”

This part of the CVC is important to Zinn because she mostly handles domestic violence and assault cases.

“The common factor in victims of domestic violence is, they are usually someone with very low self-esteem and no means to support themselves,” she said. “Their perpetrator has them doing what they say or want, and they usually have total control over them.” Zinn said she’s already helped a few victims of assault or domestic violence to relocate.

She says victims don’t have to leave the county if they don’t want to. Zinn can help relocate them somewhere else close by.

The process, when helping a victim begins when law enforcement takes the incident report given to police officers that is then provided to the state.

For those victims who fit the criteria for CVC, “We help the victim complete a CVC application, and submit it to the state with a copy of the offense report showing what happened,” she said. From there, Zinn makes sure victims know everything that is going on in the criminal case and with the CVC assistance.

For example, for someone who’s been assaulted, she makes sure they know offers on sentences being made, defendant’s court dates, or any activity with the case.

She calls herself the liaison for the victim.

“I’ll give updates, plus it’s my job by law to make sure they know what’s going on during this process and what their rights are as a victim,” she said.

Something else Zinn handles quite often, are protective orders, but she says many victims don’t know there are actually three levels of protective orders. The first level is criminal trespass. These are given through law enforcement, said Zinn. These basically keep someone off your property. The second level is a restraining order.

Zinn says someone must go through a private attorney to get one of these. She said restraining orders are given when someone is being followed, harassed or threatened by someone else without physical abuse or assaults.

Zinn said she cannot issue either of these, but the Lamb County & District Attorney’s Office is able to issue the highest level of the three orders, which is a protective order. In order to obtain a protective order, the case would be heard by 154th District Judge Felix Klein, though, Zinn said there are requirements needed.

“An assault has to have taken place in the past thirty days, and there has to have been a history of violence in the relationship,” she said.

Zinn said she helps victims with any questions they might have when applying for the protective order and help them to understand the process. “We go through various questions to present a good case to the judge,” Zinn said. She said she has seen protective orders be granted for one year, two years, or lifetime depending on the circumstances.

She said once a Protective Order is granted, if someone ignores the protective order, they would be in violation and takes on a whole new criminal charge.

Said Zinn, “Through all this, if I’m able to give one victim hope, or show them they can do this, it’s all been worth it.”

Zinn said she tells victims all the time, this isn’t an easy path. Choosing to stand up and see a case through, is not the easy road. “I tell them the easy road is going back to the life you have known for however long everyone behaves until the next assault.

“It’s tough, it’s not like television, this is real life,” she said. “I have to accompany some of these victims on a very dark journey sometimes, but I always tell them, there is healing and a light at the end of the tunnel.”

She concluded, “I’m very blessed to be able to do what I get to do, and I think it’s amazing.”

Zinn started working with the Lamb County District Attorney’s Office in 2015.

She started as an assistant before taking over as the Victim Assistance Coordinator.

Zinn asks anyone who’s been a victim and might need assistance to call the Lamb County District Attorney’s Office at 385-4222, Ext.

208.

All information is kept confidential and only released to important prosecution parties or state agencies.

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