April 8, 2014 at 6:18 PM
WEST ORANGE, NJ - The week of April 7 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and no one is more passionate about victim advocacy than West Orange resident Aileen Hayes, a domestic violence program coordinator in the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Victim Advocacy Unit. On April 4, Hayes was the driving force behind the HCPO’s 30 Years: Restoring the Balance of Justice Conference at New Jersey City University.
Keynote speakers included Nicole Hockley, mother of Dylan Hockley, who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn..; Aaron Muhammad of Elevated Places Inc., and Ashley Craig, a high school senior who started the organization Students Against Being Bullied when she was a freshman, and is already helping to change lives.
Nicole Hockley spoke about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and her involvement with Sandy Hook Promise, a organization founded by the parents and family members of the 26 children and educators that were killed. The organization seeks to prevent the causes of gun violence and to support the community through the tragedy.
Hockley shared a story about her son Dylan. “Whenever Dylan got excited or happy, he jumped up and down and flapped as fast as he could. One day I asked Dylan, “Why do you flap?” In all honesty, because Dylan had under-developed language skills, I wasn’t expecting him to answer. But he did. He said, “Because I am a beautiful butterfly.”
“Dylan is our butterfly,” she continued. All of the children and adults who lost their lives … are our butterflies. And if one butterfly can cause a hurricane, then 26 butterflies can change the world.”
Other workshops during the conference included the topics of human trafficking, homeland security, homicide, domestic violence, the healing power of spoken word, and bullying.
Says Hayes,“I am deeply passionate about my role as a Victim Advocate. It is an honor to be able to walk along with someone on their journey through healing from being victimized, sometimes quite violently, and to be there to pick them back up if they think they can't go on any further”.
Hayes works with 9 other advocates reading criminal complaints to find and locate the victims, help them through the court process and connect them to services. According to Hayes, however, there is so much more to providing basic advocacy in the court system.
“We do crisis counseling, damage control, act as liaisons, act as the voice of victims at community meetings, and do as much outreach as we can to educate different groups of community members in order to hopefully prevent further victimization. We see EVERY crime: Homicide, Sexual assault, domestic violence, robbery, arson, assault, terroristic threats, child abuse and neglect and more”.
There is a Victim Witness Office in every Prosecutor’s Office throughout the State, including a unit in the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.
The April 4 conference is an important part of the Victim Advocacy Unit’s outreach. Hayes co-chaired the Planning Committee for the conference with Venida Rodman Jenkins, Director of the Speicher-Rubins Womens Center for Equity and Diversity at NJCU, where the conference was held. Also on the planning committee were Silena Shuta, Lori Brown, and Priscila Pender.
As for Hayes, who has begun gathering different women’s domestic violence stories from all walks of life, all ages, cultures, and languages for a book she is penning, says, “People like Nicole and Ashley keep me going and continue to fuel my passion for advocacy. I want to be a voice for the voiceless.”
“There are stories out there that need to be told,” she continued, “so other women out there in the same position can see that there is hope.”
For more information about National Crime Victim's Week, go to: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/04/04/presidential-proclamation-national-crime-victims-rights-week-2014 and http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw/.