Salt Lake County district attorney launches a new division to help victims of violent crime

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill is creating a new Victim Support Services Division.

If someone is a victim of a violent crime, what does it mean to get justice?

Sometimes that closure can come from watching the person who harmed them get convicted. But sometimes it’s not so simple. Sometimes the case never gets filed. Sometimes the trauma continues even after someone is found guilty. What then?

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill believes his office could do a better job of offering that support and services to victims, and on Thursday announced the formation of a new Victim Support Services Division. A staff of 40 will now be dedicated to helping victims during the courts process — and even after the case has been closed.

“While it is important that we hold offenders accountable as public prosecutors,” Gill said, “we understand and we know that a conviction may not be the final arbitrator of what it means to have justice.”

Gill said he’s been in talks with his chief deputy, Blake Nakamura, for the past eight years about creating a division like this. His goal is to provide help to victims of violent crime by offering them counseling and other services, like helping connect them to vocational training.

It’s now the largest division in Gill’s office — and he noted that not a single person of the 40-member team is a prosecuting attorney. Twenty-two employees, he said, are social workers. The district attorney’s office hired about four or five new employees through grants, Gill said, but he created much of the division by reorganizing the staff and resources already on the job.

There will be other changes in the district attorney’s office, Gill said, such as changing how they interview victims in an effort to avoid re-traumatization.

Gill emphasized Thursday that victims can receive these services even if the prosecutors don’t file criminal charges in their cases. As long as his prosecutors considered the case, he said, those people would be eligible for help. And that help, he said, isn’t contingent on someone’s immigration status.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson spoke in support of Gill’s new division during a Thursday news conference, saying that supporting victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse has been one of her top priorities.

“We know that this isn’t a private matter,” she said. “This is a serious public health issue in our community. And it can not be ignored.”

Gill said the Victim Support Services Division won’t cost more money — instead, grants, donations and an office reorganization will keep costs to what they are now.

Some of those local business donations, he said, will help fund a new summer camp for kids affected by violent crime. Thirty-five children will spend a week at Camp Hope, Gill said, working with trained professionals to help them overcome those traumatic experiences.

It will be a place of joy, he said, where kids can work to replace bad memories with happier experiences.

“It will be victim-centered with trauma-informed caretakers who are trained in that,” he said, “to help them to create new memories to build that resiliency, so they can overcome that cycle of abuse and trauma.”