PLATTSBURGH — Each year, hundreds of local residents become victims of crime — and many are unaware of the wide range of services available to them afterward.Whether someone has fallen victim to a violent attack, drunken-driving accident, robbery or even identity theft, the Clinton County Advocacy Center stands ready to help local residents deal with the aftermath of a crime.For many victims, being suddenly thrust into a world of crime, police and the often complex legal system can compound the trauma of the initial crime.And that's why Jennifer Belli, the county crime-victims advocate, works closely with people to try to ease the tension felt by many after they are victimized by a crime."You don't choose to be a victim of crime. Anyone can become a victim of crime," she said. "And, unless you've been victimized, you don't realize the services are here."I do a lot of crisis counseling, outreach and advocacy. It's really about helping people navigate the system after they've been victimized."According to Belli, the local agency helps about 200 victims a year, between new and ongoing cases, with an assortment of unique and free services, including filling out restitution and parole-notification applications, individualized support, writing victim-impact statements, applying for protection orders and with keeping up to date with court schedules and appearances.There are no income guidelines; anyone who has become a crime victims can get help."The hardest thing is getting the word out to victims. It's a really big barrier sometimes," said Belli, who works closely with the County Probation Department and District Attorney's Office to reach local victims."But I do a lot of outreach, and the DA's Office really helps out with letting victims know we're here.""I just try to keep people informed about their options and then support them with whatever they choose to do," said Belli.She makes referrals to agencies that can also assist with counseling and other appropriate services.She often accompanies victims to court dates to help them understand and cope with the complexities of the criminal-justice system."It's also about helping to prepare them for trials. It often helps just to see a familiar face there. I always try to make sure everyone knows how the process works and why the system works how it does."We really just want to make sure that all victims are served, and we try to minimize the impact of crime as much as we can for the victims."
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