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NJ AG Announces Department of Law, Public Safety Will Host Crime Victims’ Rights Week to Honor Crime Victims


By: Najla Alexander

NJ AG authorities announced to commemorate National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin, the Division of Violence Intervention and Victim Assistance (VIVA), and the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) will host an event honoring the victims of crime as well as the many individuals and organizations that work to assist survivors on their path to healing.AdOfficials stated that the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime declared April 21 – 27, 2024, National Crime Victims’ Rights Week to bring attention to crime victims and to the people who help them.

Officials say this year’s theme – How Would You Help? – looks to “friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues, community leaders, victim service providers, criminal justice practitioners, and health professionals,” asking “how we can help crime victims.”

The Attorney General’s event will be held at the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton on April 26, 2024, officials said.

According to officials, in alignment with the national theme, the program will include a series of conversations highlighting updates on survivor-centered, trauma-informed policies and practices being enacted throughout the state, followed by an awards ceremony honoring individuals and organizations that support victims and survivors in their pursuit of justice and healing.

“The aftermath of violent crime can be devastating for victims, their loved ones, and their communities. We have a duty to help those who have been impacted by violence and to help them find a path to healing,” said Attorney General Platkin.

“Today, we recognize those whose lives have been touched by violence, and we honor those who have aided them as they heal.”

In September 2022, officials said, Attorney General Platkin established VIVA through a directive, ensuring that New Jersey’s approach to responding to victims of crime remains survivor-centered and trauma-informed.

Authorities say VIVA works with organizations that support individuals and communities impacted by crime and violence, with a particular emphasis on enhancing services to underserved communities in an effort to break the cycle of repeat victimization.

In October 2023, Acting Governor Tahesha Way signed A-4978/S-3086 into law as P.L. 2023, c.167, codifying VIVA within the Department of Law and Public Safety, officials say.

According to officials, for many years, its own entity, the New Jersey Victims of Crime Compensation Office, has now operated under VIVA’s stewardship as part of a comprehensive vision for improving services to victims and survivors.

“While we work to center victims and survivors in our work on a daily basis, Crime Victims’ Rights Week offers an opportunity to ask, ‘What else can we do to support someone who’s experienced harm?’” said Patricia Teffenhart, Executive Director VIVA.

“During this year’s program, we will share advancements in survivor-centered and trauma-informed policies, programs, and procedures, followed by a celebration and recognition of some of the incredibly dedicated New Jerseyans supporting victims and survivors along their healing journey.”

VIVA works collaboratively with DCJ to strengthen the Department’s approach to responding to violence and crime, officials say. 

Officials stated the Division of Criminal Justice is a statewide prosecution agency that provides oversight and coordination of New Jersey’s law enforcement community.

“Crime Victims’ Rights Week spotlights one of law enforcement’s most important obligations: supporting and honoring the survivors of crime,” said J. Stephen Ferketic, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice.

“I am deeply grateful to New Jersey’s prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and victim witness advocates who keep the victims of crime at the center of our efforts to protect the safety and health of the communities we serve.”

As part of the NCVRW event, officials said, the Office of the Attorney General will acknowledge the ongoing work of victim advocates, service providers, and law enforcement professionals by presenting the 2024 OAG Excellence Awards for Victims’ Justice.

Five honorees will be publicly recognized for their dedication to victims, authorities say. 

Officials said the following is a list of the award recipients who were nominated by their colleagues and selected by the Department’s Crime Victims’ Rights Week Committee:

Crime Victims' Rights Award

Vidalia Acevedo

Domestic Violence Advocate, Women’s Rights Information Center

According to officials, the Crime Victims’ Rights Award reflects the theme of the 2024 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week: “How would you help? Options, services, and hope for crime survivors.”

This award is presented to an individual or agency whose actions capture the spirit of the theme – an individual who assisted a victim in an unconventional or innovative way or from a field that traditionally is not connected to the criminal justice process or victim services, officials stated.

Officials say this award recognizes that help comes in many different ways and shapes and that the true benefit to victims is responding to their unique needs for healing.

Vidalia Acevedo is a victim advocate at the Women’s Rights Information Center (WRIC), where, in an effort to stabilize the lives of survivors after their victimization, she provides crisis intervention, safety planning, counseling, advocacy, referrals, and case management, officials said. 

Authorities say Ms. Acevedo had worked in victim services since 1997, when she began as an Administrative Assistant at the Center for Hope and Safety in Bergen County, formerly known as Shelter, Our Sisters. Since then, she has worked with survivors in various capacities and, prior to joining WRIC, served as Director of the Outreach and Multicultural Program with the Center for Hope and Safety.

Officials stated that Ms. Acevedo assisted countless families in freeing themselves from the cycle of violence, transitioning into violence-free environments, and ensuring that families in need of services in the community were connected to all available resources.

Gladiator Award

Theresa Hilton

Assistant Attorney General and Deputy Director, NJ Division of Criminal Justice, Department of Law and Public Safety

This award recognizes an Assistant Prosecutor or Detective who has demonstrated extraordinary commitment and zeal to ensure that the criminal justice system treats victims with compassion and dignity during the prosecution process, officials said. 

Officials stated Theresa L. Hilton is an Assistant Attorney General (AAG) and Deputy Director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.

AAG Hilton’s commitment to victims began in 2009 and has spanned a remarkable career of 15 years, authorities say. 

According to officials, she began as a United States Air Force Assistant Staff Judge Advocate, followed by seven years as an assistant prosecutor with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, concluding with her service as supervisor of the Domestic Violence Unit, where she oversaw a ten-person team of prosecutors, detectives, and advocates.

AAG Hilton now supervises the DCJ prosecution and policy portfolio regarding crimes of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault; she is also responsible for developing trauma-informed strategies for the eradication of domestic violence and sexual assault across New Jersey, officials say. 

In her current role, officials said, AAG Hilton has been crucial in advancing the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) and the BREATHE Initiative, a multidisciplinary response to crimes of nonfatal strangulation and smothering.

Ronald Reagan Award

Toni Pretlow

Trauma Outreach Specialist, Capital Health

Authorities say this award honors President Ronald W. Reagan for his compassion, vision, and commitment to crime victims’ rights.

During his administration, officials said, President Reagan placed victims’ rights at the forefront of the national agenda, which resulted in the creation of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA), and countless other initiatives.

This Award is presented to an individual or agency that has: 1) shown a consistent commitment to victims’ rights and services; 2) employed extraordinary efforts in the delivery of services; and 3) advocated for victims via policies, protocols, legislation, and other measures, officials said. 

According to officials, Toni Pretlow is a Trauma Outreach Specialist for the VICTORY Program at Capital Health, a hospital-based violence intervention program that assists individuals impacted by community violence by providing support and connecting them to services immediately after victimization.

A Trenton native and frontline responder, Pretlow is one of the first individuals to meet with survivors once they are medically stable and, using a trauma-informed approach, works closely with them to ensure they receive the services needed to heal, officials said. 

Officials stated Pretlow has over 20 years in the medical field and continues to work tirelessly to educate and assist survivors in their applications to receive benefits from the Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO).

Since beginning her role in 2021, officials said, Pretlow has successfully connected 27 program participants to nearly $100,300 in VCCO funding to support victims with relocation expenses, funeral costs, medical bills, and other expenses that have accrued as a result of their victimization.

The Above and Beyond Award

Sean Thom

Founder and Executive Director, Our Future First

Authorities say that created by the Division of Violence Intervention and Victim Assistance, this award recognizes an individual or organization that has, outside of its primary business or professional purposes, gone above and beyond to support individuals, families, and/or communities impacted by violence, crime, and/or traumatic events.

Sean Thom founded Our Future First – a nonprofit organization based in Millville, New Jersey, that provides professional and personal growth opportunities, community building, education, and youth empowerment – following the death of a former student, officials stated. 

A lifelong educator who spent numerous years in traditional schools and alternative education settings, Thom worked in various schools across the state for six as a middle school science teacher before becoming a school administrator, officials said. 

According to officials, he served as principal of a private school for children with emotional and behavioral difficulties before moving on to teach within the New Jersey Department of Corrections at Southern State Correctional Facility, educating incarcerated adult males.

Currently, officials say, Thom serves as a Staff Representative and Communications Director for Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1040.

Endurance Award

Patricia Hayek

Director of Victim Services, Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office

This award honors a victim witness coordinator, advocate, or staff member who consistently sets the standard for excellence by offering exceptional assistance to victims and prosecution teams, officials stated.

This award does not require decades of service but recognizes one’s perseverance in providing quality assistance to victims, officials say. 

According to officials, Patricia A. Hayek was appointed as a Victim Witness Advocate for the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office in April 1999. For the past 25 years, she has served with distinction.

In 2004, officials said, Ms. Hayek became a Supervising Victim Advocate while serving as the Child Abuse Multidisciplinary Team Program Coordinator, and in 2022, she was named Director of Victim Witness Advocacy.

She has received recognition from both the State of New Jersey and the State of New York for assisting victim-survivors at Liberty State Park and at a landfill in New York in the search and rescue efforts subsequent to the attack of September 11, 2001, officials stated.AdAuthorities say Hayek has been an integral component in developing and implementing statewide programs, including Infoshare and the Victim Witness portal, to assist victims in finding resources and keeping victims updated on their case(s).

In addition, officials say, Hayek has implemented policies and procedures for the BREATHE Initiative and upheld policy implementation of the Victim Notification Form Policy used to preserve the rights of victims upon the release of a defendant.