Johnson County, Ill., leaders fearful as victim advocate laid off

Victims of abuse, assault, and other crimes now have less help in one community. 

County commissioners in Johnson County, Illinois, voted unanimously to lay off their victim advocate. Victim advocates work out of the state attorney’s office to help care for children and victims. The Johnson County’s Sheriff’s Office spoke out in support of victim advocate Maria Roper, saying ”she has been a great asset…we will miss you."

Many posted in the comments, with one commenter saying they "helped me out a lot…I don’t understand why they’re laying her off." County leaders voted for the layoff because of cuts in state funding. The county pays the victim advocate, but is refunded by grants through the attorney general’s office. When the county did not receive that money in time, they decided to let her go. But she says helping people is not a job that ever stops.

She did not have to, but Roper showed up to work at the Johnson County Courthouse anyway. She says part of her job is making sure people are taken care of, but today her work involved tying up loose ends so her coworkers could take care of her job. Roper worked as the county’s victim advocate until she was laid off, and had the tools and the toys to do the job.

"I wanted to make sure it was a happy place to come into, because a lot of these victims need an uplifting spirit," Roper says.

Roper worked with law enforcement and various charity organizations to help victims through sometimes complicated legal processes, and Johnson County State’s Attorney Tambra Cain says she hopes the layoff is only temporary.

"What she provides is something my office can only partially provide without her." Cain says.

As for the files and cases that need to be taken care of, half will be absorbed by the state attorney’s office and the other half by community organizations.

So, while Roper is trying to make sure others care for and do the job she knows so well, now she says she’ll have to take her work home.

"It’s heartbreaking because I really want to be here today. I woke up wanting to come to the office, wanting to help someone." says Roper.

The state’s attorney office is legally prohibited from helping with some victim services. For those other services, the office will refer people to the Women’s Center in Carbondale if the situation calls for it. The county is concerned about qualifying for the attorney general grant. Cain says they qualify for the grant in part because of the work Roper does, but they still have the hope she will be re-hired.

Those who need any type of help can still contact the states attorney’s office.

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