Horrifically violent stories were overshadowed by tales of community and overcoming Monday morning as State's Attorney Mark Ober led the opening ceremony of National Crime Victims Rights Week.
The program, held at the Hillsborough County Center in downtown Tampa, focused on the plight of victims and their families who have suffered from violent crimes and the organizations that help the victims in their darkest hours. Along with the ceremony was a victim assistance information and resource fair outlining the duties of the Victim Assistance Program.
"The amount of people we see being affected by the violence that tears at the fabric of our society is sometimes overwhelming to those of us in the law enforcement community," Ober said. "But it is reassuring to know that there are people who are there for those who suffer and can provide them the sense of community they need."
Attorney General Pam Bondi was on hand to share her extensive experience in dealing with victims. Bondi applauded the efforts of Hillsborough County and the Victim Assistance Program, saying that Tampa can serve as an example of "how it should work."
"What makes Hillsborough County unique is that we have taken a team approach, from the attorneys that work the cases to the police; everyone cares about victims," Bondi said. "You don't see that everywhere. As a prosecutor I've seen the way the victims advocates guide the families and victims of crime through the legal system. What they do is so important and part of what makes this community great."
On hand to speak about their horrific experiences and the people who saw them through the tough times were guest speakers Audrey Mabry and Cindy Roberts.
Mabry is the survivor of a vile case of domestic violence in Apollo Beach where her husband attacked her with a hammer before proceeding to cover her in gasoline and set her on fire. She suffered burns on over 80 percent of her body and was initially expected to die, but has become an outspoken advocate against domestic violence.
"I was able to survive because of the support of this entire community," Mabry said. "Margaret Lang from the Victim Assistance Program was there with me every step of the way and was a huge part of my recovery. But something that weighs on my heart is the lack of support for the families of people who are convicted of crimes, because they too are victims of the actions of their loved ones."
Roberts is the widow of fallen Tampa Police Department Cpl. Michael Roberts, who was killed in the line of duty in 2009. She spoke highly of the people who saw her through the legal process but recognized that improvements could still be made.
"To have an advocate during the process gives you someone to hold your hand, pat you on the back and help you find something simple like a quiet place to sit in between courtroom proceedings," Roberts said. "We are not the leaders in this area just yet in Florida, however. There are improvements that could be made at courthouses around the country for families of victims, but hopefully here in Florida we don't stop fighting to improve what we have to offer those who have to live as victims."