GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Over the past couple of years, the Kent County court system has seen an increase in domestic violence cases. That, coupled with a new law that requires resentencing for all juveniles who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, means the Kent County Victim Witness Unit has seen an increased need for its services.

“Our job is to walk alongside the victims as they navigate the criminal justice system, because it’s complex,” Angelica Ferrer, coordinator with the victim witness unit, said.

Ferrer and eight other advocates meet daily with victims, their families and witnesses. She said that while many know what the rights of defendants are, victims’ rights are often overlooked.

“Victims’ rights include the right to be notified of the court hearings and the right to attend,” she said. “The right to provide a victim impact statement, the right to make a statement at sentencing, the right to restitution, the right to confer with our office. … They have the right to reasonable protection from the accused.”

The office is located on the fifth floor of the 61st District Court, which is downtown. Social workers help with a wide variety of cases, including child sex crimes, homicides, domestic abuse cases and sexual harassment cases.

“Some people who are victimized or are survivors of crime, they don’t want to engage in the process. It’s too hard,” Ferrer said. “For other people, knowing that they are not lost in this story, they are not lost during this process, and being able to speak their truth — that is huge for them. That’s where they find part of their justice.”

While many high-profile cases focus on the defendant, Ferrer said it’s their job to make sure the victims’ voices and stories aren’t lost or forgotten.

“They have a voice. They matter,” Ferrer said. “And they have a right to engage in this process as much as they choose.”