Ohio Victim Witness Association (OVWA), is a statewide network of victim service providers that formed in 1978. As the need for victim services was starting to be addressed in the mid-1970's with federal grant funds through the Law Enforcement Assistance Agency (LEAA), approximately eight of the 88 county prosecutors established Victim/Witness divisions in their offices. Ultimately, the advocates of these eight Victim/Witness divisions were brought together as the Ohio Association of Prosecutors' Victim Witness Divisions.
The goal at the time was to share ideas in order to enhance each program's response to the needs of victims and witnesses and to encourage similar services for each county in Ohio. It quickly became apparent that this prosecutor-based organization needed to expand its membership! Many of Ohio's counties had victim services that were based out of other public offices and private agencies. Thus, OVWA became the inclusive victim service organization for advocates, regardless of their base organization. These advocates worked together to broaden and enhance their own county services and expand the availability of victim services throughout the state.
While promoting the crucial development of victim services statewide, the need for funding for programs was quickly realized. As a result, OVWA worked with state legislators on the development of Substitute Senate Bill 195, the "State Victim Assistance Act", and promoted the incorporation of an OVWA member onto the Ohio Attorney General's State Victim Assistance Advisory Board. This act was subsequently enacted in 1984. The OVWA network continued to grow and the advocates developed best practices and expanded services throughout the state. Through collaboration with the Ohio Attorney General's Office, OVWA was the catalyst behind the annual Two Days In May (TDIM) Conference suggesting that all statewide victim service organizations be brought together for one joint training event. After more than 25 years, TDIM is still viewed as an essential training event for advocates in Ohio.
Because of the efforts of our founders and dedicated members, OVWA is Ohio's accepted leader in victim advocacy and education. OVWA recognized that victim advocates were coming from diverse backgrounds, education, and experience. The membership's interest in ensuring consistent services for victims no matter where the victimization took place led to the discussion of a base level training and a collective appreciation of uniform standards. The discussion was the catalyst for the creation of the Ohio Advocate Network for Training and Registration (OAN). OAN, established in 1994, developed a process through which advocates could become credentialed based upon their training and years of service. OAN's goal is to publicly affirm the field of victim advocacy, establish professional standards, and encourage continuing education and specialized training. OAN proudly served as the model for the National Advocate Credentialing Program (NACP), established in 2003.
OVWA also made its mark across the state by holding annual events for National Crime Victims' Rights Week which honored victims, survivors, advocates, and legislators who worked on important legislation affecting victims and victim advocates. It was during this time that OVWA analyzed Ohio's Victim Compensation Program expenses. This led to faster administrative-based processes and created the nation's first law permitting property tax levies for victim services. OVWA's successful advocacy and analysis led to the identification of $2.5 million dollars from "excess" compensation funds to start rape crisis centers in Ohio.
OVWA has a long history of public policy work. OVWA members have testified on the national level to endorse a U.S. Constitutional Amendment for Victims' Rights. Its members volunteer countless hours to improve systems to be victim-centered. The most notable of these successes was in 1994 when OVWA's President and Public Policy Chair led the passage of Ohio's first victims' rights constitutional amendment which passed by a 78% margin! This amendment laid the groundwork for recently expanded victim rights and gave victims a much needed voice in the criminal justice process.
In 2017, OVWA opened its first state office that frequently works alongside state agencies and other statewide victim advocacy coalitions. OVWA works to keep its members informed, provide a network of opportunities and build partnerships to strengthen Ohio's services. Together, we all have a more powerful and influential voice!