North Dakota Groups Navigate Challenges to Expand Crime Victim Aid

Editor Special to Devils Lake Journal

NORTH DAKOTA – Non-profits assisting North Dakota crime victims are trying to maintain services they've been building in recent years. As demand reaches pre-pandemic levels, leaders hope to avoid clients falling off their radar.

Legal Services of North Dakota is in its third year of using a state grant through the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). The organization's Interim Executive Director Mikayla Jablonski Jahner said family law stemming from domestic violence is the most common source of requests for help.

Staff attorneys around the state work closely with those seeking protection orders and other court solutions. She said these situations take an emotional and physical toll on the client.

"And sometimes," said Jablonski Jahner, "it is just giving them that advice and giving them resources, so that they know when it's right for them that they have those things available to them and they understand what the next steps would be."

She said helping clients see things through takes dedication because a variety of factors can make it hard for them to leave the situation permanently.

The group has been able to assemble a team for these cases. But it warns that VOCA funding in North Dakota is dwindling, potentially resulting in a smaller grant total ahead of renewal in the coming months.

Amid these concerns, Legal Services is teaming with the North Dakota Council on Abused Women's Services, which has hired its own attorney to assist with cases.

And Jablonski Jahner said training has allowed private lawyers to join the cause, which helps if a person doesn't qualify for legal aid.

"There are some private attorneys out in the western part of the state that are more than willing to help with these cases, do some pro bono work," said Jablonski Jahner. "But again, in the last few years, we've really made a push to make sure there are some other options. "

Meanwhile, the group's project serves between 150 to 200 people a year. Jablonski Jahner said that number took a dip at the start of the pandemic, but applications are back at normal levels.

The potential funding cut would follow a small reduction in the last grant.

But that's not stopping creative approaches. Legal Services has another staff member who focuses on client needs such as housing, allowing that person to focus on their case.