workplace injury with a meat cutter led Debbi Wise to her vocation as a victim advocate for Deschutes County — a position in which she has excelled for more than 20 years. After sustaining the injury at Wagner's in Redmond, she underwent a placement test that landed her in the county's victims' assistance program early in 1995. That first year, as a single mom raising a young son, she worked a 40-hour week while taking classes at Central Oregon Community College.
Recently honored with the inaugural Victim Advocate of the Year award, presented by the Oregon District Attorneys' Association, Wise is modest regarding the accolade, saying, "This award could have gone to anyone in this office. They all do amazing work."
One of five victim advocates who works for Deschutes County, Wise says, "...I couldn't do it without a team that supports me." Reflecting on the collaborative workplace, she declares, "I enjoy the people I work with....We're a pretty tight team and we work together."
The Victims' Assistance Program is part of the Office of the District Attorney. When initially contacted by the Source Weekly, Wise was hesitant about being interviewed, not wanting to bring any attention to herself. Being humble and wanting to share any credit coming her way, she represented a reporter's worst fear — the selfless person who doesn't want to be interviewed. Fortunately, she relented.
At any given time, Wise has 90-100 cases, mostly dealing with child victims of both sexual and physical abuse — children up to the age of 18 — though she does get the occasional burglary or homicide case. Currently, she estimates that she has about 76 active cases, about 32 bench warrants, a grand jury case ready to go and a pending grand jury case.
"We all have pretty large caseloads," she says. "Some of my cases are three to four years old, so you have contact with people for a long time." As a result, she says, victims she has worked with in the past sometimes stop by just to say hello and let her know how they are. Although she admits it's a stressful job, Wise says there is nothing else that she'd rather be doing.
"It's an awesome feeling to be able to help families when they're in crisis. I can't think of anything I dislike about it. Everyone has a bad day, but I just love what I do. I feel incredibly supported by my family and the people I work with in this office, and I work with wonderful people. I love what I do or I probably wouldn't do it. For me, one of the things that I have is that I care about people and I want to help them."A
s an advocate, she helps victims negotiate their way through the legal system. This can mean putting them in touch with partner organizations that offer different forms of aid, or just sitting with victims in the courtroom to offer them moral support. Her duties can include working with families in divorce cases, with kids in and out of foster care and with parents in disagreement over procedural matters in their child's court case.
"It's the State's burden, not the victim's burden, to prove a case," Wise says. "In a criminal case, the victim doesn't win or lose." There will be a demand for victim advocates "as long as there are victims of crime," she adds.
In a press release from the Office of the District Attorney, DA John Hummel voiced praise for Wise. "The residents of Deschutes County should treasure Debbi Wise. Having Debbi on our team ensures that, as awful and painful as it is to be a victim of a crime, it you are victimized in our county, you will not walk alone. I'm proud of Debbi for winning this award and commend ODAA for selecting her," Hummel said.
A longtime Redmond resident, Wise, when not at work, enjoys spending time with her son, knitting afghans and listening to country music.
"I'm very happy where I'm at and what I do," she says. "I really don't want to do anything else. I work with friends and family every single day. I feel very fortunate. I guess I can't say that enough. The most important thing for me is the family I have here and the families that I meet and work with. I just feel very blessed. The people here, this office, are just amazing."