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Church care for crime victims

For more than 25 years, the Crime Victim's Advocacy Council has helped crime victims find their voice. Founded by a United Methodist pastor and former prison chaplain, CVAC goes beyond facilitating support groups. The Rev. Bruce Cook hopes more churches will recognize this important ministry.

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(Locator: Atlanta, Georgia)

(Voice of the Rev. Bruce Cook) “The American Correctional Association knows of 8887 prison ministries. They could only find 58 faith-based ministries that helped crime victims. There’s a tremendous need for The United Methodist Church to serve crime victims.”

The Rev. Bruce Cook founded the Crime Victim’s Advocacy Council in 1989. He would like to see more support groups like this one at his own church, Vinings United Methodist in Atlanta, Georgia.

(Lynn Hollingsworth to Bruce Cook in support group) “This guy is coming up for parole once more and we’re still dealing with him after 29 years.”

The Rev. Bruce Cook, Founder, Crime Victims Advocacy Council: “Sometimes they are angry at God when they come to us and we work through that anger together in a support group.”

Cook has seen both sides of the justice system in a career that included time as a parole examiner and a prison chaplain.

The Rev. Bruce Cook: “I worked 32 years in correctional environments. But on the other hand my heart was always with the crime victims.”

When his stepbrother was murdered, Cook found comfort among his congregation and hopes others might find that same peace.

The Rev. Bruce Cook: “I felt a tremendous need to come to church, to be in church and be with other people. Because I didn’t want to suffer this alone.”

Support group members say people shy away from crime victims and often fail to recognize the long-term pain and consequences of losing a loved one.

(Jessalyn Dorsey to group) “I couldn’t ask the person ‘Why?’ so I was asking God. ‘Why my son?’”

(David Elliott to group) “I remember my sister-in-law telling me on the first anniversary of our daughter’s death, her saying, ‘David, I’m just gonna tell you. Nobody in the family knows what to say.’”

The Rev. Bruce Cook: “We’re good at emergency response, which is a memorial, a funeral or prayers, and then six months later when they’re losing their job or losing their marriage over the levels of PTSD that they suffer from that traumatic bereavement, that’s when the church is needed and that’s when we leave ‘em.”

Jessalyn Dorsey: “I sat in that corner and and cried all the time but when I finally found my voice, I wanted to tell people who my son was.”

Terrence Green was murdered in 1999. His mother Jessalyn Dorsey turned to the Crime Victim’s Advocacy Council. She’s now the group’s moderator.

(Jessalyn Dorsey to group) “I facilitate the group but I still want to share as much as I can to help others to let them know that, ‘You can get through this.’”

In addition to encouraging dialogue, Cook says churches can support crime victims in meaningful ways like accompanying families to court.

Jessalyn Dorsey: “Reverend Cook was with me during the entire trial process which lasted a week. He prayed for us and with us.”

Volunteers can help draft impact statements to be read at sentencing and parole hearings.

(Yvette and David Elliott reading impact statement) “We’ve not had one night’s worth of unbroken sleep since her disappearance and death. Before we knew she was dead, we wondered if our child was hurt, hungry, thirsty, suffering in some abandoned house…”

Advocates can help families apply for restitution funds available to cover lost wages and funeral expenses.

Sheila Douglas: “I would know absolutely nothing about an opportunity to be compensated. I would have known absolutely nothing about a victim’s statement and how to write it. So, for me, those were all ‘aha’ moments that were educational.”

While the pain never goes away, there are ways to seek healing together.

The Rev. Bruce Cook: “This little church has been a beacon for crime victims to come in and get cared for and loved and restore their faith.”

(Lynn speaks to group) “What a good feeling for those of us who have been through it to be able to comfort someone else.”


If you would like to volunteer for CVAC and accompany crime victims to court, lend prayer support, or work one-on-one to help draft impact statements, visit or
call 770-333-9254.

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.

Media contact is Joe Iovino.
This video was first posted on February 12, 2016.