MAYS LANDING – Each year, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office observes Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring staff members with Hispanic roots and history. This month, the prosecutor honored the office’s first bilingual Victim Witness Advocate, Maria Sosa.
During her 28-year career in victim advocacy, Sosa said she has experienced the need and demand for more bilingual professionals, particularly in law enforcement. During her employment at the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, she worked with more than 43,000 Spanish speaking victims, who share her contact information with other victims in their communties.
“The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office is thankful to have a resource like bilingual Victim Witness Advocate Maria Sosa who is able to break language barriers and be accessible to Spanish speaking victims in the community,” Acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Cary Shill said. “As ACPO’s first bilingual Victim Witness Advocate, the work of her victim advocacy career speaks for itself with the services she has provided to 43,000 Spanish speaking victims. I applaud her advocacy service of 28 years to crime victims in our communities.”
Sosa was born in Puerto Rico and in 1970, moved to Massachusetts with her family. As a young woman and single mother, she relocated to New Jersey to raise her two children and be close to her immediate family. In 1993, she began her career in victim advocacy as the shelter manager for AVANZAR (formerly known The Women’s Center). She also provided translation for Spanish speaking clients, facilitated group counseling sessions, and provided crisis intervention to the Spanish speaking victims of domestic violence. Sosa has also responded to local hospitals throughout Atlantic County to provide emotional support and resources to victims of sexual assault.
“Throughout my career at AVANZAR, I worked with the staff of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office of Victim Witness Advocacy and admired the work they did with crime victims of Atlantic County,” Sosa said. “I wanted to expand my advocacy work to include all victims of crimes who were in the Spanish community. It was then, in January 2008, I began my career as the first bilingual victim witness advocate at the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office. Being one of four Spanish speaking staff members at ACPO in 2008, I quickly got my feet wet and began connecting with the victims, victim survivors and witnesses in the Spanish Community.”
As an advocate, Sosa guides victims and victim survivors throughout the criminal justice process, provides case specific information, advocates for the rights and needs of the crime victims, connects victims to social services agencies to assist with mental health counseling and provide financial assistance, and accompanies victims to court proceedings. She provides advocacy service to victims of all crime types, including, homicide, robbery, burglary and particularly child victims of sexual and physical abuse. She is also a member of the Atlantic County Child Abuse Multi-Disciplinary Team. Sosa said being a part of the team and collaborating with various child abuse professionals assists her in providing appropriate and much needed services to more than 80 Spanish speaking child victims and their guardians yearly.
“My ongoing networking amongst the social service providers and legal community, assists me in working with undocumented immigrant victims of crime in applying for a U Nonimmigrant Status, U visa. By expanding the support from multiple agencies to this population helps them feel supported and encourages them to be involved with the prosecution of their case,” she said.
Sosa has also served as the advocate assigned to the Family Court Unit that prosecutes juvenile offenders and violations of domestic violence restraining order matters. Maria was also assigned to work with 12 municipal courts to provide advocacy to Spanish speaking victims of domestic violence during the court’s day and/or evening sessions.
“The more that this population is aware that bilingual advocates exist in the criminal justice system, the more they want to engage with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office,” Sosa said. “I was the only bilingual victim advocate for 11 years. Without bilingual advocates, the Spanish speaking community may not get access or be informed about services to assist and empower them to recover from trauma. Since the Criminal Justice Reform in 2017, my interaction with this population has increased due to the office being involved with warranted domestic violence simple assault cases. This gives me and ACPO Victim Witness Advocate Bella Alameda an opportunity to speak with these victims at case inception, where they may never be afforded and opportunity to interact with a bilingual service provider.”