BANGOR, Maine — Marcy Ouellette’s been sworn at more often in her 20 years as a victim/witness advocate than she ever was as a police officer.

“We do a lot of listening,” she said of the job last week. “We don’t blame. We don’t judge. We don’t take offense.”

Ouellette’s last day on the job in the Penobscot County district attorney’s office was Friday. She has been a zealous advocate for all crime victims but has worked most often with the victims of domestic violence.

“She wasn’t afraid to fight with prosecutors, including the district attorney, to make sure the victim’s voice was heard,” District Court Judge Michael Roberts, formerly the deputy district attorney for Penobscot County, said during Ouellette’s retirement party on Dec. 2. “We always knew that when we had a domestic violence case in this office, the victim’s point of view would be presented in the courtroom.”

Born Marcella Mona Morin 65 years ago, she was raised on a farm in Madawaska, the 12th of 16 children. She did not plan a career in the criminal justice system, having graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in education. But her teaching career was cut short when her position was eliminated after one year at a school in Van Buren.

Ouellette and her husband, Dan, moved to Greater Bangor in search of work.

“I saw an ad in the paper for a police dispatcher in Old Town,” she said last week. “I said to myself, ‘I wonder what they do?’ I didn’t know [police] scanners existed.”

She quickly learned how to deal with people in crisis. After working in dispatch, she followed Amy McCrea, 60, who will take over Ouellette’s position in the district attorney’s office, onto the Old Town police force in the early 1980s. They were the first female officers in what was then a bustling mill town.

Ouellette spent most of her time as a police officer in the community. She started the first Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or D.A.R.E., in town and gave safety tips to the residents of the elderly housing units. She won many awards for her work including, officer of the year, woman of the year and citizen of the year during her decade or so on the streets of Old Town.

“I took a break from police work for a while and started working here 20½ years ago,” she said. “It appealed to me because it was still part of the criminal justice system, which I enjoyed, but it was a different part in the system. I have enjoyed it. Not, that it’s been easy. It’s a hard job. It really is.”

What makes the job so frustrating is the uncertain nature of the criminal justice system. Court dates are set, witnesses are subpoenaed, victims show up at the courthouse, and the case is continued until the next month. Some cases take two years to come to trial and be resolved. She also informs victims when their abusers have completed their sentences and are about to be released.

“The criminal justice system is not victim friendly,” Ouellette said. “It really is not. Every month, we contact them about court dates to make sure they are still available but the case is delayed. They get so tired. For people to hurry up and wait, the anxiety that produces is constant. Some victims just want to put this behind them and move on, to move forward, to start healing and they can’t do that until it’s over.

“We just wish that the victims could be made whole again,” she said. “They experience very traumatic events, and they will never be the same again. The system can’t fix that. It can’t make it better.

Over the past two decades, Ouellette has seen crimes of domestic violence become more serious and more violent.

“We have strangulation cases all the time now,” she said. “And, there’s so much we don’t know about strangulation, about the long-term effects. We know it’s not good.”

One of the reasons for the increase of the severity of charges filed in those types of domestic violence cases is that in 2012, the Maine Legislature changed the law to elevate crimes involving strangulation that don’t result in serious bodily harm from assault to aggravated assault, according to a previously published report. Assault is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison. Aggravated assault is a Class B felony, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Before the law was changed, prosecutors found it difficult to take strangulation into account as a factor in charging a defendant.

Ouellette was one of just under 60 victim/witness advocates in the state. Forty-nine work for county district attorneys’ offices, three work for the Maine attorney general’s office, primarily on homicide cases; two work for the U.S. attorney’s office in the federal courts; three work for the Maine Department of Corrections; and one works for the Portland Police Department.

The county programs began in the early to mid-1980s. They went statewide in 1987 when the Legislature passed a law that encouraged counties “to hire, train and provide support staff to a qualified person or persons to carry out the victim and witness support program.” Penobscot County has had a victim/witness advocate program since the mid-1980s, according to the current district attorney, R. Christopher Almy.

Ouellette and other victim/witness advocates become involved within 12 to 48 hours of an arrest depending on whether that arrest happens over a weekend or not. The advocate informs victims of the amount of bail being requested, the bail conditions, how the court process works and how to seek a more permanent protection from abuse order than the no contact provision set as a bail condition.

“Their lives can be turned upside down, but that doesn’t mean [an incident is] a crime,” Ouellette said. “Or, they may want the person to go to prison for the rest of their lives and that’s not going to happen. The prosecutors have guidelines. Judges have sentencing guidelines. They have a responsibility.

And, sometimes victims don’t want the person to go to jail,” she added.

While Ouellette and other victim/witness advocates spend most of their time with the victims of crime, the witness part of the job involves assisting prosecutors during trial by communicating with witnesses about when they are expected to testify and helping them fill out paperwork so they are reimbursed for expenses such as mileage and, in some case, meals and lodging.

Carlene Engstrom had never worked in the Maine criminal justice system when she was hired to work in the Penobscot County district attorney’s office.

“Marcy taught me the system here in Maine,” Engstrom said at Ouellette’s retirement party. “She set the bar high for the rest of us.”