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Len Sipes: From our studios in downtown Washington D.C., this is D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. This is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and one of the things we’re doing today is to talk about the issue of victims’ rights. I started with the victims’ rights issue decades ago when I was the senior specialist for crime prevention and victims’ services for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse, the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, and even back then, it was just an emerging topic, because there was a lot of conflict between victims and the criminal justice system that is designed to serve them, but in many cases did not. To talk about this whole issue of victims services in today’s world, we have three principals with us. We have Bonnie Andrews, she is the victims’ services program manager for my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we have Michelle Thomas from the United States Attorney’s Office, she is a victims program specialist, and again, from my agency, we have Peggy Sandifer, she is a community supervision officer dealing specifically with domestic violence, and to ladies, welcome to D.C. Public Safety, a very quick commercial. Ladies and gentlemen, we respond to every inquiry, every email, every Twitter, we really appreciate all of the response that you’ve given us, all the feedback, we’re up to about 130,000 requests on a monthly basis, and we are really appreciative. If you want to get in touch with me directly, it is Leonard – L-E-O-N-A-R-D – .sipes – S-I-P-E-S – @csosa.gov, or follow me via Twitter at twitter.com/len – L-E-N – sipes – S-I-P-E-S – no space, and back to our guests, Bonnie Andrews, the victims’ services program manager for my agency, again, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, tell me about a little bit about National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Bonnie.
Bonnie Andrews: Good morning, Len. Thank you for having us here, and we’re always happy to talk about victims of crime, particularly this week, the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is the time when we celebrate victims of crime, the rights that victims have, and the service providers that do such wonderful work in their communities with working with victims of crime.
Len Sipes: An extraordinarily difficult topic. As a former police officer, I dealt with the victims and families all the time. And wow!
Bonnie Andrews: It is difficult.
Len Sipes: I, was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done in my life. How do you go up to a family and say that your daughter’s just been raped, and she’s at Memorial Hospital, and here are the circumstances as we understand them, we’ve got an active ongoing criminal investigation, so we’re going to need your help, in looking at a family of shocked people? I mean, so it’s not just the victim, as tragic as the story that I’m saying, it’s the victim’s family, it’s the larger community that is impacted by this, there are going to be hundreds, if not thousands of people that are going to be making decisions based on their perception of their own personal safety, based upon this case, so the issue of victims’ services is enormously important to us.
Bonnie Andrews: Absolutely. With any type of crime, it’s difficult to approach the victim and/or the family, where the family is a victim also, they become a secondary victim as does the community. But you have to keep in mind that dealing with the victim and the families, to be respectful, respectful of what they’re going through, and to be empathetic with that person, or people, and honest, that regardless of what they’re going through, that you have to be honest with them about the circumstances, but I think that Michelle Thomas could probably answer that question a little further –
Len Sipes: The perfect segue as we go over to Michelle Thomas! And Michelle, with the United States Attorney’s office, you know, again, Michelle, one of the things I do want to point out to our listeners is that anybody in the District of Columbia, although our show is heard worldwide, within the District of Columbia, within Washington D.C., the nation’s capital, all of the major criminal justice agencies have victims’ representatives, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s the police department, the United States Attorney’s Office, or our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, the whole concept is that any one of us is there to assist victims of crime.
Nichelle Thomas: That’s true, and we’re all advocates. There are advocates on all fronts, whether it’s with the Metropolitan Police Department, the United States Attorney’s Office, or CSOSA, we basically have the same kind of role in assisting the victim. My role, in my office, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office is to basically listen to the victim, help the victim decide what his or her needs are, and try to figure out how to best meet those needs, to do a plan for safety for the victim and their family.
Len Sipes: Now one of the issues here, and I think this has been brought up in research, it’s been brought up probably through a hundred hearings or more, a thousand hearings or more throughout the country, is that victims of crime and their family members have complained bitterly in the past that we, within the criminal justice bureaucracy, simply don’t give them time, don’t, we won’t listen to them, that they’re, I don’t know, that they become almost adversaries. We have to do a criminal investigation, so we’re limited in terms of the information that we give out, one of their big complaints in the past have been prosecutorial officers throughout the country who would basically, decide upon a plea bargain without involving the victim, victims have said traditionally they’re left out, so what do we say to victims now?
Nichelle Thomas: Well, you know what? There is a basic law, it’s a crime victims rights act that defines the rights for victims, and that is a victim has the right to be heard, reasonably protected, timely noticed of proceedings, unreasonable delay, they need to be heard at the hearings, they can confer with the government prosecutors, they should be treated with dignity and respect. That’s basically it.
Len Sipes: The crimes victim – Crime Victims’ Rights Act is, what, national?
Nichelle Thomas: That’s a federal law.
Len Sipes: That’s a federal law.
Nichelle Thomas: Yes.
Len Sipes: And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to have you all here. It’s a federal law. It is a federal law with the things that you just mentioned, must happen, that we, within the criminal justice system – there are a lot of people that are in the criminal justice system, and I’m not quite sure they understand that there is indeed a federal law that applies to crime victims. So in essence, what that act is saying is that we, and that applies to local law enforcement agencies, and state law enforcement agencies, not just federal law enforcement agencies, or criminal justice agencies, I should say, it applies to all of us, and basically, it says that we’ve got to really listen to and respect the victim’s point of view.
Nichelle Thomas: We have to!
Len Sipes: Okay, Bonnie. Go ahead please.
Bonnie Andrews: Len, you mentioned that some of the victims have noted that their voices are not often heard, and that’s one of the purposes of having victim advocates within the agencies, the law enforcement agencies, is to have a sounding board available for that victim.
Len Sipes: Right, but here’s my point is that all of us work in bureaucracies. I have been in the criminal justice system since I was, for the last 40 years. Since I was 18, I was a cadet in the Maryland State Police. All of us know that bureaucracies can really push back hard when you’re being a pain. I’m a public affairs officer, sometimes I have to actually advocate for stuff that’s not popular amongst the hierarchy, and I’m not talking about this agency, I’m talking about all my agencies. It’s sometimes hard to push up against management saying your decision is not the right decision, you really do need to understand the circumstances here when I have to advocate for a reporter’s point of view! It’s the same with you guys, it’s not the easiest thing to get in there and be sure that the victim is taken care of.
Bonnie Andrews: Well, we operate within the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, and that is law, it’s a federal law.
Len Sipes: How often do you have to remind bureaucrats that that law exists?
Bonnie Andrews: Quite often. [laughter]
Len Sipes: Yeah, quite often. And that’s my point, my point is that all of us who are quite passionate about victims and serving victims, we’ve got to be advocates. All of us have to be advocates, correct? You know, Michelle, we have to be advocates for victim services, and sometimes we have to push our administrators to do the right thing.
Nichelle Thomas: And you know, one of the things that we’re doing during this week is to bring forward a mini conference. Now Bonnie Andrews hosts an annual roundtable discussion on different topics. This year, I’m privileged, because she’s pulled me in along with a group called “Breaking the Silence – East of the River Committee” so that we can pick a topic, and the topic that we picked to share, this year, is prosecuting cases with multiple victims and witnesses, and we’re putting in place all the blood, sweat, and tears that a team of people have to go through to bring a perpetrator to justice. So we’re doing that this week.
Len Sipes: And the key issue in all of this is interagency cooperation. I’m going to go to Peggy Sandifer. Peggy, one of the things that you do in terms of your outreach to victims is, and I know all of you, all three of you deal with the domestic violence issue, but you in particular as a community supervision officer here of my agency, you work with the domestic violence population, correct?
Peggy Sandifer: Yes.
Len Sipes: Okay, tell me a little bit about that.
Peggy Sandifer: Well, what I do, I facilitate groups for men and women who either have been convicted of or admitted to use of domestic violence –
Len Sipes: Okay, and it’s mostly men –
Peggy Sandifer: Yes.
Len Sipes: Overwhelmingly men.
Peggy Sandifer: But the female population is beginning to grow.
Len Sipes: Okay, and what does that, what does that mean? So you’re there telling the individuals who are charged, or convicted rather of acts of domestic violence, because we are, basically a parole and probation agency, so they’ve been convicted, I’m almost certain in virtually all cases, of probation, they’ve been placed on probation by a judge, and they’ve been basically put in, or we put them into domestic violence unit, what do you say when you’re talking to individuals about their victims?
Peggy Sandifer: Well the domestic violence intervention program is for people who have admitted to or either been found guilty of domestic violence. Then they come to our program, we have a 1-hour orientation program that will tell them or give them an idea what’s going to happen, or what’s going to be discussed for the next 22 sessions. Our sessions are once a week, an hour and a half, and we talk about the power and control week, such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, isolation, intimidation, and things like that, and they are confronted and challenged regarding their behaviors.
Len Sipes: The big complaint on the part of domestic violence victims is that the individual won’t leave them alone, especially if there is a protective order. We can actually put Global Positioning System or tracking device on them that automatically alerts us that if this individual is within a half mile of the victim’s home or the victim’s place of work, correct?
Peggy Sandifer: But the only problem with that, Leonard, is that when people are in love, and these emotions are going this way and that way, they don’t know if they want to stay, they don’t know if they want to go back, it’s very difficult.
Len Sipes: But isn’t that the heart and soul, Peggy, of why those of us in the Criminal Justice System who have been not the most staunch supporters of victims rights, isn’t that the heart and soul of the difficulty in terms of our relationship with victims, because victims are, one day, the victims want the individual prosecuted, and the next day, the victims are going, eh, I think I’ve changed my mind, and in some cases, they can change their mind, in some cases, whether they like it or not, they’re going to court.
Peggy Sandifer: My experience is that the ladies want the abuse to stop –
Len Sipes: Right. They don’t necessarily want them prosecuted –
Peggy Sandifer: Right, they just want the abuse to stop, and from my side, it’s very difficult to talk to a victim to get them to understand that domestic violence is progressive. It can start with an emotional abuse, and then it goes to physical abuse, maybe somebody calls you a nasty dirty name, and then the next time, they call you a nasty dirty name and they push. The next time, they call you a nasty dirty name, they push you, they shove you, and they pop you in the mouth.
Len Sipes: It is progressive, and I totally agree with you, and when we’re talking about domestic violence, because it’s the larger issue of service to victims, it gets down into stranger to stranger violence vs. interpersonal violence, and most child victims are victimized by somebody they know, most women are victimized by somebody who they know, and that’s U.S. Department of Justice Statistics. So we’ve got that part of it, and we’ve got stranger-to-stranger crime that we do need to talk about, somebody who pops out and just puts a gun to your head and wants your money, but even that’s stereotypical, because in 3/4 of robberies, a firearm is not displayed, but I’m digressing. Getting back to your issue, it is making sure that we respect victims’ rights, but once a victim has announced that they’ve been victimized in a domestic violence case, and when I say domestic violence, I’m not talking about, in many cases, shoving or hitting. I’m talking about, in many cases, if not most cases, the woman victim was beaten up, correct? Okay. So I just want to make that clear. Once she makes that announcement, then she has to proceed with those charges.
Peggy Sandifer: Well, when you’re talking about being victimized, a lot of shame and embarrassment comes with that.
Len Sipes: Right.
Peggy Sandifer: And it’s the thing, people, most of the time, a woman will have been victimized anywhere up to 6-10 times before she actually calls the police, and more often than not, a neighbor will call the police rather than the victim.
Len Sipes: And if it’s a case, in the District of Columbia and most cities throughout the country now, once the police respond to a domestic violence case, if they see evidence of domestic violence, they have to make an arrest.
Peggy Sandifer: Well, the law in District of Columbia, that arrest has to be made. Somebody has to go.
Len Sipes: There you go. And if they fight each other, then both go.
Peggy Sandifer: Both go.
Len Sipes: The issue, the larger issue, and this begot or begat a larger issue of, again, we’re there to serve victims, but victims, at the same time, need to understand that they need to cooperate with prosecutors, and that’s, isn’t that a whirlwind, we’re going to go back to Michelle Thomas from the United States Attorney’s Office, that’s a whirlwind problem of trying to accommodate the victim’s needs, trying to be sympathetic to the victims need, but the victim needs to be involved in prosecuting the person who did this to him or her.
Nichelle Thomas: Most of the victims want to be involved, but there are a lot of obstacles that would prevent a victim from going forward.
Len Sipes: They are?
Nichelle Thomas: If we’re talking about D.C. alone, there are probably a couple of shelters, there are two shelters that house victims and their children. They probably turn away maybe 9-10 families for every one that they can provide –
Len Sipes: That’s a tragedy.
Nichelle Thomas: – shelter for, so that’s a tragedy.
Len Sipes: So what she’s saying in terms, and we’re talking domestic violence, and I do want to broaden it to all crime, but in terms of domestic violence, if you don’t have any place to take the kids, you’re stuck with your set of circumstances, and that indeed is a tragedy, because we’re not talking about yelling, we’re not talking about screaming, most of the cases that I’ve been involved in as a police officer, you’re talking about the male really putting a hurting onto the female victim.
Nichelle Thomas: Well, in our office, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we have a no tolerance for crime, and prosecutors in our office will simply take a perpetrator to court, and it’s my role as an advocate, victim witness program person to assist with meeting the needs of a victim, finding a safe place, and often, there’s no safe place to refer a person to. We have the crime victim compensation program, our office has a witness security program, but we’re not always able to accommodate a victim.
Len Sipes: And that’s the crux of the criminal justice system across the board, because we don’t have enough cops, we don’t have enough correctional officers, we don’t have enough probation agents, we don’t have enough drug treatment, we don’t have enough mental health treatment, we don’t have enough victim service resources, so that becomes sort of a problem for all of us in the criminal justice system, this larger issue of resources. Go ahead, Ms. Sandifer.
Peggy Sandifer: And a lot of reasons why victim don’t leave is the economic piece, especially if the male is bringing in the majority of the money, you know, they don’t have any money coming in on their own, and we always try to encourage them to try to put a little money aside so that you can get away.
Len Sipes: These are real world issues, almost in many cases insurmountable issues that all three of you deal with on a day-in/day-out basis. What do you do to escape the pressure and strain? Bonnie Andrews, it is, I used to go and work directly with victims when I was in law enforcement, and boy, I had to go home and prop up my feet and have a beer or two, it was like, my heavens, that’s a tough set of circumstances to be, and how do you cope with it?
Bonnie Andrews: I’m an exercise junkie! [laughter]
Len Sipes: There you go! There you go!
Bonnie Andrews: I believe that we have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of the victim. We can’t neglect our own bodies or our spiritual base, we have to stay centered, and sometimes we are human, so we can’t always do that, we have off days just like everyone else, but the roundtable that I started to facilitate about 7 years ago is one of the resources that we use for victim advocates to come together and look at our obstacles that all of us face, whether we’re in Maryland, D.C. or Virginia, we continue to face the same –
Len Sipes: You all get together in the tri-state area from the District of Columbia, and Maryland, Virginia, to talk about all this?
Bonnie Andrews: We look at resources that may not be available, and we collaborate with the resources that are there, we put a face to the names of the providers that we talk to on the phone on a regular basis, and we share information that may be helpful with other victim service providers that we may not have had before coming to the roundtable.
Len Sipes: Want to remind everybody that this is D.C. Public Safety, we’re talking our halfway through break way late. Bonnie Andrews is the victim services program manager for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. From the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we have Michelle Thomas, she’s a victim program specialist. Also at the microphones is Peggy Sandifer, she’s a community supervision officer dealing specifically with domestic violence. Bonnie, I’m going to continue with you for a second. Okay, so how do we convince people who are very skeptical? I mean, calling the IRS, calling the Environmental Protection Agency, calling your local police department, I mean, most people are scared to death to do that. I’ve been in the system for 40 years, and I don’t like contacting government, because we have this view of government as being standoffish and bureaucratic and pushing back. How do you convince people that we really are here to help them? How do we convince people to call us?
Bonnie Andrews: We are here continuously providing education and information to the community, and we do this job because we are passionate about it. It’s nothing glamorous about working with a victim of crime and seeing that person at the worst possible moment of their life, so you have to have a sense of passion about the work that you do, and that shows in the work that you do every day.
Len Sipes: Metropolitan Police Department has their own victims services –
Bonnie Andrews: Yes they do.
Len Sipes: And most police departments throughout the country have their own victim services coordinator, but we did, I mean for everybody, it’s just really hard to convince people, come to us, we want to listen to you, we want to help you understand how the criminal justice system works and what to do.
Bonnie Andrews: You know, a person, a victim may call, for instance, a victim may call me and want services when they initially make that call, and after I have talked to them about the services that may be available, they may change their mind on that day, but I have to leave the door open for them to know that, if you don’t want the services today, maybe next week you might want the services or next month, and we have to leave that door open to let them know that they can come back at any time without any questions being asked or any judgment being placed on that person.
Len Sipes: But you understand the nature of the bureaucracy. An average citizen goes, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve got to call Motor Vehicles!” I’ve got stories to tell about Maryland’s motor vehicles, let me tell you! And so you have this, oh heavens, I’ve got to filter my way through this bureaucracy, in essence, any police officer is supposed to refer that person to victim services, any community supervision officer without our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is supposed to refer people to you. Anybody within the United States Attorney’s Office is supposed to refer people to Michelle, we’re all supposed to be there instantaneously, but to me, I don’t know of a group of people who are more passionate within the criminal justice system than victim providers. You all are gutsy people to be able to deal with the bureaucracy on a day to day basis and deal with the people with huge needs, but that was my question, how do you really convince people – okay Michelle, and then we’ll go over to Peggy, how do you really convince people that the bureaucracy really wants to hear from you in your most difficult of times?
Nichelle Thomas: You know, a lot of the calls that I get are people that have called the police out of fear for their life, so sometimes the balance is so great it would prompt the victim to call, or the neighbors would call to say, please come, this person is in danger, and in DC, about 4500 complaints filed each year in domestic violence intake centers, so people are coming forward, but the outreach efforts on all our behalf, it’s necessary.
Len Sipes: But domestic violence is almost part of the everyday reaction of the Criminal Justice System. I mean, I do want to emphasize that there are victims of robbery, victims of burglary, there are people who would simply mug, there are people who were simply beaten up, there were people who were threatened or intimidated, you know, there’s all sorts of crimes that, when we talk about crime out there, so that person is walking down the street and was pushed to the ground, and their purse was taken, and they were violently pushed to the ground, they were injured, they have to go to the hospital, so suddenly this person who was just angry and hurt and scared all at the same time has to come to grips with, oh geez, now I’ve got to deal with the criminal justice system.
Nichelle Thomas: Well, you know, that’s a process. In D.C., the police, they play a really major role, because that’s the link between the community and the criminal justice system. For must of us on this panel today, most of our phone calls from victims come through interaction with police.
Len Sipes: And most cops are victims advocates. That’s my guess. Now am I right or wrong? Feel free to disagree.
Nichelle Thomas: For the most part, I mean, the police have come a long way. We do training as a matter of fact, for the Metropolitan Police Department to increase their sensitivity about cases that involve crime, and so for the most part, police have come a long way and made a great change toward victim advocacy.
Len Sipes: Okay. Stephanie, or Peggy, you’ve been trying to, enjoying the conversation, and I apologize for taking so long to get around to you. So what is your take on this, you represent the parole and probation system, do our people fully understand the needs and rights of victims?
Peggy Sandifer: Well we have to make, well I have to make contacts with the victims as well, and I always let them know about the services that are available for them, but you also have to go a little bit deeper than that, because most of us were brought up in homes where what goes on in our house stays, what goes on in our house stays in our house, and that’s why we try to keep that secret. You know, a family can look like they’re the best family in the world, a “Leave it to Beaver” family.
Len Sipes: Yeah, nobody knows what’s going on behind closed doors, that’s right.
Peggy Sandifer: But nobody knows what’s going on behind those close doors, there’s so much shame, and it’s very difficult to compare that kind of crime to somebody being robbed on the street, because people that’s involved in this, they have feelings about each other.
Len Sipes: Yeah.
Peggy Sandifer: And that’s the difference.
Len Sipes: Well, that is the difference, but I didn’t want the show to be about domestic violence, I wanted the show to be about the broader issue of crime victimization, but the domestic violence part of it is something that has always been very special to me. My first case as a cadet in the state police riding with the trooper was going to a domestic violence incident with a trailer, and we knocked on the door of the trailer, and here’s a woman who answered the door, and her face is twice its size. He had beaten her with a frying pan, and the issue here is that she didn’t want to prosecute, and as far as we were concerned, that’s aggravated assault, we didn’t need her permission to arrest her husband, and her husband fought, as he was drunk, and from that day, I said to myself, “my god, how many women,” – I know men are victims too.
Peggy Sandifer: Somebody’s being abused right now.
Len Sipes: The degree of victimization is astounding, and the impact on their lives and the families is astounding. So that’s, I just wanted to broaden it, however important it is beyond the larger criminal justice system, we’re going to go back to Bonnie Andrews, so Bonnie, what am I saying that’s right or wrong?
Bonnie Andrews: Well, we don’t want to belabor this point about domestic violence, because we know this is National Crime Victims Rights’ Week, and that encompasses all types of crimes, but when we look at the crimes that we deal with, particularly within our agency, CSOSA, we come, we tend to, 90% of the time, we tend to come back to domestic violence –
Len Sipes: Really?
Bonnie Andrews: We do.
Len Sipes: Really?
Bonnie Andrews: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: Okay, so the victims of robbery, and the victims of burglary, and the victims of muggings, and the victims of aggravated assaults, they pretty much go on with their lives?
Bonnie Andrews: No, I’m not saying that they pretty much go on with their lives, but when we get an offender that we are working with, at some point, even if that offender has been convicted of a drug crime, and I’ll give you, for instance, an example of a woman that I worked with this morning. Her husband had been convicted of a drug crime, but when she came in to see me this morning, she did not come into my office this morning because of his drug crime, but she came in because of domestic violence.
Len Sipes: And it just struck me in terms of this entire conversation, I’m stupid at times, and I just don’t get it at first, regardless of my years in the criminal justice – I am too, because I ask my wife and daughters. The point is, is that domestic violence is a continuing, ongoing thing, whereas robbery is a one-time event, so that’s why you’re probably seeing the degree of domestic violence victims. You’re going to have to wrap up, we’re almost through the 30 second point. Bonnie, I’m going to give you the final word. Just tell victims of crime what they need to do.
Bonnie Andrews: We are here for you in any agency, law enforcement agency that you come into contact with, there should be a victim service advocate, victim service provider within that agency –
Len Sipes: And if there’s not there’s somebody at the state level. If there’s not, there’s somebody within that agency who’s there to take care of you.
Bonnie Andrews: You will call 911. Want you to call 911 first, because the law, police, MPD, they need to be on the scene to protect you –
Len Sipes: And law enforcement agencies throughout the country, need to dial 911. Bonnie Andrews, the Victim Services Program Manager for the court services and offender supervision agency, from the United States Attorney’s Office. Michelle Thomas, Victims Program Specialist, and Peggy Sandifer, she’s a community supervision officer, otherwise known throughout most of the country as a parole and probation agent, she is now specializing in domestic violence. Ladies, thank you very much for being on the show. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. Again, we respond to every comment, every call, every email, we appreciate your suggestions for the show, we appreciate your criticisms as well, anything that you have to say, we welcome them, and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.
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