Victim Assistance-Will Marling

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Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back on our microphones, ladies and gentlemen Will Marling, the executive director of the National Organization for victim assistance. We’re going to be talking about three items. The dramatic increase in federal funds for victims of crimes. The second, the new report from the department of justice stating that the disabled have more than double the rate of violent crime in the third issue are cameras for police and what does it mean for victims.  Will Marlin welcome back to DC Public Safety?

Will Marling: Leonard thank you it’s always a privilege to be with you.

Leonard Sipes: Alright, we have a new report out that basically says the federal crime victim funds are expected to nearly quadruple in the next fiscal year. States have begun to plan as to how to spend what amounts to an unexpected windfall that was good news for advocates who have been fighting for years to get the full amount of available funds under the victims of crime compensation act. Explain all this to me Will. Where are … where is the federal government suddenly finding quadruple the money they give the victims of crimes?

Will Marling: Well, that’s a great question. A question that many people aren’t aware that shouldn’t even be asked. In 1984, President Reagan established the task force for victims of crime. Out of that very significant task force came the office for victims of crime and the victims of crime at fund. The Congress said we’re going to set up a fund that takes last year’s four features fines and seizures at the federal level. Then we’re going to use that for victim … crime victim compensation and Crime Victim Services like funding victim advocate roles and vocations.

Since 1984, that has been in play. The fund has grown and, of course, advocates those who work in this particular area were certainly very aware of the victims of crime that fund because many times it was … it’s funding these vocations out in the justice process and state and local jurisdictions and as well the federal … at a federal level. Trying to see that balanced was importance. Congress set a cap on that as the fund grew and got to be very significant well into the billions of dollars. Congress said okay we’re going to set a cap that was most recently established at about $750 – $754 million dollars.

We’ve been discussing this issue and seeing that cap raise with the congressional action many times things can get a little behind. As long as it’s working nobody is messing with it but we’ve been arguing for many years did that cap needs to be raised to meet the needs not only of victims of crime but also to understand that hey the money is there. Things are cool as it appears at this point where congressional leadership really took hold of this to say okay yes it’s time to truly raise this cap and as well to hear from victim assistance organization and agencies who would say yes it’s time and what would our dreams be. Well while the money is there and they really went to you know great lengths to expand it to nearly quadruple.

What is represented in what looks to be the fiscal year 2016 appropriation for this would move it to about 2.6 billion. It also represents some other editions of funding designation. We call them earmarks. We’re watching this carefully because we want to make sure that as it was originally intended the victims of crime fund is directly trying to meet the needs of victims of crime to compensation … victim compensation and victim services specifically.

Leonard Sipes: Well, crime has returned to a national or as a national discussion point Will. It’s sort of like a rising tide lifts all boats because … my question is this is principally a fund to deal with financial compensation for victims of crime if there injured due to a violent crime or for instance if a loved one is murdered and they don’t have the money to pay for funeral costs. This is how … this is the reason for the act for the funds specifically, and it’s administered by all the 50 states. The whole idea is to reimburse victims of crime for their experiences correct?

Will Marlin: That’s exactly right. There are a lot of significant expenses just financially. We’re taking out the emotional dimension but that the financial impact of ending up in the hospital of having medical treatment of having to conduct a funeral pay for a funeral having to get counseling and loss of wages for instance. A number of the states have those kind of categories for reimbursement of compensation to support victims of crimes. It is the last pay of funds because sometimes people are insured. They have say medical care that would cover that kind of thing.

Of course, many people aren’t expecting to be a victim, and they’re not expecting to suffer a profound physical loss or financial loss. That’s yes you’re exactly right. That’s what it’s designed to do. Each state has the VOCA administrator that takes their formulas appropriation and sometimes applies it to the state itself and the money they raise for Victim Compensation. Which can also come from four features fines and seizures and penalties and this kind of thing. It really was a brilliant concept in my view. I think others would agree with me for Congress to say hey! wait a minute this is a great way to deal with this very profound need that represents the losses the victims suffer after having been harmed by crime.

Leonard Sipes: It’s not that i disagree with anything that I’m about to read. Some of the examples that were … that was given by the one article that I’m reading in terms of where the money is going. Crime victim organizations such as domestic violence shelters child abuse centers as well as court-appointed sexual advocates and organization that assist homeless youth … that sort of takes it away from the arena of reimbursing somebody for the injuries that they sustained in a violent crime.

Will Marlin: Well, It’s a … it’s a good observation and an interesting one because we consider these earmarks and the risk that you run for earmarks even with very appropriate and understandable concerns of trying to fund the needs of victims in other sectors. For instance, you know there’s the 2016 fiscal year appropriation for … the Senator appropriation bill for VOCA would give 50 million to victims … towards victims of trafficking. The challenge that we face when you start having earmarks is it really restrict and complicates how the fund then is applied.

What we need ultimately is a fund but understandably holds the users accountable to address Victim Compensation victim services. When you start having a create percentages that go towards this and that it can become very complicated to the point that maybe you have certain needs in a certain jurisdiction, and they’re far less needy and another one. This is always our concern where you don’t simply have a good fund … a strong, healthy robust fund that is as you say … towards these specific needs of victims. Not special needs of victim or special populations of victims because they all should represent that.

Another concern just quite frankly in terms of some of the potential preparations is toward prevention issues. Those are extremely important, but we don’t want to fund prevention training and initiatives, for instance, a community-based violence prevention initiative is part of what could be considered the next … the 16 appropriations. Important work yes but we don’t want to put that on the backs of people who are actually trying to recover from the losses they’ve suffered at the hands of the perpetrator.

Leonard Sipes: It’s either an and act on the part of Congress expressing concern regarding victims of crime or recognition of the criminal justice system needs more money. I don’t know what that is I mean they’ve quadrupled the amount of funding in fiscal year 2016 under the victims of crime act. Is it a concern for victims or is it just a funding mechanism for the larger criminal justice system?

Will Marlin: Well, certainly from the standpoint of those who provide victim assistance victim services and also manage victim compensation funding we all considered it a very positive step in and a very good directions to first of all raise the cap that was established because the fund is quite robust and the needs are there clear. I think the simple concerned to express it is for Congress to let the people that know how to do this work do the work to make the funds available to victims of crime and to those who should manage the funding. and then to serve victim of crime in that regard.

There’s concern about non-VOCA authorize funding as we consider it that that looks to be a roughly 441 million in this fiscal 16 … fiscal year 16 appropriation. The concern there becomes … others looking at that’s fund and saying well I can get some money for my particular program as good and viable, and that might be. That program might not represent the needs specifically of victims recovering from the criminal incident. That’s what we want to make sure happens. This fund the VOCA … the victims of crime act fund is for victim compensation and specifically for victim services and we’d like to see it protected that way.

Leonard Sipes: Not just a larger general fund where everybody can dip into under any justification that the program or the effort serves victims of crimes. Specifically making sure that victims are compensated, and victims receive the services that they need, and the only way to do that is through the victims of crime act?

Will Marlin: That’s right. If the victims of crime act fund were to disappear the federal level we know that hopefully the states would continue their level of funding. Obviously, it would be a significant reduction if you’re talking about what currently is the appropriation of 2.361 billion for the current cap …

Leonard Sipes: That’s a lot of money going from 745 million to 2.36 billion. It’s almost an inevitable opportunity to say how else can we use these funds. From the standpoint of the national organization for victim assistance what you guys are saying is wait a minute. Be sure that the great majority of people … the victims of crime are taken care of before you start talking about siphoning it for other purposes.

Will Marlin: yeah exactly. I mean its always this kind of fine line you walk because you … we do not want to sound in any way I like all of these other initiatives that at least we see the listed as a potential appropriations or earmarks under such a bill for the VOCA fund. They’re not meaningful they’re not good. The concern though is it becomes Murky and we … we’re just strongly joining with others to suggest or request that the expanded use of those fund be limited for purpose that are authorized under the original VOCA statute. That’s what we’re arguing for because when it was established, that’s exactly what was delineated. This is for victims of crime to help compensate the program losses to help them in the recovery process to get them access to services that are specific and important for those who have suffered harm at the hands of you criminal activity.

Leonard Sipes: All right, we’re going to shift gears a bit Will and talk about the fact that in 2013 … this was a report released by the Department of Justice on May 21st, 2015, but the data goes back to 2013. In 2013 the rate of crime … the rate of violent crime against persons with disabilities was more than double the rate for people without disabilities. I found a bit disturbing … talking about 1.3 million nonfatal victimization’s which accounted for 21% of all valid victimization in 2013. This isn’t the first time to my knowledge … my years within the criminal justice system that the disabled have been looked at from the standpoint of violent crime. I was shocked to come to find out if they had double the rate of the non-disabled community. Do you have any comments?

Will Marlin: Well, yeah it’s an important understanding of the needs of persons with disabilities and the impact of crime on them. One thing I want to point out here and this is a bit of a personal commentary. What I appreciate about you as we have these interactions is that you want to talk about the things. I didn’t pitch the idea of talking about crimes against persons with disabilities or the VOCA fund.

Leonard Sipes: True.

Will Marlin: You’re pointing out something that encourages me, and that is the work that is done to talk about that the public level. You took note of, and that’s what we need to do too. It’s why I love the radio show because of how many people you reach. This particular statistic we all inherently new who do this work … that people with disabilities are significantly more vulnerable. We have a toll-free victim assistance line here with the National Organization for victim assistance. We have an added approach this, but we recognize when people are calling, and their declaring I am a person with a disability of this is what I’m experiencing.

That there is a greater vulnerability that they have because of their situation and the preponderance of people who know them and work with them are the one that many times are the people they’re taking advantage of them. I’m … It’s troubling on one hand to hear the higher rate events, and that’s for folks with disability but it’s also an important piece of awareness that we pay attention to these need, and we take advantage of what we know to help them out.

Leonard Sipes: I want to talk about serious violent crime directed towards individuals with disabilities, but we got a break and get right back to that. Ladies and gentlemen were talking to Will Marlin, the executive director for the National Organization for victims assistance Nova’s been around for about 40-50 years. I mean it’s one of the most respected organizations within the criminal justice system. One of … certainly the most respected organizations in terms of fighting for victims of crime. We always appreciate Will coming in to talk about topics that are pertinent to victims of crime.

Let me go back to that stat Will Marlin. Serious violent crimes rape or sexual assault robbery and aggravated assault accounted for a greater percentage of all violent crimes against people with disabilities 39% and then compared to people without disabilities 29%. Not only is there a rate of violent crime double those people without disabilities. Serious violent crime seems to be a significant issue. What do we say about a society that allows crime against the disabled to occur without a larger public policy discussions?

Will Marlin: It’s … It truly is an important public policy discussion as well as a specifically practical need. What we recognize is that people with disabilities, first of all, are more vulnerable because of their situation. Their ability to be empowered to make choices to in a sense … protect themselves and so on. They can be under the care of somebody who would take advantage of that. Also the awareness that many times they are not either understood or heard when trying to respond and report that they have been a victim. If a person is in a context where the ability to communicate is limited or there … the needs that they have emotionally or whatever they might be are judged by a person listening to them.

That can profoundly impact the caregiver or the first responders’ willingness or perception of responding to that need. That makes them doubly vulnerable. We as a society we can grow in this. We can grow in our awareness we can grow in our sensitivity, and we can also grow in our commitment to say okay wait a minute. If somebody is attempting to communicate with us there, particular need something that has happened with them. We should start by saying okay this has happened to the best of our knowledge. How are we then going to respond to it.

Leonard Sipes: The response I think is startling because half do not even report the crimes to law enforcement. Nearly half of violent crimes against persons with disabilities what’s reported to police in 2013. The reasons people with disabilities did not report crime to police … because they felt they could deal with it another way. They believe that was 44% they believe that was not important enough 21% they believe that police wouldn’t help 19% and other reasons 38%. They’re not reporting the crimes to law enforcement in the majority of cases, and that’s startling. Not only do they have to face this victimization they don’t even appeal to the larger criminal justice system to assist them.

Will Marlin: Quite honestly that’s not far off the mark from people without disabilities or trying to report. Of course, then you could move into the category of children who are not themselves going to be able to report even at all. It demonstrates limitations that people have to declaring that somebody else has harmed them and in the position of an … from the perspective of a person with a disability. If it’s a primary caregiver how are they going to get even around that person or they believe because it’s somebody they know, or they have trusted that they can manage that situation on their own.

Many times, of course, it’s not the case. It affirms really a need to make sure that we make the vehicles for reporting as available and effective as possible so that if they want to take advantage of them they know that they’re as robust and trustworthy as they can be so that they will. Otherwise, we do empower people to make their own choices about how they want to handle their victimization, and sometimes they believe that the best way to approach this is not to report it to law enforcement for some reason.

Leonard Sipes: Thank God there are victims organizations and community organizations and organizations like the National Organization for victim assistance that does provide a lifeline to these individuals. If they’re confused and if they didn’t report it and they’ve been victimized at least they can call you up and find out what the alternatives are. Again Give the 800 number for the organization Will.

Will Marlin: Yeah it’s 800-879-6682 or 800-t-r-y-N-o-v-a.

Leonard Sipes: Without organizations like yours and organizations at the state level at local level where they going to pick up the phone and have these conversations they would be completely lost.

Will Marlin: I appreciate your KUDOS. I have to say also, there are many good people and good works good agencies on the field in direct contact with people with disabilities or available at very local levels serving that. We celebrate that important work that is being done there and were trying to connect people many times when they call us. We’re trying to connect them to local resources. We consider even our victim assistance line a resource referral line. We don’t want people calling because there … it’s an emergency I mean that they either 911 or a local emergency service provider call.

We do definitely try to connect them to the expertise they need, and there’s just also limits. We just got done talking about the victims of crime act fund and it would be great again for that funding to do be open to helping victims in that situation. To be able to fund the needs that they have and for states who have to allocate that funding to feel like they can expand even the services they want to provide because there’s more funding for that. We are excited about the VOCA fund expanding no question. The states and the appropriation the VOCA administrators are certainly talking with excitement about the possibilities which is great. We just, of course, want to see it continue and especially want to see its continue for the people most vulnerable in our society. The very young many times and folks with disabilities.

Leonard Sipes: I think I’m going to go back to my original point, and that is after spending 10 years as a spokesperson for the crime prevention field. I was shocked because I knew and speculated and believed that people with disabilities had a higher rate of violent crime but not twice the rate. I’m very glad that the Bureau of Justice Statistics came out with this report and made a problem … I think that may have been not on the radar of individuals to make it a prominent thought when you’re discussing criminal justice policy in the country.

let’s move on to issue a number three: cameras for law enforcement. There has been a huge debate as you well know Will Marlin. All throughout the United States in terms of police use of force appropriate use of force … inappropriate use of force. One of the solutions to all of this has been to put body cameras on police officers. Many people feel that this is a wonderful idea. Data seems to indicate a dramatic reduction in complaints against law enforcement when the process is taped or videotaped digitally. What does this mean however in terms of victims of crime because non-law enforcement organizations are going to follow freedom of Information Act request and they’re going to want all of that digital tape, and there are victims of crimes who are going to appear in these cameras? What are the implications in terms of body cameras for law enforcement in victims of crime?

Will Marlin: It’s a superb question. Setting aside philosophical considerations policy legislative decision surrounding this kind of an issue and what’s driving it. Practically speaking a body worn camera is going to be able to access very private context. Potentially private conversation that would revolve around victims and their needs. In contrast, to say cruiser cameras that have been in play for a long time and seemingly have found a meaningful place in our society for … to help justify the force used or to hold somebody accountable for excessive use of force.

The body worn cameras are on an officer who’s now walking into what potentially is a private household and should be considered private. The concerns … many concerns revolve around the impact of that on victims … the context of them being recorded for instance in a profound moments trauma of grief of struggle and how that information might be disseminated might … it might be used. it might be used to critique and judge them. We’re already strangling our society in many ways when it comes to the judicial process. You take a victim who suffered loss you put him on the stand they get cross-examined to the point of … sometimes just painful accusation of them self-trying to impact the testimony of that witness who is a victim.

Then you take the context of that immediate aftermath moment when they’re going through a traumatic reaction, and that’s being recorded and then how that might be portrayed in a court of law where it’s calm it’s sterile it’s very much moved from the threat and from the trauma that victim has experienced. These are the kinds of things were very concerned about. Even to the point of a policy that could say well the officer is going to go in the house and they’re going to ask somebody well may I record you. Well, I can tell you from having been in the situation that person might not even hear what you say because of the traumatic impact the shock the disbelief the denial that they are going through. There are truly profound real concerns that we have about how a body worn cameras might do what we call secondary injury secondary harm secondary traumatization to victims of crime …

Leonard Sipes: When the local television station files a freedom of information act request to get the footage they could have someone … they could uncover some very sensitive moments in the lives of victims of crimes. What’s to stop them from putting that up on the evening news. I’m not suggesting that would necessarily happen but it could happen. I’m going to go over 3 quick scenarios my husband beat me that’s the number one number two my neighbor broke into my house number three John Doe robbed me. All three place the victim in a certain amount of jeopardy and all three could possibly get that victim … create a scenario where that victim becomes re-victimized by saying any one of those phrases. If this is publicized … if it gets out if it’s allowed to go out under a freedom of information act request it could have profound implications for victims and their willingness to give of law enforcement the information they need to do their jobs.

Will Marlin: You’re absolutely right. I mean those are our primary concerns their others. There just … they’re not answering as such, but there’s tangential to what we’re discussing here. For instance, what if you have a person with a disability, and it’s a mental health need, and you are responding to the situation, and they see a camera on you. They suddenly … it creates and provokes reactions with them that are secondary or separate from even traumatic reactions from what they’ve experienced, or maybe they’re being accused of something, and they see that camera.

It’s a separate issue on one hand, but these are the kinds of things that we need to think through very carefully regarding the knock on effect of what seems to be a very simple thing for the average person. We put a camera on a person we put a camera on a police officer we see what they do we hold them accountable. We’ve got that picture in front of us. Well, that picture still doesn’t tell everything there is to tell. There’s the time before that camera started and there’s a time after that camera stopped. These are the kinds of things that will continue to impact victims because of what might be recorded. What their privacy that might be in violated or invaded …

Leonard Sipes: Will we only have about a minute left. Has any victim contacted the hotline at the National Organization for victim assistance bringing this issue up or have … has Nova had an opportunity to formulate some faults and some policy direction for the rest of us?

Will Marlin: To my knowledge we haven’t had anybody contact us in that regard. I sat on a local panel in my local county here. I was asked to sit on a panel about a discussion on body worn cameras and …which I appreciated. law enforcement was asking me as well as others who were part of the victim assistance movement to discuss this issue. We tried to make it very clear as to our concerns, and we felt heard. Of course, the policy has to be drafted and implemented, but it’s a fairly profound issue, and as well it’s a fairly expensive one …

Leonard Sipes: Will we’ve got to wrap a wrap up all three of these issues. The dramatic increase in federal funds for victims of crime and the fact that the individuals with disabilities have twice the rate of violent crime and body cameras and what it means to victims of crimes. These are all unfolding events that we’re going to have to pay close attention too over the course of the next year as we wratch up our discussions on crime and criminal justice.

Ladies and gentlemen our guest today has been Will Marlin, the executive director for the national organization for victims assistance www.trynova.Org. Always a pleasure to have Will Marlin by our microphones. ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety we appreciate your comments we even appreciate your criticism. We want everybody to have themselves of very pleasant day.

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Crime victims and offender re-entry

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, a topic of extreme importance, crime victims and offender re-entry. We have folks, with us today, from the National Institute of Corrections we have Anne Seymour. She is a national crime victim advocate and has been a national crime victim advocate for over 30 years. She’s helped develop programs and policies for corrections based victims services at the local, state, federal, and tribal levels.

In the studio we have Lori Brisban. She is a correctional program specialist in the community services division for the National Institute of Corrections. She has been recognized as an authority in the area of sexual violence in the correctional setting and has expertise in both the offender and victim perspective.

Ladies, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lori: Thank you Leonard.

Anne: Thanks Len.

Leonard: The first question is going to go to, I think it is Anne, talking about what we’re talking about. What do we mean by crime victim and offender re-entry. Correct?

Anne: I think that’s going to go to Lori.

Leonard: All right, Lori. I’m Sorry. Go ahead.

Lori: That’s okay Leonard. We just really appreciate being here today. You know, this is a very important issue that we rarely talk about in corrections. There are a few agencies across the country who are giving this some attention but it’s really an under served area. You know, as we push offenders and justice involved individuals back into our communities, we really need to be thinking about what’s happening with their victims. Victims do have rights and many times we in corrections forget about that or we rely on somebody else to do it and are not sure whether it’s happening.

It’s just a really important thing that we need to be talking about.

Leonard: Anne, why is the topic important?

Anne: Well, I think that we have to first recognize that we wouldn’t even have a criminal justice system if it weren’t for crime victims who were willing them to report crimes and serve as witnesses and give victim impact statements. They are really at the very apex of our justice system and very often we don’t treat them as such.

People think that when offenders go away to prison that everything is fine with their victims but that’s not always true. The trauma of victimization is immediate, short term, and sometimes can last a lifetime. We know from a lot of the work that we’ve done in all 50 states, that when a justice involved person is returning to the community, very often his or her victims will have a really critical concerns about getting information, being notified when the person is returning. Probably the most significant concern is safety for the victim and for the victim’s family. I would be remissent if I did not point out that most victims are known to their offenders and so there are relationships there. When the offender returns, it’s very important that we make sure that the victim feels safe and that the victim feels involved.

Leonard: Now there’s a podcast, a radio program from the National Institute of Corrections, called Offender Re-entry: The Value of Victim Involvement. It comes with a heck of a teaching guide. We’re going to put that in our show notes, put the link to it but I do want to let everybody know who aren’t … who won’t be exposed to the show notes that that document exists. The podcast exists and the instructor’s guide exists. From what I’m told, it’s a great value to people who are looking into this.

All right now that we’ve laid … oh … is the website for the National Institute of Corrections and you can find the document that I just referenced there.

Now, in terms of this concept, I do a series of shows over the course of the year with the National Organization for Victim Assistance and the sense that I get from the people at the National Organization for Victim Assistance is that we, in the criminal justice system, simply do not do enough in terms of taking the victim perspective into consideration whenever we propose any policy. This concept of people coming out of the prison system, we’re talking about having fewer people going to prison, having them coming out earlier, being under the [inaudible 00:04:17] of parole and probation agencies. We in community corrections in particular now have an even greater responsibility to take the victim perspective into consideration. Correct?

Lori: Yes Leonard. We believe that’s true and unfortunately, historically speaking corrections has not made that part of their business. We really believe that it should be. When I say we, I’m speaking for Anne and I specifically. You know, there are just so many things we could be doing better, so many things that would make our communities safe. If we considered the victim as part of this process, many times they feel very disenfranchised by the time an offender leaves the institution. It’s vitally important that they receive their notifications, that they be given a voice and decisions made about the offender, and that probation and parole officers and other community services agents understand that they have a role to play with these folks.

Leonard: I do want to point out that we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, my agency, we do have victim coordinators. They work with victims of crime all the time and the people that we currently have under supervision. The area in corrections has been ignored and I think you’re right Lori, because so many of the victim coordinators that do exist there, exist throughout the country, are in proscetorial offices, they’re in law enforcement offices, but how many correctional agencies have victim service coordinators?

Anne: Well, that …

Leonard: The criminal justice system is very complicated to the average person. We are just a huge maze of unknowns.

Anne: I will tell you because having been in the field for 30 years, when I began there were zero programs in state level institutional corrections. Today 49 states, the only exception being Hawaii and they’re getting on it as we speak, they have victim assistance programs in their state department of corrections. I think that one of the areas that we’re lacking is not having a corrections based victims services, but having them be … you know most of them are under staffed and with re-entry, we’re talking about a very specific juncture.

It’s not when the justice involved folks are actually in prison where the victim would feel a greater degree of safety, it’s when they’re returning back to the community. If you look at re-entry programs, and in particular probation and parole services, that’s where we’re lacking a focus on victim services. Not just with staffing, but Lori would also agree and she’s recently done some work with leaders in this field, we’re lacking in policies and really having people understand the importance of doing a continuum of victim services just as we do a continuum of people who are returning to the community from prison. Their victims need the same level of attention.

Leonard: I spent 14 years with the Maryland Department of Public Safety as their director of public information and to one victim in particular, she would call the institution every night to be sure that this individual remained behind bars. The institution complained. I finally got to the point where I was her go between. I said, “If you get somebody who doesn’t give you that information, call me and I’ll call the institution.” I had to call, I was from the secretary’s office and I’m on the secretary’s personal staff, and I had to call the institution until they finally got the message to cooperate with this individual.

Her sense was that we, on the correctional side, just lacked empathy for victim services. She needed to know that the person was continued to be locked up. If not, she was scared for her own safety. I mean, we need to understand that this really does have meaning for people in the community and could build real positive public relations and also guide that individual coming out of the prison system, guide them to probably a more meaningful experience if we work the victim into the process. Correct?

Lori: Well that’s exactly right Leonard. You know, we’re not here to say that people aren’t doing their jobs because I think most people in positions and corrections agencies and community corrections are very interested in doing the right thing for their community. I just think we need to do it better. By collaborating, by considering the victim’s needs and rights that are statutorily provided, we can actually do that. We see that happening in some pockets around the country. I think Anne can speak to that because she’s worked directly with some jurisdictions on those collaborations and how to do this work better.

Leonard: Anne talk to us.

Anne: Well, Lori’s right. There are so many innovative programs occurring now in particular with re-entry. We see increasingly a focus on safety planning for victims who feel that their personal security could possibly be at risk. We’re seeing a lot more, as Lori said earlier, just providing victims with basic information about what’s going on. You say re-entry probation parole, victims don’t know the difference. We need to explain that process to them and as Lori also said, notify them when the person is getting out.

Victims need to be aware that they have rights. They can attend the parole release hearing in most states and talk to the parole board about their concerns about the person being release or if they want the person being released. It’s just important that they have the opportunity to have that input. I also want to add, if you look at the mission statement of most correctional agencies at the state level, I think about half of them have the word victim in it and the other half don’t. To me, your mission statement is the direction that your agency is going in. I’m not going to stop my work until all 50 state level correctional agencies … you know, when they talk about public safety, that they include the words “victim safety” along with it. Victims are an integral part of the public and as I said earlier, we would not have criminal justice or correction systems without victims.

Leonard: We have innovative programs throughout the country that are doing this correct?

Anne: Absolutely. Lori and I are attending a conference in Baton Rouge coming up where the first half of the week is talking just about victim-offender dialogue in serious crime cases. These are murders and rapes where the victims actually ask to meet with the person who caused them or their loved one harm through a very very structured process where the victim is allowed to ask questions. The offender is given opportunities to be responsible, to be held accountable with no expectations from the offender that he or she will gain anything from being involved in the process. It’s an incredibly powerful process that … that’s one of the innovations that I think we’re starting to see, really I don’t want to be exaggerating, but kind of sweeping corrections. It’s a very very popular program with a strong evidence base of effectiveness for both justice involved folks as well as for their victims.

Leonard: One of you mentioned a fact that often times the offender knows the victim. The victim knows the offender. I want to explore that a little bit because in most violent crimes there is prior knowledge. They aren’t strangers. These are non-stranger crimes. The person coming out of the prison system, the violent crime that he committed, or the crime the he committed, is in all probability was committed against somebody who he knows, who is still in that community, who is a relative with a family member, who was an acquaintance. He’s probably coming back to the same neighborhood he or she lives in. Talk to me about the complexity of that.

Anne: Well, it’s not just the same neighborhood. Very often it’s the same home. I’m thinking particularly in cases of domestic violence and cases of child abuse. We have to be very cognizant of the victims need for safety.  We have to recognize that some victims want the perpetrator to come back but they also want to feel safe. Every single victim in every single situation is unique and just as we want people returning to the community from prison to be successful, to be employed, to not commit additional crimes, we want them to not commit additional crimes against their original victim. If that’s someone known to them, you know there’s a lot of things we can do with wrap around services for victims who are considered high risk where they really feel that their security is at risk. We can absolutely provide them with supportive services from partnerships between corrections and community based advocates that empower them to feel safe.

Also, I think there are a lot of things we can do to make sure that we’re keeping a close eye on offenders that may be at higher risk to re-offend. We have great risk assessment instruments now that tell us pretty clearly who might be at higher risk and those are the folks that we want to keep an extra special eye on.

Leonard: The bottom line in this process is communicating. Communicating with the victim, communicating with the family, communicating with everybody in this case to be sure that; A, the victims are protected. That victims are informed and at the same time the possibility of a healing process as you mentioned Anne, in terms of the victim actually confronting or getting together with the person who calls that damage. These are very very intricate very detailed oriented encounters that you’re describing. A lot rides on these interactions between people coming out of the prison system and victims in the community.

Lori: Well, I believe that’s true but again, I think this needs to be looked at as a whole. I mean, it can’t just be a siloed affect where we’re only talking about the offender, we’re only talking about their re-entry process and whether they got any programming and whether their substance abuse issues have been resolved or addressed. You know, there’s a lot more going on there and we’ve never had a mechanism for that or we rarely have thought about the victim as part of that process.

Now, there will be victims who want nothing to do with their offender and that needs to be respected.

Leonard: Sure.

Lori: In many cases, it is an inter familial situation and we need to start looking at that more constructively and collaboratively.

Leonard: What I want to do right after the break and right after I re-introduce both of you is to talk about the enormous work load that community corrections has and how we fit this in. Not just fitting it in bureaucratically but fitting it in meaningfully. We’ll pick that up when we come back. I want to re-introduce both of my guests today. Anne Seymour, National Crime Victim Advocate. Again, Anna has been a National Victim’s Service Advocate for over 30 years. Lori Brisban is a correctional program specialist in the Community Services Division for the National Institute of Corrections. The program today was produced by the National Institute of Corrections Donna Ledbetter. There is a podcast, a piece of audio, video, what is it, Offender Re-entry: The Value of Victim Involvement. There is a learning guide to go along with that. I think it was a webinar put on by the National Institute of Corrections. A direct link will be in the show notes to the document that I’m talking about.

What was this Lori? Was it a webinar?

Lori: No, this is actually a professionally produced television program.

Leonard: Really?

Lori: Yes and it’s broadcast live and streaming. You can still stream it off of our website. It is in a format now where you can choose the chapters that you’re most interested in which you can view in the participant guide and in the directory. Ahead of time, it is a three hour program. We also produce a six hour program. I do have plans to do another victims broadcast in the coming year which will be targeted at domestic violence and how those offenders and victims can be better addressed in the community.

Leonard: The National Institute of Corrections bottom line is making a major effort to make everybody in the criminal justice system focused on this issue of victim services?

Lori: I wouldn’t say we’re trying to get everybody, but we are trying to make people aware of something that’s a missing piece.

Leonard: It’s a very important topic. Again, the gentleman who I have on from the National Organization for Victim Assistance his stance again is that we need to do much more particularly in terms of corrections. My question before the break, this falls on the shoulders of parole and probation agencies throughout the country, they ordinarily have huge case loads. We do not. We at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agencies have less than 50 to 1 ratios and most organizations out there are carrying caseloads of 150 per parole and probation agent and more.

Considering the lack of resources and the demands on the time parole and probation agents in parole and probation agencies throughout the country, how realistic is this that we’re going to not just provide services to victims but provide meaningful services to victims.

Anne: CSOSA, you’re own agency is probably one of the best examples and a shout out to Bonnie Andrews and her amazing staff because when you have designated victim advocates on staff it means that the probation officers collaborate with them and they’re able to really focus their time on working with the offenders under their supervision while concurrently the victim’s services staff are working with the victims so it ends up saving probation officers I think a whole lot of time. The other thing is that designated victim advocates, you gave the example when you were in Maryland, you know, they’re going to be happy to get the call from the victim who wants information. That’s their job and that’s their level of dedication.

Unfortunately, back in the 90’s we saw an increase in probation based victim services. We ran into budget cuts in the early part of the century. The first thing that went was what? Victim services. Unfortunately it’s one of the things that gets cut but I will tell you that, especially the larger probation and parole agencies that have dedicated victim services, they will tell you it is the best investment of their money. As you said earlier, it’s also really good for public relations and relations with the community because victims are a huge part of the community.

If you think about it, everyone in the community is or knows a victim of crime. It’s not like this thing that happens to someone else. We’re all affected by crime. Paying attention to victim’s needs with dedicated staff and with PO’s who are trained to understand victim’s needs, that’s just … it’s part of the mission of corrections be it institutional or community corrections.

Leonard: The debate I had the other day with an individual was this, that we were talking about crime and the impact of crime on individuals and what we in the criminal justice system could do, should do. We were talking about hierarchies and he was talking about well, “I could see the services for the violent crimes but I fail to see the services for the non-violent crimes. We’re only capable of doing so much.”

I tell the story of a news producer in Baltimore who came in from out of state and moved into the Charles Village area because he wanted to be apart of the fabric of the city. He wanted his family to be apart of the fabric of the city. To make a long story short, three burglaries later … and this was bikes being stolen from a garage, they were out of Baltimore City. It took about two and a half months for them to move and two and a half months for them to move in. Here is a family who really wanted to dedicate themselves to the very fabric of the city of Baltimore and to experience that. They picked up and they moved and they took that economic value to the city of Baltimore with them. What we’re talking about is bikes being stolen from the garage but there’s a certain point where the wife said, and the children said, “We’re leaving. You can stay but we’re going.”

Even non-violent crimes have a way of affecting people’s perspectives and their sense of safety forever. This is a big task is it not?

Lori: It is a big task but one of the reasons why we’re talking about this issue now is because we are seeing some money that we didn’t have available to us before and when you said, “where are the resources going to come from? We have all these people on supervision. We don’t have enough officers.” Well, the reality is that across the country, states that are investing in justice reinvestment funds and that program, some of those states have chosen to use part of their pot of money for victim services.

Leonard: That’s great.

Lori: I personally would like to challenge everybody to just think about that. Think about those resources that might be available to you in a way that you haven’t had them before and where you need to put those. The reality is, involving the victim in this process of offender re-entry increases and enhances community safety. It works for everybody.

Leonard: It does work for everybody. It works in terms of people coming out of the prison system. It works for the victims who are directly involved in it. It works from the standpoint of what’s good for the community. What’s good for the community is for everybody to stay and be involved and not run away. The whole idea is to serve people caught up in the criminal justice caught up on both sides of the aisle and taking care of their needs. Everybody wants us in the criminal justice system to be sensitive to their needs across the board and we sort of forget victims along the way. I think that’s unfortunate but I really think, and what I see us doing, is laudable.

Where do we go to from here? We talked to everybody throughout the country and to try to bring them on board, try to get them to understand that this is something that they need to do and needs to be done in your words Lori, comprehensively.

Lori: Well, Anne, can you describe just a little bit of the work that you’ve done in one of the JRA sites?

Anne: Yeah. I think, and Len this is another whole podcast, but there is a giant focus on justice reinvestment initiative that use really good data to tell us who can be effectively supervised at lower costs in the community instead of in prison. The cost savings, as Lori said, go into things such as offender treatment programs and yes indeed victim services. I think we’re also seeing, I just saw an article today that there’s a new book out with every presidential candidate so far has a strong position on justice reform. We are starting universally to question whether we need to be. The incarceration generation as I heard the other day which I thought was a really good term for sort of where we’re at. I think it’s just using the limited corrections dollars we have I think better and more effectively.

For me, when I got involved with justice reinvestment, I remember hearing four words; Less crime, fewer victims. Less crime, fewer victims. We’re starting to see research that shows now that we can have less prison beds and still less crime and still fewer victims. It’s possible to supervise people in the community while making sure that we tend to the victims needs. Lori’s talking sort of about a … to see change from the early 1990’s, and I was very involved in the Tough on Crime, Build More Prisons Movement. I was a proud leader of that but those were different times. Crime rates were much higher, people were much more fearful.

I think we’re looking at now, as we’ve discussed today, is the dynamics of crime and victimization and the fact that I think everyone is committed to having safer communities and that’s sort of the bottom lines of what we’re talking about.

Leonard: We say that re-entry begins in prison. Does victim’s planning, victim services begin in prison as well?

Anne: Well I would hope that victim services begins at the time the crime occurs. Lori said it very well earlier that we tend to operate in silos. You have your law enforcement and then you have your courts, then you have your community corrections and your corrections. It should be, I always say the criminal justice system should be designed to protect victims and yet victims often fall through the cracks in that system and we need to, as Lori said, get rid of the silos and be a little bit more seamless in our service delivery so that we’re giving victim services from the time the crime occurs to when a justice involved person is released and if they’re re-incarcerated, the same thing. To be able to provide the victim with supportive services across the continuum.

Len you said earlier, you know, it’s a forever thing. The impact of crime doesn’t often end. I mean, some people are able to recover and get on with their life but for many people it is a life long trauma that occurs as a result of victimization. They will need services along that continuum.

Leonard: It’s a lifelong process. Nobody ever forgets that victimization and again, as my friends from the National Organization for Victim Assistance would say, “They certainly do not want to be re-victimized one more time by the criminal justice system.”

Anne: That’s right.

Leonard: This has huge implications not just for us, it doesn’t have huge … it also has huge implications in terms of victim services, but it has huge implications for our own reputations as being equitable individuals who understand the damage done to victims of crime and the fact that we’re sensitive to that and the fact that we’re responding to it. That’s a public relations win win win if I’ve ever heard of one.

Anne: Absolutely. I always, when I talk to correctional administrators, I always tell them that good PR isn’t the reason to do victim services but it certainly is one of the positive outcomes. Lori and I, and I really want to thank the National Institute of Corrections on which I serve on their advisory board, they have taken a huge leadership role and Lori in particular, really focusing attention on policy and programs that help victims but also recognize the victim offender dynamics that we talked about earlier with an ultimate goal that we want individuals to be safe and communities to be safe.

I certainly want people who are re-entering the community to do so successfully. The victim having a successful transition when his or her offender’s return in the community after that person who is returning. That’s sort of my bottom line.

Leonard: Maybe, just maybe, the fact that on those instances where the offender does have the oppprtunity to confront the person coming out of the prison system, maybe but maybe it could positively effect that individual coming out of the prison system as well. Maybe it can give him or her, but in the vast majority of instances him, a better understanding as to the damage, as to the implications. Maybe that prompts change.

Anne: Yeah, I think that anytime we can give people who have committed crimes the opportunity to be held accountable, I really feel that that’s where we’ve been remiss over the past couple of decades. We have not provided opportunities. That’s what we’re seeing now with victim offender dialogue, with the very popular impact of crime on victim’s classes where survivors actually talk to inmates, talk to parolees and probationers about what happens when a crime occurs. When we take restitution seriously and when offenders are given the opportunity to pay back the victim for the financial damages that they caused that person, these are all things that to me are part of helping offenders become better people.

Again, it’s having the courage to provide them, recognize that it’s important to provide them with the opportunities for those types of programs and services that very often involve their victims.

Leonard: Okay, I’m going to close because I’ll tell you, this an extraordinarily meaningful program to me and I think a real plus for the criminal justice system especially the correctional system in terms of them getting involved in this. Again, it’s done through the leadership of the National Institute of Corrections ladies and gentlemen. We’ve done a show on crime victims and offender re-entry with the National Institute of Corrections by your microphones today has been Anne Seymour, National Crime Victim Advocate and Lori Brisban. She’s a Correctional Programs Specialist in the community services division for the National Institute of Corrections.

They both made reference to a television show called Offender Re-Entry: The Value of Victim Involvement. There’s an instructional guide that goes along with that so if you’re looking for quick access to information on this topic, go to

Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.


What do victims of crime experience

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC public safety. I’ve your host Leonard Sipes, ladies and gentlemen back at our microphones. Will Marling he is the executive director of the national organization for victim assistance The show title today ladies and gentlemen is what do victims of crime experience? Will, we were talking before we hit the record button one of the things that people do not understand, those of us in the criminal justice system we don’t have a clear understanding as to the victim experience.

Unless we’ve been through it ourselves we don’t have a clear understanding as to what victims of crime whether it be property crime or a violent crime what they experience correct or incorrect?

Will Marling: That is a common observation when and thanks for having me.

Leonard Sipes: Sure.

Will Marling: The realities that victims experience sometimes are fairly profound but what many times people don’t understand, they don’t comprehend is that they’re fairly organic and by that I mean when we are victimized which is a word to the can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, when we’re victimized or when we’re harmed by another human being specifically there are actually biological reactions that happen within our brains in our bodies that just happen. We are not even cognizant of those. It would be like I was sitting on the deck with my wife last summer. We were  having coffee and these two birds that were flying chasing each other flew within inches of my head as they were flying.

I could not do anything but react very organically very naturally. It was all instinctive and so many times victims are responding and what we try to quantify in that is the understanding of trauma and the loss that causes trauma. That’s really where we try to look at this and say okay victimization is really about loss and loss results in trauma.

Leonard Sipes: Well we again before hitting the record button we were talking about change fundamental change that is occurring within the criminal justice system throughout the country the massive discussion that is now taking place on both sides of the political aisle where we and they are discussing who should go to prison, whether or not that person should be imprisoned, whether or not that person should be on community supervision, now all the discussion through the MacArthur foundation is switching over towards jails, do we use jails to their best possible potential?

Do we need to put as many people in jail as humanly possible? We have this discussion and it’s happening from a philosophical point of view and it’s happening from a limitation of government and best use of taxpayer dollars point of view.

I’m not hearing the victim brought up in all of this and so it strikes me that if I been burglarized or if I’ve been robbed or if I’ve gone through another sort of crime that discussion becomes academic. I simply want to be safe. I simply want the criminal justice system to act responsibly I understand that but I simply want to be safe. That drawls out some interesting juxtapositions on the part of victims of crime does it not?

Will Marling: It does the struggle many times is that folks who experience something like the harm that somebody brings on them whether that’s the loss of a valuable piece of property or the loss of physical function because you’re assaulted or the horrible things that occur like the child-abuse, sexual assault, homicide those have naturally occurring responses and are just as thinking as a human being, wait a minute. This isn’t right. This person should be held accountable. Many times there’s just an instinctive restitution dimension that we bring into that and I don’t mean that in the in some kind of official formal sense. I just mean justice or sense of rightness, says no wait a minute. A person should be held accountable. In many situations we would we would want them to repay and that’s the difficulty because the system itself is trying to address those and yet many victims would say if they’re not part of this process they would say the system really doesn’t necessarily serve my interest for doesn’t hear me and that’s why in the movement I’ve been in and and honored to be part of there’s been attempts over the past 30 years specifically and intentionally to get victims more involved in the process or to allow them should I should say to have a stronger voice like with victim impact statements in sentencing or victim notification of processes and procedures.

When you’re talking about some of these important discussions and I want to affirm that these important discussions about jail and incarceration overcrowding, I’ve been fortunate to be asked to participate in some of these conversations and in so doing I would still affirm that many people aren’t considering the victim’s perspective necessarily. They’re concerned about a lot of issues but not necessarily how the victims might contribute to solutions that we’re trying to address.

Leonard Sipes: Any member of the Gen. assembly at the state level, any member of the United States Congress is going to sit there and say to themselves, okay we’re talking about individuals that we ordinarily would put in jail and ordinarily we would put in prison and we’re talking about not doing that any longer and I think it’s inevitable because of the victim’s movement for the last 30-40 years, it’s inevitable for that member of the legislature whether it be state or federal to sit there and go well how does that impact the individual who’s been victimized? What does it do to them? Do they see this as justice? Do they see we within the criminal justice system taking their point of view into consideration or quite frankly are we making their circumstances as victims even more dangerous? All of that comes into it does it not?

Will Marling: All of that comes into it and that’s a conversation that we really do need to have. Sometimes the struggles of course with these conversations is that folks are very aligned with a perspective that they are tenaciously holding onto. I would suggest that there is more in agreement in many ways than in that we have a different permit. I sometimes try to describe this is let’s talk about what’s more at the center for all of us than what’s at the edges in this discussion. If we can have that kind of conversation and engagement, first of all legislators would find more sense and common sense and support from people who have been harmed than they realize. Many times when they engage folks they are catching a person at that worst possible moment when the emotional reactions are quite profound and intense but that typically doesn’t define that person fully.

It defines that moment of trauma and those things can come out in justice proceedings because that’s the focal point of the pressure. I’m looking for  “justice” in the justice system and it’s understandable that the expressions and reactions to that process are going to come out in court proceedings for instance or around a declaration at the end of the trial with sentencing.

What I say is the people I’ve met who’ve experienced harm  most of them are quite sensible people. If they were sensible before that experienced they’re still sensible but they’re just far more informed and that’s why it really can help for people within the system to understand how victimization in other words how trauma that is a result of loss is actually working itself out in the life of a person because if we can understand that better we can be more supportive of the individual. We can engage them in more effective ways and we can involve them in a process that at the core it centers on them or it should center on the. The system is really the state versus the perpetrator typically but we’ve become we become more sensitive to the fact that wait a minute that might be legally this case but we’re learning that the victim voice should be included in that.

Leonard Sipes: There are multiple stages the stages of grief that an individual victim of a crime goes through in the same way that any individual any human being goes through multiple stages of I’m not quite sure that word grief applies in every set of circumstances but they have to process it and in many ways it can become a profoundly meaningful experience and a profoundly negative experience in their lives especially if they feel that nobody is listening to them. The story that I’ve brought up multiple times in the past is a television producer moving into the city of Baltimore wants to be part of the Baltimore experience and bikes were stolen from that person’s garage and it happened a third time and boom they moved. Here was Baltimore city’s loss.  Here was a loss to a metropolitan area, a loss to that person in terms of engaging all the wonderful things that can happen as you will live in the city of Baltimore. Everybody was lost of that because of a property crime.

Now nobody’s suggesting a person go to prison for a property crime but at the same time that experience that those individuals went through, they told me it was a grief related process. It was fear, it was grief. They didn’t like the way the criminal justice system responded to them. They didn’t like the way that the police officer responded to them and they withdrew.

Will Marling: That’s right.

Leonard Sipes: That was a property crime.

Will Marling: Right, oh what a great example. You’ve got a lot of experience from your law enforcement days in interacting with people who suffer loss. We commonly talk about the loss of innocence. That is a very common theme among people who are victimized and experienced harm at the hands of others whether that be a property crime or something around physical violence and the like.

We we want to believe that the system is working or we want to believe the working in a society that cares or that law enforcement is supportive and then we discover it isn’t quite the way we thought. You weren’t far off in terms of grief because there’s a theme in our victim’s world that perpetration is about control power and control and what we’ve come to recognizes that we can’t always say that about every perpetrator. The guy who steals your car I mean who knows what his motives are. I really don’t know. There’s some crimes we say yeah it’s about power and control.

We typically see that in domestic violence for instance. The one thing we can say I think very consistently very confidently and that is every victimization victims experienced the loss of power and the loss of control and I suspect if we would interview the individual that the producer he is describing that, that sensation of I feel like I’m out of control here. I don’t have control in the situation. I’m going to take control translated, I’m moving. I’m moving to an area where I feel like I’m more in control or there are more resources available to me, more of a greater commitment to safety.

Leonard Sipes: It just strikes me again we talk about this in terms of a particular family but it is the community’s loss. It is a city’s loss. It is a loss of tax paid dollars. It is the loss of the joy of of living in a major metropolitan area and all the good things that go along with that so there are multiple losses to multiple people at multiple levels. It’s still for a “just a property crime.”

Will Marling: Yeah and it’s great that you’re really helping unpack some of the struggles that people have  and the tension that’s created when maybe law-enforcement and others respond and say well it was just a property crime. We’ll get your paint over the graffiti or whatever. Another thing you’re pointing out as you use the word grief is fair because a common reaction to loss is grief. Now people don’t necessarily think about it that way, apart from maybe homicide or some other things. a

A very intimate relationship that is broken divorce we grieve the loss of that relationship but in reality that is many times what people are going through and they don’t even realize it and of course society or others are telling  them well why are you grieving over the fact that had vandalism or stolen bikes? Well there’s a lot that could be behind that just like you’re describing.

Specific to that loss of that innocence that life people my society was one way and I’ve learned now that it is different.

Leonard Sipes: The bottom line in all of this Will is that do we really understand what happens to victims of crime? Does of the member of that legislator legislative body when he or she is trying to decide who goes to prison who goes to jail what compromises are we going to make because we do clearly understand that not everybody to go to jail. Not everybody to go to prison. There are limits and there are better ways on the part of some to operate the criminal justice system in a way that is fair, in a way that protects public safety, in a way that reduces the burden on taxpayers so all of those things are in play but when we are saying all of this and when we’re interacting with victims of crime as judges as police officers as parole and probation agents the bottom line question to me is do we really understand what happens to victims of crime? Do we really understand those dynamics?

Will Marling: That’s right and that’s a really great insight because we should not fear trying to understand what they’ve experienced. That doesn’t mean that we have to throw out the justice system or throw out rule of law or throw out due process. Quite frankly we’ve experienced the opposite and this kind comes back to the victims rights issue but you and I talked about the constitutional amendment issue the that we have been working to promote a new United States constitutional amendment for a number of years. Why? Because victims under the law should have standing. The accused has standing under the United States Constitution and all that is important particularly under  the Bill of Rights. The victims of the same crime for which that individual’s accused should have standing under the law to be able to have a place to speak to engage to act and those rights should be protected.

First they need to be inculcated first because you’re engaged on this issue that 33 of the 50 states have victims rights in their state constitutions. It’s a recognized value of among the states but still the consistency for that and then of course 17 states not having victims rights makes it very difficult not only in those states but if you’re in one state and you go across the border to a non-victims rights state, that complicates your life as well. We’ve just been affirming that. Understanding victims their needs their rights gives us a greater awareness of how we can respond in a fair and just and compassionate way to the needs of people who’ve been harmed by others.

Leonard Sipes: We’re more than halfway through the program. We’re talking today to Will Marling. He’s been by these microphones many times in the past. He is the executive director of the national organization for victim assistance

Going back to the constitutional amendment Will again the question is for the victims movement and for victims of crime the question was do we understand we in the criminal justice system society do we really understand what happens to victims of crime? What victims are essentially saying is that if I don’t have constitutional protections they’re coming to the conclusion that that they the states that do not have constitutional amendments or they members of Congress don’t understand what it is that we’re going through because we need a national constitutional an amendment to the United States Constitution to protect the victims of crime at the federal level.

We need it at the same time at the state level and I guess sometimes they’re simply saying we don’t have it because they don’t understand our experience and it’s part of that continuing discussion of do we really understand what happens to victims of crime?

Will Marling: That’s right you know that the Constitution and a rule of law society the issue becomes is it written down? Is it inculcated somewhere? We can say this is the right thing to do but until we say this is the right thing to do and put it in writing so to speak then it can’t be argued legally. It can be argued morally, ethically and so on but that the courts don’t argue from that standpoint. Specifically they open the law books.

They opened open up the precedential imperatives and say okay where does this particular thing stand? That’s why we contend that raising the profile of crime victims in this country through a constitutional amendment is a profound opportunity to emphasize justice and really to deal with even some of these other issues that the focus on over incarceration over criminalization actually could be helped in my view by a discussion about victimization because then the victims could talk about really where those issues lie with them rather than just passing laws that everybody says well that that’s a violation you get arrested you get charged you get sent to jail.

That’s really not effective and historically we’ve seen where those kinds of approaches and attitudes really aren’t necessary productive. There’s been this migration from tough on crime to right on crime to straight on crime and this stuff of stuff and all of those are our meaningful attempts in some ways I think. To focus on justice as I want to presume people have good intentions but at the heart of the question is who really suffers the most when it comes to crime? How do we address it? How do we promote safety and security in a fiscally responsible way in our society and really look at the core issues not caricatures not emotional reactions but really at the heart of it or what rights people should have who’ve suffered at the hands of another person.

Leonard Sipes: The issue with compassion and I think that that’s how victims see it but it goes all the way from the individual police officer, who first contacts them all the way up to Congress, all the way up to the highest levels of the federal government. I think that’s the way they see it. When I was a young police officer and I was out there I would have times where I would be running from call to call to call you but. That doesn’t give you an awful lot of time to meet human needs.

If it’s a property crime or if it’s a violent crime I need to get as much information as I possibly can to try to solve that crime, to pass it on to detectives and to process a crime scene. I really don’t have a lot of time to hold your hand ma’am and I think that is a realistic point of view an unfortunate point of view all at the same time. The police officer he or she can only do so much, yet that person has just going through something that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

It is compassion. Do we build in compassion? Do we build an understanding all the way from the police officer to the prosecutor to the courts to the public defender to the entire criminal justice system? Understanding the victim experience becomes do we have sufficient compassion for that victims] experience and at the same time do we have built in the processes to be compassionate to that individual?

Now that’s a very complicated question. I hope it made sense.

Will Marling: It did and what I would want to say is actually there’s tremendous hope for engaging other people in ways that demonstrate compassion because you can be empathetic and that’s an ability to understand and feel what people are experiencing in some ways. Compassion work as it’s commonly called many times are people who actually get that intuitively instinctively. They look  at a person. They hear their story and they recognize okay I understand maybe what may be going on in a deep way. Compassionate self is an opportunity to demonstrate to another person that I’m hearing you and I’m supporting you and those things can be done on the front end very simply.

How many times a week have I taken a victim assistance call here at our office and we have a toll-free victim assistance number 800 TRYNOVA. I’ve probably taken 3500 to 4000 victim assistance calls myself in my tenure as executive director and the person says I called police. They wouldn’t take a report. That’s all they wanted. They didn’t want to hug from the officer. They didn’t want handholding. Most people understand that officers have a difficult job to do. What do they want out of that officer? They want them to listen to them and respond in a meaningful and professional way.

As I like to say law enforcement demonstrates a commitment to serious response when they do one of three things typically: they take out the pen to take report, they take out their handcuffs to make an arrest, or they took out their firearm to put down a very bad situation. At the very least when an officer pulls out his or her pen to take a police report they might not realize that that act right there is the beginning of demonstrating that I’m listening and I’m caring because I’m taking official action.

I’ve been on the street with officers, worked with law enforcement and it’s a real temptation to talk people out of doing paper because it’s work. Yeah it’s work but you don’t know why they want that and you don’t know why they need that. The fact is that that issue right there might be so powerful to being heard that it helps move them forward. Go ahead.

Leonard Sipes: It’s also the fact that we have built in certain mechanisms into the criminal justice system getting us back to the constitutional amendment but I want to be a lot more basic than that. We have victims advocates now. We have victim’s advocates here at the court services and offender supervision agency. We have victims’ advocates within the court systems. We have victim advocates’ in law enforcement. We have independent victims’ advocates. We have victims’ advocates for domestic violence. We have domestic victims’ advocates for rape and other sexual assaults. We have victims’ advocates for child related crimes so we now have people who are either paid or volunteer to provide that handholding all the way through the criminal justice system. Yes we do want the police officer to take the report. We do want the police officer to show some degree of compassion but we now have specialists who are in place to help that person through the system and solve their immediate needs.

Will Marling: Yeah I agree. Those victim advocates are really part of our family. We consider like ourselves a very tiny tip of a incredibly rich and deep iceberg of victim advocacy. The challenge we face though Len is that first of all we’re a land of jurisdictions and even how the advocates are placed where they serve can be quite varied from place to place.

Some advocates are placed in place departments and actually they might be nearly a first responder. Others are placed out of a prosecutor’s office so their engagement with a victim might be well down the path. That’s what we emphasize the fact that law-enforcement’s commitment to training and understanding how to engage somebody who’s been harmed is really paramount because they’re commonly the very first engagement with the justice system one way or another.

The people that I know that who are advocates are pound for pound the most incredible dedicated people there are and they do amazing work but within the justice system there are many opportunities to help victims be heard and move forward. I’d like to say that the best demonstration of this kind of thing is a three-legged stool where you have compassion, you have competence, and you have commitment.

The compassion really is the first thing that people see but if you only have compassion you don’t really have an opportunity to follow through with the skills necessary as an officer for instance to do an investigation or do the paperwork or an advocate to engage because there’s a  lot of skills associated with this. That compassion resource kind of wears thin to people. They’re like well he’s a nice guy, she’s a nice woman, but they didn’t really help me in this investigation and then of course you need the commitment to bring it all together.

I’ve seen some incredible officers law-enforcement individuals who really demonstrate those three things and it’s very common to see advocates that way but that’s really what we’re trying to promote here is that compassion is the very first thing people see. If you don’t give that communication to them that you’re wanting to hear, you’re wanting to understand even when you’re saying you’re going from call to call, it’s hard for them to get to the next step and say well I’m going to trust this individual to take my report in sometimes.

Leonard Sipes: It’s hard in terms of the fact that we depend upon victims of crime to cooperate with us within the criminal justice system in terms of the prosecutorial process and in terms of the remediation process. If they blow that relationships in the very beginning it makes all the rest of it that much more difficult to accomplish.

Will Marling: No question, like anything.

Leonard Sipes: Final minutes of the program, I do want to get on the training because of what we’re doing what the national organization for victim assistance has been doing for decades and what you’re currently doing for the Department of Defense is training individuals to deal with these issues at all levels not just at the individual level of dealing with that individual person who was has suffered through the criminal victimization but all the way up to the advocacy level. It’s a matter of structure to deal with these issues and training and that’s the heart and soul of what you guys have been doing over the course of the last couple decades correct?

Will Marling: Yeah at our core we’re all about training because again you’ve got compassion to have competence you have to competencies and those revolve around skills and training and refined experience and continuing education that enhance our ability to service people. Now just to clarify you’ve been a very supportive person for us at Nova.

Our engagement with the department offense specifically is a certification program because the department of defense has its own prescribed training as you can imagine, each of the services. We recognize that the value that the military is trying to bring to training in this area of advocacy is growing and we appreciate that. I obviously can’t speak for them but I can I cannot affirm that I appreciate the efforts that are being made there and so what we’re trying to continue to do is to speak and all kinds of training context.

We have a NOVA victim assistance Academy that we have developed because there are academies in many states and there’s also national victim assistance Academy through the office victims of crime but we’re really trying to fill voids that don’t exist in areas of training as well.

Leonard Sipes: We’re going to have wrap up. Will as always it’s been an enlightening experience. Every time I talk to you I learn something addition, something new in terms of all victims rights and what we within the criminal justice system need to understand about victims rights.

Ladies and gentlemen our guest today has been Will Marling. He is the executive director of the national organization for victim assistance Ladies and gentlemen this is DC public safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.


Crime Victim Rights in the US-NOVA

Crime Victim Rights in the US-NOVA

A Constitutional Amendment for Victim Rights

National Organization for Victim Assistance

DC Public Safety Radio

Radio show available at

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety; I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones ladies and gentlemen Will Marling, the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, www.trinova N O V A .org talking about victim’s rights in the United States. Before we hit the record button there is a whole laundry list of things that we’re talking about, number one if you’ve been listening to the show at all, that you know the NOVA is trying to do a constitutional amendment, the United States constitutional amendment to better protect victim’s rights. We’re also going to be talking about the limitations of incarceration, and the possibility of a holistic approach  as to involving victims credentialing, and what NOVA is doing to bring people into, up to speed I suppose in terms of making sure that they have the skills necessary to be victim’s advocates. A BJS report from the Department of Justice talking about the harm, the tremendous harm documented by victims of crime and the final question, whether or not victims of crime, and the issues of victims of crime has lessened in impact in the last couple of years, as we shift over to a conversation about incarceration, Will Marling welcome back to DC Public Safety.

WILL MARLING: Thank you Len, always a pleasure, always a pleasure.

LEONARD SIPES: Will, give us an update in terms of the United States constitutional amendment to better protect victims of crime.

WILL MARLING: Well thanks, we’ve been working in the 113th congress, which is the one, it is just coming to a close now, post-election, that covers men and women, as well as of course, or really in the lame duck period now as we conclude the year. But for the past two years, which is the length of congressional session, we have been working hard to educate legislators, particularly on the House of Representatives side, to understand this need for victim’s rights. In 33 states, crime victim’s rights are inculcated in the state constitutions, but that leaves 17 states without, and that means that there is not a constitutional amendment. I will also admit that even among the 33 states, it’s not as consistent as we might want it to be. So we recognize the need for a United States constitutional amendment to address victim’s rights. In the context of the last two years, we have been working very hard to educate those congressional leaders, particularly on the House side, to understand this need, and to focus on it. The challenges have been abundant, just with Congress itself, but just as an average there are roughly 20, to 25,000 bills introduced into a congressional session of two years. Between 2% and 4% of those pass, of course many of those bills are symbolic, everybody recognizes that, but at the same time, the math on that shows you that legislation itself is a real challenge. Then when we’re talking about moving it to the level of a United States constitutional amendment that, of course, ups the ante tremendously.

LEONARD SIPES: Constitutional amendments were made by our founding fathers, to be difficult. But the constitution as a living breathing document is susceptible to change. It does change, it has changed, but it’s not that easy to get a change in terms of the United States Constitution.

WILL MARLING: Well that’s exactly right, you have to have that two thirds in the house, and two thirds in the senate, and then three quarters of the known states. The only reason I say it that way, is back when the constitution was ratified by that same process, 13 colonies, 13 states had to do that. So three quarters of 13 states had to pass an amendment. Well now when you’re talking 50 states, you know there’s a lot more to that, and of course a lot more legislators that are representing, particularly in the House side, because we’ve always had two representatives in the Senate side from each state. So the math on that is the intriguing thing, but also the environment orient people don’t really understand that victims don’t have rights. It’s an assumption that victims should have rights, they’re at the core of the criminal justice process, people believe, but in reality the justice system is the system that’s working out its own form of justice, and that can be cumbersome.

LEONARD SIPES: Let’s set the stage here so people understand that the United States Constitutional amendment would apply to federal crimes, not necessarily state crimes, but the assumption is, for those 17 states without any victim protections at all, in terms of their own constitutions. The assumption is that if there’s a federal US constitutional amendment to protect victims of crimes, the rest of the states will fall in line, probably if it’s done at the federal level.

WILL MARLING: Yes the United States Constitution trumps basically state constitutions in that we recognize from the Bill of Rights, which is the first ten amendments that that will still apply to every citizen. So it can— a state constitution can be argued for affirming somebody’s rights, but the end of the day it’s going to be the United States Constitution that represents the extensive rights that the Supreme Court for instance is going to judge. So we’re just suggesting that, just like those accused in a given state of a crime, they can appeal to the United States Constitution for a number of rights, up to 23 perspective rights. We just want victims to have an affirmation of rights themselves, they don’t even need 23, but the dignity, the respect, the right to information, the right to protection, those can be part of the United States Constitution as well to protect them.

LEONARD SIPES: Yes and I don’t want to bore the audience in terms of technicalities, but the Bill of Rights, or search and seizure, the right to remain silent, they were at one time, only applied to federal crimes, the nationalization of the Bill of Rights, came gradually through a wide variety of Supreme Court cases, beginning back at the beginning of the 20th century. So if there was a federal constitutional amendment, I’m assuming that the same process would hold that they apply to federal crimes, not necessarily the state crimes, they could eventually apply to state crimes, through a nationalization of this particular amendment. Am I right or wrong?

WILL MARLING: Well fair enough Len, I mean you know I’m not a constitutional lawyer for sure, but I think the precedent that we all discuss among my friends who are lawyers, and trying to imbue these rights for victims of crime, would reflect that precedent exists. That a state individual accused now can truly appeal by precedent at the very least, to federal rights as a United States citizen. That’s what we would anticipate would happen, yes it would take time to go through a process, but we anticipate that that’s exactly what would happen.

LEONARD SIPES: But it would set the stage in terms of a national standard for protecting victim’s rights?

WILL MARLING: Yes you know I love that, I love the way you said that, that is really, that’s good.

LEONARD SIPES: There you go. So we have a change in Congress now, does that help you, or hurt you, or it’s just a slog to sit down with the individual members and their staff, and to go through what a United States Constitutional amendment to protect victim’s rights would mean?

WILL MARLING: Great question, strategically, in terms of the discussion at this point, I think we look at it, and we say well it doesn’t hurt. Now you know, the House and the Senate are now controlled by one party, and we were working with the House, that was controlled by the Republican side, and looking to educate them. Now, with the Senate controlled by the Republican side that can make for greater continuity. The work really comes down to educating all members of both sides of Congress into the importance of this issue, the value that it represents, and the deep reasons we should have it. I mean very few people will believe we ought to amend the Constitution with any frequency, and I would be one of those. At the same time there are good reasons to amend the Constitution, and I would suggest, with even some simple research you can see that victim’s rights would be one of those reasons. The long standing impact would be very positive for our society.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay so the bottom line behind the effort to create a constitutional amendment for victim’s rights, is that it’s an ongoing process, and probably will be an ongoing process for the next year or two.

WILL MARLING: That’s exactly right, we’re going to be looking obviously into the next congressional session, trying to build on what we’ve established here in this one. Learning from that but also seeing the opportunities as we move forward.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay let me shift gears for a couple of seconds because the larger question before we get into this debate on the limitations of incarceration and the need as you said it, in terms of a holistic approach. Is a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics from the United States Department of Justice, the statistical arm of the US Department of Justice. They did a piece of research on victimization, and come to find that in terms of serious victimization, that the harm, both the psychological and financial harm to those victims were profound. If memory serves me correctly that 80% were talking about the devastating impact of being a victim of violent crime, and what it meant to them, again psychologically, and emotionally, and financially. So there’s no doubt, it simply quantifies what we’ve been talking about for decades, is the fact that violent victimization has an immense impact on American citizens.

WILL MARLING: Yes there’s no question, now I haven’t seen the report that you’re referencing and I’m looking forward to doing just that. This is something that we have known at the very least by anecdotal testimony of victims, 30 years ago when President Reagan’s taskforce for victim’s of crime, toured the country interviewing people, they had that same conclusion anecdotally that the long term impact of the losses created by violence specifically, and other levels of harm I would say. They ripple through our society, they touch a lot of people, but they affect us financially. I mean the losses from workplace violence alone, are measured in billions of dollars. Loss of productivity, insurance claims, disability claims, and so on. So we need to address remediation on the backside, no question, we need to support people who have been harmed. My contention Len as you bring this up, is that discussing victim’s right on the front end, and raising the profile of those needs, at a societal constitutional level, begins to put it on people’s radar, their awareness to say, okay people have rights. Just like with many other rights that are inculcated, through civil rights and so on, we say, okay this actually gives me a new awareness. I need to be thinking about that, and I need to be respecting and reflecting on those rights that victim’s of crime should have.

LEONARD SIPES: But the idea here is that there’s a possibility that victim’s rights seems to be diminishing in the minds of a variety of people. I’m not the first person who brings that observation to the table, because we get into the other issue were are going to talk about today, the whole idea that what we need is a limitation on incarceration. That we over incarcerate, that there are probably a good two dozen groups out there with very prestigious names behind them, who are talking about less incarceration. The fact that we over incarcerate and every governor in the country is probably talking to his or her correctional administrator and saying, look we’re spending way too much on corrections. You’ve got to bring down the bill, I don’t have the money to build roads, I don’t have the money to build schools, I don’t have the money to do the different things that we want to do, because so much of it is going towards correction. So I’m hearing fiscal issue, I’m hearing what I believe some people would consider to be a moral issues, in terms of the fact that we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. I’m not hearing much about victims of crime, that’s why I brought up the BJS report, is that it documents strongly what happens to victims of violent crime. Our experience, my experience, your experience is that there are literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions of victims of non-violent crime, where it becomes a life changing experience. So if this is all true, and if it’s having this devastating impact on people who are victims of crime. Why isn’t the conversation at a level that it was ten, 15, 20 years ago?

WILL MARLING: Well you know another great question that you pose. I would say 20 to 25 years ago when there was little discussion about any of this, in fact there was little awareness about the needs of victims of crime. People — we had kind of evolved in our society into this debt against society kind of motif that we built up in the early part of the founding of this country. We had adopted that, so if I commit a crime against somebody, it’s actually a debt to society. So how do I pay my debt to society? I do my penitence by going to a petitionary, that’s actually the historic route. Well the early stages of the victim’s rights movement and the victim’s rights and services movement was recognized, hey wait a minute, it’s got to be more than just state versus the perpetrator, where are the victims? That really catalyzed a lot of changes, today we have compensation programs in every state, and we have a lot of victim services, and as I mentioned, state constitutional amendments for victim’s rights. It’s like so many things, I think the cycle has waned a little bit, the energy, even from our movement to recognize, wait a minute, our work’s not done. Then also other truly pressing needs, like this over incarceration issue, that many of us even in the victim side recognize. If you’re going to incarcerate everybody for so many things, then the seriousness that should be reflected in incarceration for crimes that deeply and profoundly traumatize and hurt people, that they’re minimized in some sense, almost. It’s the classic, if I only have a hammer then everything is a nail. That’s what we’re trying to reorient, that’s why this kind of holistic commitment to saying, wait a minute let’s look at the process more holistically. We need to take a longer term approach than just a congressional season to fix these things. I’m personally a proponent, I’m not speaking for anybody in particular, but I’m a proponent of looking at a ten year strategy, to bring about, to analyze, to look, to bring together all the players in these processes. Including the people that are critical of over incarceration and other things, and say okay what, upon what do we agree? There are things at the center in this society that the average reasonable person agrees with the other reasonable person, even though they might be on different sides of a political aisle, or an issue aisle. We just need to have that conversation, and it needs to be facilitated rather than creating these caricatures of other people and labels quite frankly. I’ve gone into the social science here, but that’s a little bit, to me what needs to happen.

LEONARD SIPES: Well let me reintroduce you Will before we continue the conversation, ladies and gentlemen, we’re more than halfway through the show. Show examining victim’s rights in the United States, Will Marling, Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, is by our microphones once again, National Organization for Victim Assistance has been around for a long time. I can remember years ago, being a member of the criminal justice system when NOVA called you, your organization was going to be held accountable. We all had great respect for NOVA, but going back to the holistic approach, I do get the sense that victim’s rights seems to have dropped off the radar screen, considerably. I like your idea of a holistic approach, as long as victims of crime are part and parcel to that holistic approach.

WILL MARLING: Yes I agree, why can’t they be, there are a lot of people on the ground who have been doing this work for 30 years, 40 years. Those folks should be brought to bear to this discussion. I don’t mean just the victim’s movement, there are a lot of people in the victim’s movement. NOVA’s the oldest victim assistance organization of its kind in the nation. Then there are folks who have been working on the incarceration issues and needs of the incarcerated, and post release issues, and we all generally tend to respect that. We’re talking about human beings, but how can we then address the needs and the priorities, and part of my other reflection on the diminishing impact for victim’s rights. Len I would say it’s maybe not as much that victim’s rights have been diminished, as much as just other voices have now become more popular. As you described it the physical impact of building more and more prisons, and dealing with incarceration issues, simply has taken hold, because state’s budgets are so impacted in profound ways by that. That causes governors and their accountants to turn around and say, hey wait a minute, how are we going to fix this, how are we going to solve it? I personally don’t think we should just throw out justice principles, and say well what’s the cheapest way we can get this done? At the same time can we ask ways for appropriate, cost effective, but also evidence approach, evidence appropriate ways to really address, justice, crime and victim advocacy in our society.

LEONARD SIPES: Before hitting the record button you were talking about delineating levels of harm, because the question was, okay if we’re going to decide to take individuals and not put them in prison. If we’re going to agree that we have over incarcerated, we do have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The governors are complaining about the cost of the budget, people do believe that this is a moral issue. Then fine, if we go along with that, then who doesn’t go to prison? Who are those people? So you introduced this concept of level of harm, that there’s got to be some delineation that a person who comes to the table, who has committed a violent crime. Let’s say it’s aggravated assault, but let’s say it’s two brothers, and let’s say one hits the other over the head with a beer bottle, which is an aggravated assault it’s with a weapon. But neither brother has an extensive criminal history, does that person go to prison? I mean there comes a point where it does— you start having to slice it and dice it at that level, do you not?

WILL MARLING: Well you do, here’s where I would bring in a slight philosophical issue that becomes very practical. This is the victim’s side movement where we can engage but then we need to recognize realities. Let’s use the example of, a horrible example unfortunately of a homicide. When somebody is murdered in this country, that is an infinite loss to most loved ones, surviving family members, surviving friends. What the justice system by necessity has to do is immediately put a price tag on that. So what is that infinite life worth? It’s worth 25 to life or something like that right? So what we miss in this is really helping calibrate victim’s expectations that the infinite is not going to be reclaimed by a finite system. It is our best attempt to reflect what we consider to be the value of a person’s life, and the justice commencer it with their violation of another human being. That’s why I say it’s levels of harm. I think there are ways, not perfect, that we can look and say, okay what is the harm that’s caused? Recognize that and then yes it’s going to have to have tangible price tags to it. Sometimes what’s missing is that there are profound issues of crime in our society that create harm, and we’re say they’re not violent. Therefore they’re not as harmful, and I would just suggest to you, because we take toll free victim assistance calls, and people calling for help. That those can be profoundly devastating, and in some ways are more devastating than what we might say is that violent crime, like the assault that you gave, the two brothers. Well what about the older couple, who have everything stolen from them through a data breach, or maybe some other nefarious way, and now they’re completely impoverished, they don’t have a wait to sustain themselves, they might end up on some kind of support system. The level can be profound there to the point that we’ve had people that have taken their lives because they simply can’t cope with that loss. So our examples obviously are pretty simple, but they’re still real, as we think about the impact.

LEONARD SIPES: The examples are real, they’re simple but drop back, you could have, and I’ve encountered all throughout my career, individuals who have been victimized by a property crime, who are profoundly affected by that. I’m preaching to the choir when I’m saying this to you, okay so they came into their house and they stole something off the porch, or they stole something out of the garage. There are people who move based upon that, destroy the character of a neighborhood, take away tax dollars from a city. There are people who are suddenly frightened and the idea of somebody either in their house, or near their house, this is a profoundly moving event for them. So the question becomes, once you start measuring the degree of harm, that I think really begins to put things into perspective, and makes the conversation a lot muddier in terms of who goes to prison and who doesn’t. If you psychologically damage people to the point where they hurt an entire community, by withdrawing from that community, you’ve done something pretty bad.

WILL MARLING: Yes you have.

LEONARD SIPES: But at the same time you can’t put everybody in prison.

WILL MARLING: Well that’s right and that doesn’t mean the result for everybody should be prison. What I would suggest at the risk of sounding like I’m speaking for victims which I don’t do, we try to empower victims individually, to extend their voice. What I would suggest though is they need options, victims need options for remediation number one, but also for support and validation in these things. Sometimes even just the simple acknowledgment by the justice system, we do recognize that this is a profound loss, we can’t reclaim that loss for you, but we respect you and we acknowledge that yes, a lot was lost in this. You, your neighbors, your society, community and so on. Even there the whole issue of victim’s rights isn’t in view, we’re not even using that kind of language. Just like when we think we need to respect another person civilly, there’s civil rights, why? Because they’re a human being. We’ve raised that conversation up to a societal level, and do we have Civil Rights violations in our country? Of course every day, but now at least it’s a discussion that people’s rights are violated, as opposed to yes I treat people like this because I’m better than they are, or whatever. That’s what I would suggest can happen with raising the profile of victims and their needs, and then to having a discussion, ask victims.

LEONARD SIPES: Two quick issues, number one, the issue is that I’ve never heard within the victim’s community animosity towards rehabilitation programs, towards reentry programs, towards changing the criminal justice system, towards less incarceration, most of the people that I’ve talked to, including you and other people from the victim’s community, seem to be willing to have that discussion. They simply want to be part of that discussion, which gets us right back to the constitutional amendment for victim’s rights.

WILL MARLING: Yes, no you’re exactly right I would say that most people, sensible folk, who’ve gone through things, have suffered at the hands of another. They understand that there are limitations to the changes that post incarceration issues, and all of these things. They just want to help inform people’s thinking about what that could look like, and that is a very reasonable consideration. People are scared of victims because many times when they see a victim whose suffered harm, they see them immediately afterwards, and the expressions of emotion, of anger, of angst, and so on, are very present, and very prominent. You know I always say commonly, if a person was sensible before their victimization, they’re sensible after their victimization, they’re just a lot more informed and aware about what that kind of victimization looks like for them personally.

LEONARD SIPES: Well the — I think that both of us agree that the level of discourse needs to be raised in terms of including a victim. So that’s the bottom line that’s why we’re looking at the constitutional amendment, that’s why we’re having this conversation. Victims simply want to be at the table, they don’t want to be ignored, they want their voice to be heard, they’re not against change, they understand change, they understand reentry, they understand reentry programs. They simply want to be part of that conversation, and they simply don’t want to be shoved off to the side, is that the bottom line?

WILL MARLING: Yes and I would say thank you Len, as well, because you’re actually helping to include this kind of dialogue and discourse in the context of our conversation. This is what we should be doing, let’s talk out the issues, let’s have a reasonable, sensible conversation, that impacts not just today, and people’s society today, but I got kids, and I’m thinking about how all these things will impact them as adults, and the posterity for the future.

LEONARD SIPES: Well this program goes into an awful lot of college classrooms, not only throughout the country, but throughout the world. We have 150 organizations that pick up this feed automatically and post it on their websites, and I’d say that probably two thirds of those are colleges. So we get involved in a lot of interesting conversations with people who come back to us and say I heard a show on victim’s rights, and we discussed it in the classroom. So that’s all important. So we’re going to go from all of these big issues, in the final minute and a half, two minutes of the program. I do want to get into the fact that you’re still working with the military, you’re still working with the Department of Defense, you’re still doing credentialing, you’re still doing training of individuals to be victim’s reps correct?

WILL MARLING: That’s right, I appreciate the query there, we are focused on best practices and advocacy, and the National Advocate Credentialing Program really reflects that commitment to those standards. We’re working with the Department of Defense and the standards that we have helped them establish for the very same kind of advocacy in the sexual assault victim assistance arena. What I’m very proud of is our network, and this doesn’t just network NOVA it’s the network, this profoundly incredible network of folks that iceberg so to speak, where we’re just the tip. That do this work, day in and day out, reflect the best professional standards, service and compassion, competence and commitment. Those are the three legs of my stool, compassion, competence and commitment, and credentialing reflects that. So I’m very proud of the team that really has joined together as an allied professional network, to say look, we do good work, and these are the standards that we reflect, and these are the best practices that we promote in advocacy.

LEONARD SIPES: Well and advocacy nevertheless the people need to be trained, they need education, they need to know what to do, and how to do it. When you’re dealing with a person who is suffering from the post-traumatic stress of a violent crime, or a property crime, they have to be dealt with in a certain way. So they have to be credentialed and they have to be trained.

WILL MARLING: That’s exactly right, I mean that’s important today to reflect those standards, and those standards in our context do reflect a certain kind of training, experience, background. It doesn’t necessarily require a certain kind of education, but that as well can be acknowledged in the process of credentialing. It’s on the ground ability to serve those people at their worst possible moment, and provide the resources that they need to help them cope and move forward.

LEONARD SIPES: We have been talking today to Will Marling, Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, we all are always appreciative of Will coming on and talking to us. Will thank you,, Ladies and gentlemen this DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.


Human Trafficking-The Urban Institute

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s show examines human trafficking. Research shows that there’s a common misperception about human trafficking. Most believe that it’s something that happens predominately outside of the US, not in our own backyards. Research from the Urban Institute tells us why so many human trafficking cases slip through the justice system and where new efforts could make a difference. Our guest today is Colleen Owens. She is a Research Associate with the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center where she directs several national and international research projects on human trafficking spanning eight countries and five continents. She currently leads a National Institute of Justice study to examine the organization, operation, and victimization of trafficking in the Unites States. Colleen Owens, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Colleen Owens:  Thank you very much for having me.

Len Sipes:  Colleen, this is just an extraordinarily important topic, because as I told you before we hit the record button, I was talking to a friend of mine who said, “What’s the topic of today’s radio show?” and I said, “Human trafficking in the Unites States.” And he said, “Human trafficking in the Unites States; is there human trafficking in the Unites States?” So answer the question for my friend.

Colleen Owens:  Yes, absolutely. There is human trafficking in the United States. I think unfortunately that’s not an uncommon reaction. I think it happens more than people realize. And there are reasons why a lot of people in the United States don’t think that it actually happens here. The way that I often describe it is that it’s sort of hidden in plain sight and that even cases that do come forward and are identified by our criminal justice system will still become hidden in the criminal justice system later on. And we can get into reasons why that is.

Len Sipes:  If you take a look at the research on rape, and it’s something undoubtedly that you have and I know Urban has over the course of years, it’s so underreported. I would imagine this equals that degree of non-reporting.

Colleen Owens:  Exactly. And I think there are differences when you look at sex trafficking versus labor trafficking, both of which happen in the United States, and no community is immune to it. But what we found in our research is that very low percentages of victims actually self-identify and come forward to law enforcement and report themselves as being victimized by labor or sex trafficking, and there are a lot of reasons why that is. So for sex trafficking victims, for example, they might perceive themselves to actually complicit in the crime of prostitution. They might view themselves, instead of being victims, they might view themselves as being criminals, violating our prostitution laws, regardless of the fact that they’re forced or that there’s fraud or coercion used to compel them into that.

Len Sipes:  So they see themselves as vulnerable to the criminal justice system. They don’t see the criminal justice system as being necessarily on their side. They see them as potentially victims of the criminal justice system.

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. That’s part of it, the other issue is, so both US citizen victims as well as foreign nationals in our country are victimized by labor and sex trafficking. And so for US citizen victims they don’t have the issue that, for example, foreign nationals might have where they might be undocumented either prior to the trafficking or as a result of the trafficking they become undocumented, and so they might fear that coming forward would mean that they’d be put in jail for being undocumented.

Len Sipes:  The website for the Urban Institute, They’ve been before our microphones many times in the past and we hope many times in the future. Look for human trafficking on their website. Colleen, do we have a sense as to the extent of the problem in the United States and throughout the world?

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. Prevalence is the biggest question; it’s also the biggest unanswered question. The best statistics that we actually do have are from the International Labor Organization and they estimate that approximately 21.9 million individuals around the world become victims of labor and sex trafficking.

Len Sipes:  Wait a minute, 21.9 million, so 22 million human beings.

Colleen Owens:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  22 million human beings are victims of sex or labor trafficking.

Colleen Owens:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And explain to me what is sex trafficking and what is labor trafficking.

Colleen Owens:  So there’re a variety of laws, but within the United States our federal law, which is the TVPA, was passed in 2000, it’s been reauthorized several times, and all states now actually have state laws against human trafficking. Sometimes those state laws vary in term of the definition and also the criminalization of human trafficking. But the TVPA, our federal law, defines human trafficking as essentially the use force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into labor or services, and so that can be two broadly different things, so compelling a person into forced labor situations or into forced commercial sex situations.

Len Sipes:  Okay. So we’re talking about, what, principally labor or sex do we know?

Colleen Owens:  I’m sorry.

Len Sipes:  Are we talking about principally people being forced into labor situations or sexual situations or do we know?

Colleen Owens:  We don’t know actually. So there’s what the available statistics tell us, and that is one piece of the puzzle. So the available statistics are few and far between, but when you look at investigations that local, state, federal law enforcement have undertaken into human trafficking, they’re primarily investigations into sex trafficking.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Colleen Owens:  So that might lead some people to believe that sex trafficking is more prevalent. However, through the research that I’ve done and that I’ve done with colleagues from Northeastern University we’ve looked at, we’ve gone into communities and we’ve spoken with criminal justice actors and what we found is that primarily criminal justice actors are operationalizing human trafficking as sex trafficking and mostly sex trafficking of minors. So that means if they are looking for these cases, which is a big if, they’re primarily looking for sex trafficking of minors, and they’re not proactively out there looking for labor trafficking in communities, for the most part.

Len Sipes:  Do we have any sense, with this 22 million worldwide; do we have any sense as to the extent of victimization in the United States?

Colleen Owens:  We really don’t know. We don’t have good statistics on that. There’ve been a few attempts to get an accurate measure that have been unsuccessful. I think like a lot of crimes you’d mentioned earlier, like rape for example –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  It’s unreported.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  And so those that actually do come forward and report cases that go forward in the criminal justice system are always going to be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the prevalence.

Len Sipes:  But feel free to push back –

Colleen Owens:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  If it’s not valid to make this assumption. But is it proper to suggest that out of the 22 million certainly we could say that millions of people in the United States are victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking, is that possible to extrapolate to the Unites States?

Colleen Owens:  So the International Labor Organization, which came up with that number, estimated that when you look at the United States as well as other EU, or what I think they called industrialized –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  Nations, they estimated that 1.5 million victims of labor and sex trafficking were in those countries.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Colleen Owens:  So within the Unites States we still don’t have a good count of how many victims are in our country.

Len Sipes:  Why is it that – we’re talking about something despicable, we’re talking about something disgusting, we’re talking about I’m assuming female victims.

Colleen Owens:  Both men and women, as well as children.

Len Sipes:  Does one category lead the other?

Colleen Owens:  No. And you do start to see differences when you look at labor trafficking versus sex trafficking. But again, sometimes the numbers that we see are more as a result of investigative priorities and available services and outreach to communities. And that influences who you see coming forward.

Len Sipes:  I’m making the assumption, and quickly tell me where I’m wrong or it’s not supported at all, but the overwhelming majority of what we call the sexual assault problem in the United States is male perpetrators and female victims. I do understand that males are subject to being raped, males are subject to being sexually abused, but it’s principally male perpetrators, female victims. So I can’t make that assumption here?

Colleen Owens:  Well, with sex trafficking what we’ve been seeing is that primarily the offenders been coming forward through the criminal justice system are male, but we’ve seen an increasing trend in female offenders as well.

Len Sipes:  Huh.

Colleen Owens:  And so this is a real grey area for a lot of criminal justice actors. Law enforcement officials that we’ve spoken with have talked about you have a situation where traffickers are victimizing for example female victims and then over a period of time those victims then are sort of groomed in a sense to become offenders. And so they’re used by the trafficker to then recruit other victims and to also enforce the rules and keep the victims compliant. And so they’re sort of in this victim and offender category.

Len Sipes:  So help me put it in perspective, and, again, pushback, because you’ve made, said very clearly that this is very difficult to put numbers and groups regarding this problem within context. But what we are talking about is either labor, and I’m going to stereotype now, tell me where I’m wrong, of where the person works in the house, the person is brought in from another country, the person is recruited within the United States, the person is taken to a house, the person acts as a sort of a servant within the house, or the person is recruited for sexual activities and they’re held in bondage almost and they’re moved from one location to another location. So what we’re talking about is bondage, what we’re talking about is trafficking human beings in the most significant and serious ways. We’re not talking about finding somebody for prostitution. We’re talking about thousands upon thousands of people who are either coming in from outside of the country or being recruited inside of the country for sex bondage or for labor bondage, are we not?

Colleen Owens:  Yes. No. That’s exactly what it is. I mean I think at the root of our trafficking laws, they’re actually rooted in 13th Amendment principles of slavery. And so often you hear human trafficking described as modern day slavery. But really what is at the heart of it is that somebody is being, their labor is being used against their will, that person’s freedom is being denied.

Len Sipes:  I remember reading some of the literature, or the list of the literature that you provided before the program, and the word slavery did come to mind and I’m saying to myself, “Why is the word slavery not in here? Is it too politically incorrect of a word?” I don’t know where to take this topic. I’m trying to be fair and slice it right down the middle. But it strikes me as being disgusting and despicable, and it strikes me as being slavery, it strikes me as human bondage. In the cases that I’ve been exposed to throughout the criminal justice system, I’m going to be stereotypical I suppose, the women involved were held in psychological and physical bondage, they were told that if they left they would be killed, their families would be killed, they would be injured, they were threatened, they felt that they had no place to go. I mean is that what we’re talking about?

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. No. That is definitely part of what we’re talking about. I think another part where sometimes to be honest there is sort of a wide variety of different stakeholders within the anti-trafficking movement. And sometimes what you do see is that there are arguments or discussions about sort of the role of prostitution versus sex trafficking and when does something become trafficking versus when is somebody voluntarily involved in prostitution. And so –

Len Sipes:  Well, is anybody ever voluntarily involved in prostitution?

Colleen Owens:  That’s a good question. It’s sort of what our laws say and how our laws are enforced. But, yeah, I mean that a question that people debate.

Len Sipes:  I mean I know it’s legal in certain areas of the country, but for the vast majority of my exposure throughout my years within the criminal justice system, prostitution has been, I can’t use the word, “If you don’t do this and if you don’t comply with me and if you don’t give me 60% of what it is that you make, I’m going to kill you.”

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. No. That is –

Len Sipes:  I mean that to me is –

Colleen Owens:  That is 100% of trafficking situation.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Colleen Owens:  So it’s that a person is using force, fraud, or coercion. And if you’re under the age of 18 then our laws say that you don’t have to show force fraud or coercion, because the thought is that if you’re under the age of 18 you can’t voluntarily consent to the commercial sex act.

Len Sipes:  All right, are these – I’m sorry, I may have asked this question already – are these outside of the United States coming into the Unites States or recruited within the United States?

Colleen Owens:  So it’s both. So US citizens as well as foreign nationals are both groups that are victimized by human trafficking. So when you look at sex trafficking in the Unites States, US citizen victims are involved. So you have for example runaway homeless youth that are often on the street looking for a place to stay and somebody might approach them and say, “If you do x, y, and z, I’ll give you a place to stay.” And so in our laws actually we say that exchanging anything of value, so it doesn’t actually even have to be money that’s being paid, but offering someone a place to sleep or food to eat can actually be used to coerce a person into sex trafficking.

Len Sipes:  So we’re talking about very vulnerable human beings –

Colleen Owens:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  To begin with, either outside of the United States or inside of the United States. Those vulnerabilities are played on, they’re exploited, and suddenly the person ends up in bondage. And by that I mean a situation that they cannot extract themselves out of and they’re afraid to go to the authorities because they’re afraid that they may be implicated in crimes.

Colleen Owens:  Right. And I think so there’s a really important piece of what you said, this is that they feel that they’re in bondage, and I think that is often a misperception, and you see that really affects cases, even when they go forward, if they go forward in the criminal justice system, which is, well, this victim wasn’t being held in chains, they weren’t locked in a basement, therefore they could’ve left. But understanding the psychological coercion that goes into compelling a person to do things against their will is very important, and our laws protect people against that, but actually proving those cases in court and holding offenders that use primarily psychological means of coercion is very difficult.

Len Sipes:  Okay. We’re going to go back to my original question then in terms of public misperception, in terms what a person asks me about the radio show, the topic of my radio show, and I said human trafficking, and they’re going, “Where?” And I’m saying, “In the United States.” And so, but we’re going to reintroduce you. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is Colleen Owens. She is a Research Associate with the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center where she directs several national and international research projects on human trafficking. The website for the Urban Institute is So, Colleen, let’s go back to that question once again. If it is as you describe and if we know that 22 million human beings are involved and within the western industrialized world, the United States, Canada, and the EU, you’re talking about at least one to two million human beings. This is a significant and serious problem in the Unites States that we don’t recognize as a significant and serious problem, correct?

Colleen Owens:  Yes and no. So I think we do recognize it as a significant and serious problem in the sense that so in 2000 we passed a federal, it was the first federal to actually criminalize human trafficking. I should mention that human trafficking is not a new crime; it’s a crime that has existed for –

Len Sipes:  Centuries.

Colleen Owens:  Forever, for centuries.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Colleen Owens:  It’s just a newly defined crime and there are new penalties to combat it. It’s being taken seriously in the United States and many other foreign countries. At the time that the US law was passed this was also the same time that the Palermo Protocol was passed. So this was a sort of international movement to really take this crime seriously and to not only hold offenders accountable, but to create and provide services for those victimized by the crime. Since 2000, all states in the United States have passed laws to criminalize human trafficking, but laws vary, some states don’t criminalize sex trafficking, some have different definitions of labor trafficking, for example. So on the one hand we have taken it very seriously, but our research shows that we have a long way to go and these laws aren’t actually being enforced as they should be. So a lot needs to be done in terms of more awareness and resources to identify victims to hold offenders accountable and to provide services for those victims.

Len Sipes:  A tough, tough topic. I mean where does the criminal justice system need to go with this? I mean I’ve spent the first half of the program trying to understand the degree and the extent of the program for myself. I’m not quite sure that everybody – when you say prostitution, people very rarely ever come to grips with the fact that these are victims that are slapped, punched, threatened, have a gun held to their head, they’re in bondage. It’s just people say the word “prostitution” they really don’t understand how nasty it is for the lives of the individuals involved. So you say human trafficking, the words human trafficking roll off the tongue, and thank you very much for helping me create the context for the first half of the program. What must the criminal justice system do, in terms of the second half of the program, what must we do, and what should society do across the board, because I will constantly go back to that conversation, “What do you mean there’s human trafficking in the United States?”, so?

Colleen Owens:  Right. So that’s a big question with a lot of answers, but I mean I think first and foremost those that are in charge of enforcing our laws should be made aware of what those laws are, there needs to be a lot more training, and it needs to be on the state and local level. The federal government does do training on human trafficking and it is very helpful and they should continue to do that. But we really need more state and local training that involves both investigators, as well as prosecutors working together to understand what their laws are and then how to operationalize those laws. So what evidence do you need to collect to be able to take a case forward and prove it in court? What indicators do law enforcement need to be aware of to identify that that person is actually a victim of crime and not arrest those victims and charge them as criminals. So in sex trafficking cases, for example, victims may be arrested and charged with prostitution and in labor trafficking cases victims may be arrested and charged and placed into deportation proceedings if they’re here and they’re undocumented. And so there really needs to be a lot more awareness for criminal justice system actors. The other piece of it actually is we need to actually create spaces in the criminal justice system to bring these cases forward. So in our study that we conducted with Northeastern University on challenges investigating and prosecuting human trafficking, we found that there were actually no state labor trafficking prosecutions in our study.

Len Sipes:  What?

Colleen Owens:  And when we went to local state prosecutors and asked them about what would happen if a labor trafficking case came to your desk, they actually said, “We don’t what we would do with it. We don’t know who would actually take that case.” And so there really aren’t actors in place in our system in many ways that are even in charge of finding these cases and then bringing them forward, and the same is true with investigating labor trafficking. So we’re doing a study right now that will be released in the summer and we’re finding in our study that those victimized by labor trafficking in our sample anyway are primarily from other countries, they’re either here undocumented or they were – a significant percentage of our sample was actually brought into the United States on temporary work visa programs, they were promised certain jobs, certain hours, certain wage, some of them were promised that if they remained in the job for a certain period of time that they would have their visa extended and they could get a green card. That of course was all fraudulent –

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Colleen Owens:  And never happened, and then the person finds themself undocumented. But when you look at local law enforcement, for example, and you compare sort of the investigations of sex trafficking versus labor trafficking, sex trafficking, while there’s still a long way to go in terms of investigating those crimes, law enforcement at least has been in the business of doing investigations into prostitution.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  So they sort of it’s now requiring them to take a step back and ask, “Is this person in this situation willingly? Is this actually their choice? Are they being forced?” So that change is happening slowly. But when you look at labor trafficking, local law enforcement has never been in the business of enforcing workplace regulations or something that would even be similar to a labor trafficking situation. That’s been the business of the civil justice system, so Department of Labor. But the Department of Labor is not able to open cases criminally. So they’re not always trained to look for criminal elements. They might identify back wages, they might identify workplace hazards, but they are not trained to pull together all the criminal elements that amount to a labor trafficking situation and that would make it distinct from just, I don’t want to say just labor exploitation, because that is serious, but sort of taking it to that next step.

Len Sipes:  I’ve interviewed dozens of women in the criminal justice system who have been caught up in the criminal justice system, and I’ve interviewed them at these microphones, and I’ve interviewed them on television shows. And when I sit down with them, either before or when we hit the record button, it is routinely this, it is, and this is going to be very stereotypical, I apologize for it, but this is what I hear over and over and over again, that the women are involved in the criminal justice system in probably, I’m going to guess, 60% to 70% of the cases where a male is forcing them to move drugs. A male is forcing them to be engaged in criminal activity, and they’re doing it through physical violence, through threat, through literally a gun pointed to the head.

And these are women who’re coming from histories of sexual violence, histories of sexual abuse themselves. So they go out and they’re involved in all this criminal activity and then they’re saying to themselves, “How can I extract myself from this? How can I get out of this, because I’ve been doing drug dealing? I’m running huge amounts of drugs down the interstate 95 corridor. I carry guns. I carry false IDs. I’m just as vulnerable as the people who’re making me do this.” So they don’t come forward. So when they get caught up in the criminal justice system we find when we have them under supervision on parole and probation here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, that in many cases they are just as much victims as perpetrators. We have them on a drug charge and they come out of the prison system and we find that they’ve lived terrible lives. They’re just as much victims as anybody else in the process, even though they committed federal trafficking, drug trafficking laws. So I’m assuming that that carries over to this topic.

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. I often actually – sometimes you hear people describing the phenomenon of human trafficking through a supply and demand framework, and while I think that is valid, I actually prefer to describe through where vulnerabilities meet exploitation type of a framework. And I’ve done research in many other countries as well and I find that the phenomenon sort of looks the same through that lens no matter where you go. So it involves asking yourself in this local context, in this city in the United States, in this village in Cambodia, what are the vulnerabilities and where is the exploitation happening, where are people taking advantage of those vulnerabilities? And so for example with labor trafficking in the US, US citizens one would think they might not be at risk of labor trafficking because often a tool is to use someone’s undocumented status against them.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  But in fact there was just a big case that came out that was reported by the New York Times of US citizens with disabilities that were forced to work in a turkey processing plant for 30 years. And so we are seeing that, US citizen victims with disabilities. There are other cases, there was one in Philadelphia as well, are being used for labor trafficking scenarios. And then the same is true with sex trafficking. A lot of the vulnerabilities and the past histories of abuse are there for sex trafficking victims. You see a lot of runaway youth, a lot of youth that have been caught up prior in the criminal justice system, they may have been arrested for quality of life issues, they may have had previous records being charged with prostitution, even though technically those should be sex trafficking charges if they were under 18, or they should’ve been treated as sex trafficking victims if they were under 18. But you do see a lot of these past histories of abuse and vulnerability. And I think what really needs to happen on the front end is being able to identify those factors sooner and develop programs to prevent a lot of that from happening, because it’s as much addressing the sort of demand side of holding offenders accountable, as it is addressing the supply side, and identifying what vulnerabilities are leading victims, are sort of leading to people being victimized and how do we address those vulnerabilities?

Len Sipes:  The criminal justice system needs to understand that people are not coming forward; they’re not escaping these situations, because they feel vulnerable. The victims themselves feel vulnerable. The victims themselves believe that there’s a possibility that they’re going to be prosecuted. So that’s one of the big reasons why they don’t come forward and that’s one of the things that we have to do was to make sure that we have the sensitivity and the wherewithal and the knowledge to reach out to these individuals and offer them immunity from prosecution as long as they help us prosecute the bad guys.

Colleen Owens:  Right. And some states actually have passed on the side of minor victims of trafficking, sex trafficking, they’ve passed what’s known as safe harbor laws. So basically stating, passing additional laws that you cannot be charged crimes, quote, “crimes that are committed as a result of your victimization”. But we don’t have a lot of those laws for, for example, victims of labor trafficking that may be charged with crimes pursuant to their labor trafficking situation.

Len Sipes:  But we have a criminal justice system that sees itself as overburdened, overwhelmed. We have a criminal justice system that’s having an extraordinarily hard time processing the day to day burglaries, robberies, sexual assaults, homicides. There’s criticism directed toward cities throughout the United States and urban areas in terms of their inability to prosecute. So when something like this comes along they’re saying to themselves, “I don’t have the resources –”

Colleen Owens:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  “For this type of investigation.” Is it a matter that they’re not looking for it because they don’t have the resources?

Colleen Owens:  It’s sort of a self-perpetuating cycle I guess you could say. They’re not looking for it because they don’t have the resources, and they don’t have the resources because they’re not looking for it.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  So, right, I mean we hear that often that we need more resources, we need more resources.

Len Sipes:  More training.

Colleen Owens:  Exactly, more training. You need agencies to prioritize this, because exactly as you said, you may have people calling about the fact that their cars were broken into, and so that sort of leads the priorities, right?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  When you see what’s going on in your community and you’re making those calls for service. This is a crime that does not rely on calls for service for the most part.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  And yet when we speak with law enforcement their main approach to investigating this is to wait for calls to come in. And so it’s not being investigated basically.

Len Sipes:  But we do, I mean in general, we within the criminal justice system and society in general do need to understand that this does exist in the United States, it is an ongoing problem, it involves literally millions of human beings, and we have to take this seriously and we have to be looking for this.

Colleen Owens:  Exactly. I think if we’re a country that believes in freedom, then this is something that we need to take seriously. And it’s a serious human rights abuse. And people in our country are being abused by traffickers. And they engage in it, because for the most part it’s very low-risk.

Len Sipes:  Colleen Owens, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that you were on the show today and that the Urban Institute is taking this on. Congratulations to the Urban Institute for taking a very tough topic,, Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]