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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