What do victims of crime experience

DC Public Safety Radio

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See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/02/what-do-victims-of-crime-experience-nova/

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 www.trynova.org. 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 www.trynova.org.

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 www.try.trynova.org. 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.