Monday, April 9, 2012

Who does the advocating when the Advocate's family is a victim of crime?

Who Protects the Victims?
A young girl becomes the victim of a violent crime while babysitting. The perpetrators threaten her life in an attempt to scare the young girl into silence, then threaten her mother's life if she reports the crime. Following the police report, the mother make the difficult decision to send her daughter out-of-state for safety. She remains at their home to pack up their belongings and immediately sets out to secure community services for emergency assistance to help her move as fast as possible. Sounds easy right?

The young girl and her mother already in emotional crisis, the girl's mother attempts to find resources to provide financial assistance to help relocate and secure a new residence in a safe zone. An airline ticket, moving expenses, new security deposit, utility transfer fees, moving truck, fuel, boxes, tape are expenditures a crime victim's family doesn't simply anticipate and save for.

Mom's priority - to move to a new location where her daughter can return to a safe and supportive environment, the comfort of her own bed, and proceed to secure the emotional and psychological resources her child will need. This mom knows all to well the severity and long-term effects of trauma and the courage her child will need to battle the emotional turmoil in the aftermath of crime. She also knows the importance of empowering her daughter so she can eventually face the perpetrators in court. She knows the support her child will need to overcome the entire traumatic experience. Lives totally uprooted, she knows the risk factors if  a child is not treated as soon as possible following a traumatic event.

First problem she encounters is local community services are fragmented and duplication of services among community agencies is commonplace. She finds each agency refers her to call another agency for assistance . . . and then another, and another. Second problem, despite documented threats of death and bodily harm to the mother and child, she finds the State of Arizona does not have an official program to relocate crime victims (similar to federal witness protection). Her and her daughter now separated by thousands of miles, at a time she knows her daughter needs her most, now both feel abandoned by the system they thought was there to protect and support them.

When a child is victimized, it is the parent's first instinct to do anything to protect their safety and it makes sense the first step to rebuilding is removing the need to live in fear and relocating. However, this mom has found the financial burdens of moving are all hers. She knows she can't be the only one in this situation. When there is risk to life the issue becomes a critical need in the community but agency after agency informs her safety relocation is not one of the services offered and told to call another. It isn't enough that a child has already been victimized and dangerous individuals have vowed to protect themselves by making death threats?

When are the needs of the victim taken into consideration? The child's need for stability, to return to the the comfort of home and to be embraced by her mother who will walk the road of recovery alongside her? It now becomes unbearably clear state and community service agencies are willing to gamble with lives as she has now spent two weeks asking for financial help to move, repeating her story over and over to each new person that answers the phone . . . a move that would be considered pennies in the Arizona state budget. Pennies that would ensure the child not only has a home to return to but her mother too. 

Maybe because the mother has spent nearly 20-years working as a crime victim advocate she's just being critical? Maybe those years working in the criminal justice system she knows all too well perpetrators who have already committed a heinous crime are likely to commit another and become totally unpredictable when they realize they are facing significant time incarcerated. She knows unpredictable criminals could very well follow through on their threats or trade a $40 dollar fix to have someone do the dirty work for them. Weeks have now gone by, sleepless nights with her firearm by her side while hyper-vigilance sets in, jumping at every noise. Despite multiple calls to the advocate supposedly assigned to her daughter's case, she's yet to have a conversation with the woman. She has to wonder if everyone is everyone treated this way.

The recent local Fox 10 report should make those responsible for serving crime victims quiver as they watch. This is proof those who underestimate a desperate criminal, choose to pass the buck or victim on to the next agency, rather than truly advocating for the victim and finding solutions - are gambling with victim's lives.

Maybe, just maybe, it takes the advocate to recognize significant deficiencies in state and community advocacy programs and bring it to the attention of law-makers, program management of advocacy centers, the media, and public. Maybe that advocate is me.