The FBI and its Victim Assistance Program, along with other federal agencies, celebrate National Crime Victims' Rights Week—this year, the week of April 18.
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week04/23/2010
Mr. Schiff: Hello. I’m Neal Schiff, and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. If there’s a crime, there’s a victim. The FBI and its Victim Assistance Program, along with other federal agencies, celebrate National Crime Victims' Rights Week—this year, the week of April 18. Kathryn Turman is the program director for the FBI’s Victim Assistance Program.
Ms. Turman: “National Crime Victims' crime week was started by the Justice Department a number of years ago to remind America about the plight of crime victims and to celebrate the fact that we do have rights and assistance for victims across the country. Each year, the attorney general provides crime victim service awards to organizations and agencies and individuals around the country who have made a big difference for crime victims. It’s a way to commemorate the positive changes in America for crime victims.”
Mr. Schiff: And there’s a special theme for this year.
Ms. Turman: “The theme is fairness, dignity, and respect. This phrase, these words come from the Crime Victims' Rights Act, which is in federal law, and it requires that all agencies, agency personnel, FBI, DOJ, any agency in the federal government that deals with victims must treat victims with dignity and respect for their privacy, and with fairness.”
Mr. Schiff: There are many categories of crime victims—violent criminal acts, terrorism, and even white-collar crime situations.
Ms. Turman: “Yes, and the FBI is just one part of the response to crime victims. We deal with federal crimes, which can range from crimes in Indian Country to the most sophisticated white-collar and fraud crimes and schemes against people. State and local agencies also deal with crime victims. Most states have victim assistance, victims' rights, laws as well. So, every type of crime that happens to American citizens, whether it’s local crime or a state crime or a federal crime, there are, in most cases, rights and assistance requirements to help all of those victims.”
Mr. Schiff: Tell us about your program. When and why was the FBI’s Victim Assistance Program created?
Ms. Turman: “The Victim Assistance Program existed in some form even back in the 1990s, but it was not as focused or well-resourced. Starting in late 2001, several months after 9/11, this current director, Director Mueller, established the Office for Victim Assistance, because he felt there needed to be a focus on victim assistance in the FBI—a stronger focus. We began hiring 112 full-time victim specialists around the country, we now have 134 positions and 26 here at Headquarters. The purpose of the program is to ensure that victims in federal investigations receive the rights and the assistance to which they are entitled, and that will help them cope with the impact of the crime.”
Mr. Schiff: What are some of the services offered?
Ms. Turman: “We provide all kinds of services, including crisis intervention; our victim specialists are available and go out with agents to crime scenes. We can provide immediate on-scene assistance. Sometimes it’s helping a victim call family; it’s helping them get transportation if they need it; provide some crisis counseling; help with emergency housing. We have people who are burned out in arson cases, so we may help them get emergency housing assistance. For sexual assault victims, we may actually help transport them to the hospital, be with them during exams and interviews by the agents and other officials. We provide ongoing assistance with accessing crime victims’ compensation funds through their state. We have special services for children that include forensic child interview specialists, who are licensed clinical social workers who have interviewed thousands of victims; child victims of different types of crimes. They make sure those children are interviewed in a way that is developmentally appropriate for them and tries to minimize any additional trauma, about talking about the crime.”
Mr. Schiff: So often in the news we hear all about a crime, we hear about the bad guy, and we never hear about the victims. Tell us about how important it is for the victims to be taken care of.
Ms. Turman: “I think it’s so important for victims to be taken care of because the crime happened to them. We are in this business, so to speak. The purpose for our laws are public safety, but also crimes happen to people in the vast majority of cases. They have to live with the impact of the crime. That impact often goes on long after a criminal case or prosecution and trial. People need assistance, often, to be able to put their lives back together again. By doing that, not only do we help them cope and put their lives back together, they are better able to cooperate and participate with the investigation and any future prosecution. It’s very hard for victims who have been severely traumatized to be reminded, sometimes, of the crime all the time, but they live with it. If we can make it easier for them, if we can get them counseling or other services that help them sleep better and cope better, then they are going to be in a much better position, in terms of dealing with the rest of their life, but also, with all of those necessary issues around a criminal investigation and prosecution. Most victims want the perpetrator to be off the street and they are in a position where they can’t hurt anybody else.”
Mr. Schiff: Most of the time when we think of a victim, we think of a violent crime; something really bad has happened and somebody has been injured—a family, maybe family members who have been killed. But then there’s white-collar crime and white-collar crime victims.
Ms. Turman: “White-collar crime, even through it may not be violent; it can have lasting and really severe impacts on people. We have worked with elderly people who have been ripped-off of their savings and everything else, and that’s one thing that you feel sorry, ‘well, they’ve lost their money, so somebody is going to have to help them.’ But that can have very tangible and serious effects on folks. We had a case involving an elderly woman and her husband who were defrauded and they didn’t have money and they were forced to choose between filling prescriptions and not filling prescriptions. The wife ended up losing her eyesight and the husband died. Our victim specialist, when she met with this victim and learned more about the situation, was able to help that victim get prescriptions filled through her local pharmacy and help her get into a living situation that was better suited for her disability. Those things, when you think about , 'Oh, they lost money,' but what is the impact of that on somebody’s life? If you’re a young family or a mother and you have young children and you can’t pay your rent or you can't pay your mortgage and you end up in a shelter or on the street, and the impact on children’s well-being, on their education, and even on their safety in many cases. Fraud is not just about money, it’s about self-respect, it’s about dignity, it’s about safety, and people’s entire well-being.”
Mr. Schiff: Tell us what the criteria is for your office to be contacted, and how does law enforcement and even FBI agents out in the field working a case, how do they get in contact with your people?
Ms. Turman: “Most of the agents in our field offices should know their victim specialist and many of them do and rely on them and bring them in, because they know that if they have a victim who is functioning and coping better, it’s going to make it easier to do the investigation, and the victim has somebody that they can talk to and bring their issues to.
Here at Headquarters, we have an Office for Victim Assistance. We can direct people; we have our Terrorism Victim Assistance Program, Child Pornography Victim Assistance Program. So we work with our folks in the field offices including the agents. We work with our agents here; we work with our task forces out across the country, who are federal, local, and state law enforcement, to make sure that victims in those task force cases also get linked up.”
Mr. Schiff: It’s important for victims to be assisted, no matter the crime. Learn more about the FBI’s Victim Assistance Program on the Internet at www.fbi.gov . That’s our show for this week. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.