Office for Victim Assistance08/07/2009
Mr. Schiff: Hello I’m Neal Schiff and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases and operations. The FBI has an Office for Victim Assistance and these folks have been at some major incidents, such as the tragedy at Virginia Tech, helping those in need.
Ms. Turman: “The Office for Victim Assistance was created shortly after 9/11. And it was established really to give focus to the FBI’s Victim Assistance program. The program really became fully focused about that time. We established fulltime Victim Specialist positions for all of the FBI field offices and then began developing special victims programs as well. And our officer here at Headquarters oversees all of the programs and positions and provides support and assistance to them.”
Mr. Schiff: What do Victim Specialists do?
Ms. Turman: “Well Victim Specialists are here to ensure that every victim in an FBI investigation receives the rights and assistance to which they are entitled under the law and which will help them cope with the impact of crime.”
Mr. Schiff: What are some of the types of situations that may have your staff called out on?
Ms. Turman: “Victim Specialists can get called out on all kinds of situations involving victims. For instance, even a bank robbery. If the FBI responds to a bank robbery where there has been violence, a Victim Specialist may go out to that bank robbery to assist the victims. To provide emotional support; to help contact family members if the victim has been injured or killed; a Victim Specialist may go out to the scene of a kidnapping to provide support to the family. There are other kinds, usually it’s a violent crime of some kind where they will provide immediate on-scene support to; they’ll provide crisis intervention for the family or surviving victims; they may go to a hospital or they may, as I said, go to a victim’s home.”
Mr. Schiff: Well certainly coming to mind is the heinous crime at Virginia Tech a couple of years ago that your office definitely was on scene.
Ms. Turman: “Yes, Victim Specialists may also respond as teams to those kinds of incidents like Virginia Tech. We have Victim Assistance Rapid Deployment Teams which consist of some of our Victim Specialists who are highly trained. They have been through special training for these kinds of mass casualty events and they will go out and support the local responders as well. In Virginia Tech, we were there with local Virginia victim assistance responders. We worked alongside the Red Cross, with folks from Virginia Tech, and provided a lot of assistance, not only to the university staff, but to victims’ families and participated in the Family Support Center, but also found that they were helping people in all kinds of venues even sitting in a restaurant one evening after being at the Family Assistance Center. They found they were talking to a Virginia Tech student who was a waiter who was very impacted by the event.”
Mr. Schiff: When you are out at a scene of violence, you almost have to put yourself away from what really happened to be able to have the where-with-all to be able to assist those who are the victims?
Ms. Turman: “Absolutely. And I think our folks are trained; they’re almost all social workers; they have mental health degrees; they’ve worked with violent crime victims for many, many years. Most of them have Masters Degrees and they are professional Victim Specialists, so they have to have a degree of objectivity. They look at this as professionals; so they’re trained to provide to provide support; they’re trained not to get to personally involved. So it is their job; they care very much, and they are able to provide a wonderful level of compassionate support, but it’s also very practical and they approach it as part of their job. So they can do their jobs without losing their objectivity. Somebody has to be able to do that and to make good decisions to provide support and assistance to people who are not able to think very clearly and not able to manage sometimes even the most basic tasks because everything has been pulled out from under them.”
Mr. Schiff: How large a staff do you have and what kind of training do they go through?
Ms. Turman: “Right now we have 122 fulltime Victim Specialist positions for the field and we have about, we’ve just grown, to about 20-something people here at headquarters. All of our people come to their jobs with a great deal of professional training and education. And then they go through additional training here. We have annual training for all of our staff that’s very FBI specific that deals with specific kinds of cases. A lot of our folks are licensed social workers or clinical social workers, so they have to through additional training to maintain those licenses ever year. If they are on the Rapid Deployment Teams, then they go through specialized training for that. We also have Child Interview Specialists, Forensic Child Interview Specialists on our staff who receive specialized training to be able to do those jobs, to interview child adolescent victims who have been victims of all kinds of crimes and sometimes have been witnesses to horrific crimes as well. So they have specialized training in child development and how children develop language. They may also interview kids who have developmental disabilities.”
Mr. Schiff: What are some of the cases or situations that your office, your staff, and yourself, have gone out to over the years, that the listeners may be familiar with?
Ms. Turman: “Besides Virginia Tech, we were involved in the shooting at Red Lake up in Indian Country; we have actually assisted with Katrina, providing support not only for our employees but also working with the Red Cross; side by side with the Red Cross assisting with shelters there for many weeks as a matter of fact. We’ve been at the scene of many high profile kidnappings of children providing support to victims’ families there; at several different aviation accidents; plane crashes; Lexington and Buffalo providing support, additional support along with community responders but with the National Transportation Safety Board with their family assistance responders.”
Mr. Schiff: It’s not all violent situations that you would provide assistance. Mortgage Fraud comes to mind?
Ms. Turman: “Mortgage Fraud; all kinds of Financial Fraud; these are crimes. They may not be violent in nature but they can have a terrific impact on individuals and their families. So we do provide a great deal of assistance in those cases as well. And many people don’t think about the impact; sometimes it’s not just as simple as losing money. It’s fairly easy to imagine the impact it can have on people. But sometimes it’s more subtle or even far reaching. We had a case involving an older woman who lost her savings, her life savings, which wasn’t a great deal of money when you totaled it up, but for her it meant that she could not, she had diabetes, but she could not pay for her prescriptions; she could not pay for food. As a result, she stopped buying her prescriptions and she lost her eyesight, so she became blind; she couldn’t pay for her food so she became ill. So in the course of the investigation, the agent identified this, flagged her situation to the Victim Specialist who went out to her and was very quickly able to get her prescriptions paid for, completely paid for by a program, so it didn’t cost her anything; got her into a special program for rehabilitative services for the elderly-blind and also signed her up for Meals On Wheels, and that was all in the space of a couple of days. So sometimes these financial crimes do have impacts that aren’t easily foreseeable.”
Mr. Schiff: What tips can you give to the public to help them in case they should become involved in a criminal or violent situation and become a victim?
Ms. Turman: “The first thing I would say is, ‘report it.’ It’s amazing the percentage of violent crime, or any kind of crime, that goes unreported. And sometimes people are embarrassed if they don’t want to report it. I would encourage people to report the crime. If the police department that they report to, the law enforcement agency, doesn’t have a victim program, then reach out and try to find some support; usually the police department can refer them. If it’s a federal crime, please report to the FBI but also check on the FBI’s web page www.fbi.gov, public web page; there’s a little section called About Victims or call your local FBI field office and ask for the Victim Specialist and we can help you locate victim programs in your community. There are thousands of victim services programs that are local programs. Many of them receive funding from the federal government, from the Justice Department through the Federal Crimes Victim Fund, which comes from money paid by federal offenders. There is help out there; don’t suffer alone; don’t suffer in silence; there is support; there is help out there. There’s Crime Victims Compensation that may be able to help victims with some of the expenses related to the crime.”
Mr. Schiff: The FBI has 56 field offices. There is a Victim Specialist at every one of them?
Ms. Turman: “Yes there is and often there is more than one Victim Specialist in a field office. Also they can look at the FBI home page, at the Victim Assistance portion of the web page. There’s also the Office for Victims of Crime at the Justice Department and has a very extensive web page and there is a directory on their web page that consists of thousands of victim assistance programs. You can plug in your zip code and it will list all of the victim assistance programs in your area by the type of program.”
Mr. Schiff: The information is out there and there are people to help you should you become a victim of crime. The U.S. Department of Justice Internet page is at www.usdoj.gov and the FBI’s home page is fbi.gov. That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.