Supporting Victims in American Indian and Alaska Native Communities

Five FBI victim specialists reflect on their work

FBI Victim Specialist

An FBI victim specialist overlooks Navajo Nation.

Victim specialists are critical to FBI cases, assisting victims through the entire case process and offering resources such as crisis intervention; emergency travel assistance; and local referrals for counseling, housing, and other services. 

Five victim specialists who support American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities recently reflected on their experiences, what drew them to the field, and their dedication to ensuring that all victims are treated with validation, respect, and dignity.  

Charlene "Carly" Mahoney

Bismarck, North Dakota

Carly has been an FBI victim specialist for 13 years. She primarily serves the North Dakota portion of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and southwest North Dakota. 

How long have you worked with AI/AN populations?

Prior to joining the FBI, I worked with a nonprofit focusing on victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Given the proximity of the Standing Rock Reservation to Bismarck, I’ve worked with this population for more than 20 years—all my career, in fact. 

Standing Rock Indian Reservation

Standing Rock Indian Reservation

Why did you want to be a victim specialist (VS) specifically with AI/AN communities?

I am from this area and grateful to work for a wonderful organization in my own backyard.

In Indian Country, we tend to work more “personal” crimes that impact people on a deeper level. I get to help them navigate a very unfamiliar criminal justice system and empower them to seek out the services that will work best in their life. The work can have some hard moments but also great moments of clarity when you are able to assist a person reach a goal or access an important service. 

What challenges do you face in working with AI/AN victims that you may not face elsewhere?

It’s important to understand that American Indians have seen an awful lot of trauma in the history of the United States. Navigating that history while still assisting those we are here to serve can sometimes be a balancing act. 

One of the bigger challenges in working in Indian Country is the large overlap of jurisdictions. Native American reservations are sovereign nations. At times, that can be challenging when navigating the various agencies, personalities, and jurisdictions.

Totem Park in Tlingit

Totem Park in the Tlingit community of Klawock, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska Panhandle

Erin Terry

Anchorage, Alaska

Erin has been an FBI victim specialist for seven years. Prior to joining the FBI, she was a child forensic interviewer, crisis responder, and statewide trainer for victim services.

Why did you want to become a VS?

Working with or on behalf of victims is a humbling and fulfilling passion. It’s a great honor to work with victims of crime, and I am lucky to have expanded into the federal jurisdiction. I’ve been able to offer services to those harmed by crimes across the spectrum.

How long have you worked with AI/AN populations?

I often say I live in Alaska and happen to work for the FBI. I’ve had the privilege of working with Alaskans since 2006. But honestly, it took at least five years before I truly had meaningful relationships with Alaska Native people. When I listened to their stories and studied the historical and generational trauma, that was when I understood my place in their lives.   

I feel tremendously fortunate to witness the strength and resiliency of the various Alaska Native cultures. The trauma and generational suffering are still very raw. It’s critical for federal programs to respond with a victim-centered approach, great compassion, and creative options for support.

What challenges do you face in working with AI/AN victims that you may not face elsewhere?

Our state is huge and diverse. Alaska is two-thirds the size of the lower 48 states. In the Anchorage school district alone, there are more than 100 languages spoken.

From the Inupiats of the north to the Yupik and Cupik of the southwest; the Aleuts, Unangax, and Sugpiaq of the Chain and islands; and the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and Eyaks of the southeast, Alaska Native cultures are incredibly diverse. There are 20 distinct cultures, around 300 different dialects, and 229 federally recognized tribes. The art, song, dance, dress, food, and languages are thriving.

For as long as I get to live and work in this state, I will still never learn everything I need to know about all the wonderful Alaska Native cultures. But I have learned how to enter a space with humility and to come in as a listener.   

What do you wish people knew about working as a VS in the FBI?

I believe victim services is an “in the shadows” career. It’s wonderful to have the support of the FBI to fund and facilitate our work, but what we offer to individual victims and families is private and personal. It’s work on a soulful level, often surrounded by grief, terror, shame, and fear.

Victim specialists absolutely want to help investigations, but our biggest hurdles are combating the internal dialogue so many victims share that they are at fault for what has happened. It takes vast amounts of time and resources to begin to alter that sense of self-blame, and sometimes the wound is too deep. All FBI employees who work with victims must understand the need to validate someone’s feelings. Even small acts of appreciation for someone’s time can help remind victims that they are valuable and worthy of our efforts.

Brittany O'Day

Aberdeen, South Dakota

Brittany has been an FBI victim specialist since 2021. Prior to joining the FBI, she spent 10 years in victim services, working as an advocate, in child protection, at a local college counseling center, and as a victim specialist at the county state’s attorney’s office.

Why did you want to be a VS with the FBI?

Throughout my years of working in victim services, I have seen how generational trauma is affecting our men, women, and children. I have always wanted to find a way to help break this cycle of abuse.

When I found out about this position with the Bureau, I knew it was my opportunity to make a difference. I am challenged daily, but I get to meet so many wonderful people that just need support to get them through some of their darkest days.

Sisseton MDT

Brittany works with a multidisciplinary team out of Lake Traverse. Back row, left to right: Jeremy Jehangiri, United States Attorney’s Office; Mickey Divine, Sisseton-Wahpeton Child Protection Services; Dan Orr, FBI; Edmond Grant, FBI; Jim Croymans, Sisseton Police Department; David Stephan, USASD; John Hauser FBI; Liam Hinkes, FBI. Front row, left to right: Brittany O’Day, FBI; Tyler Appel, Robert’s County Sherriff’s Department; Dylan Kirchmeier, Roberts County State’s Attorney; Tasha Vohlken, South Dakota DCI; Mark Leusink, South Dakota DCI.

How long have you worked with AI/AN populations?

I’ve lived in the Aberdeen community since 2009, and I love it here. I’ve had the privilege of working with the AI/AN populations since I started victim services in 2011.

In my work with the FBI, I cover the Lake Traverse and Standing Rock South Dakota side reservations. Our office puts in a lot of miles. The communities we cover are, on average, two to three hours away.

What challenges do you face in working with AI/AN victims that you may not face elsewhere?

The lack of resources is, by far, my biggest challenge. The reservations are very rural, so they don’t have the resources that you see in bigger towns. My car is stocked with toiletries, clothing, diapers, blankets, gloves, etc., that I can access when needed.

On the reservations, there’s a lack of trauma-informed counseling options. With many of the cases I work, people have to travel anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours one way to see a counselor that specializes in trauma. This is not sustainable due to costs, limited transportation, and weather.

Another big challenge is the lack of foster homes and shelters, as well as the ability to keep these placements confidential. This can create a barrier for victims who want to leave their situations but fear the perpetrators will be able to find them.

What do you wish people knew about working as a VS in the FBI?

Being a victim specialist can be the most challenging but, more importantly, the most rewarding job. I think some people have the notion that the AI/AN populations do not want our help, but that could not be farther from the truth, in my experience. Everyone I have met is so excited to see there is help, support, resources, and justice for the things that have been done to them. I’m reminded every day of how I am so blessed, and it helps me want to give more to provide hope that they can get through this.

What’s the best part of being a VS?

The best moment in my job is seeing a victim realize they are strong, courageous, and a survivor. This happens in many ways. For example, I worked with a young victim who initially said she couldn’t testify at trial with the defendant there. Not only did she do an amazing job at testifying, which helped the jury convict the defendant, but she stood and read her victim impact statement at the sentencing hearing. The hug I received after that hearing is something I will never forget.

I also worked with a mom who had endured years of domestic violence and then found out her husband was abusing their daughter. Those were truly their darkest days, but the transformation I have seen in them is truly amazing. The daughter received a kindness award at school and has improved her grades and attendance. The mother has kept stable employment and secured a home for their family to continue to heal and grow.

Columbia River

Jaylynn's work takes her to the Colville, Spokane, and Kalispel reservations. The Columbia River, pictured, marks the southern and eastern borders of the Colville Reservation and the western border of the Spokane Reservation.


Spokane, Washington

Jaylynn has been an FBI victim specialist since 2021. Prior to joining the FBI, she coordinated the Victim Services Unit at a sheriff’s office, working 24/7 to serve victims of crime immediately following a traumatic incident.

What is the most important part of working with the tribal communities?

Partnership. I have been deeply inspired by the passion and dedication our tribal partners have when serving their communities. These advocates are always willing to teach me about their unique cultures and the differences between their reservations. They have helped me find ways to better connect with victims. I truly could not do this job without these partnerships.

What challenges do you face in Indian Country or working with AI/AN victims that you may not face elsewhere?

The tribal community really works hard to support their friends, families, and neighbors, so it can be challenging to build trust when I’m not from the area or reservation. Hopefully, with the help of the tribal partners I mentioned earlier, the community will come to know that I sincerely care about their neighborhoods. There is also a geographic issue because it can take three or more hours to get to some of the areas we serve. With that in mind, the winter weather can make traveling to these areas even more difficult.

VSs typically work alone in an area, so they are balancing many different aspects of the job to the best of their abilities. Being new, I have a whole new respect for the senior VSs who have been doing so much on their own.

What do you wish people knew about working as a VS on the reservations?

I would want people to know how strong and determined these communities are. The families that I have worked with have experienced emotional, physical, and generational hardships, yet they continue to rise up against those challenges. I am in deep admiration of their resilience.

During the past year-and-a-half, the families I have met with have been extremely generous and kind. Trust may not come easily, but they would offer help to anyone in need because they are kind and compassionate, even to complete strangers. After 17 years of assisting victims and survivors, I am learning a whole new way of supporting people, listening to their unique stories and family histories. Their stories will profoundly inspire you to make change.

What’s the best part of being a VS?

I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank the Kalispel, Spokane, and Colville Tribal Victim Services programs for all that they do for their communities and our new partnership. They bring so much experience and professionalism to our team.

In the past year, we have formed a collaboration of our local tribal victim services and community partners to discuss ways we can better support our reservations and professional teams. We will be launching our first Victims’ Rights Week awareness event on April 22-28, and I am truly honored to work with this group of devoted individuals.

Dr. Rebecca "Beci" M. Elam

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Beci has worked in the FBI for 15 years as a program manager and victim specialist.

How long have you worked with AI/AN populations?

I’ve worked directly and indirectly with them for six years, both here in Tulsa and at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Why did you want to be a VS specifically with AI/AN communities?

There were a couple of reasons. First, at FBI Headquarters, I had a unique vantage point as a program manager with a wide area of responsibility in Indian Country—specifically in Montana, Utah, Alaska, Idaho, Washington, and Oklahoma.

Council Oak

The Council Oak in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is significant for its historical relevance to the first settlement of Tulsa and as the first location of Tribal government after the forced resettlement of the Locvpoka clan of Creek Nation to then-Indian Territory.

I helped the FBI ensure that the victim specialists in those regions were supported in bridging resources and other service gaps and meeting the needs of those they served. That experience–working with the people on the ground from the FBI and our partner agencies–helped grow in me a passion for serving the needs of AI/AN communities.

Second, the ability to return to Oklahoma and become a victim specialist in my home state has allowed me to continue that work on the ground in a personal way. These are my neighbors, my fellow Oklahomans. To be able to give back to them in some small way is an honor.

What do you wish people know about working as a VS in the FBI?

First, that the position exists. Most people know about the FBI showing up when a bad thing happens. They investigate what happened, to whom, and why. But most don’t know the FBI also sends us–the victim specialists–to help the ones the bad thing happened to.

We do get the opportunity sometimes to talk about who we are and what we do. We’re usually asked what a typical day looks like for us. The reality is, there is no typical day. While the promise to provide comprehensive direct services is the same for every victim, no two victims’ needs are the same. Because of that, any given day may include providing transportation to a victim who needs to get to an appointment but doesn’t have access to a car. It may be multiple meetings with partnering agencies to ensure a victim has wrap-around services and access to every resource possible. It may be presenting to a school or university on internet safety or attending conferences to hone our skills in crisis intervention and trauma-informed care. We may be out all night assisting a family who experienced unimaginable trauma and then up early the next day securing temporary housing or accompanying children to forensic interviews.

As we say in the field, we “meet people where they are.” It means we have to be adaptable, flexible, and persistent in our commitment to serve the victims in our community and meet the mission of our organization.

What challenges do you face in working with AI/AN victims that you may not face elsewhere?

American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) suffer from one of the highest rates of victimization in the country. There’s often a scarcity in resources and barriers to accessing services. In the Tulsa area, it’s been a challenge to support victims with short-term and long-term housing assistance due to fill rates and lengthy waiting lists. Additionally, many of the victims we serve in our area do not have consistent access to internet or Wi-Fi, if any at all, which makes it difficult for them to access some services and applications.

What’s the best part of being a VS?

I like to tell people that my job is made up of a lot of little moments. Making a meaningful and cherished connection with a tribal partner. Delivering and assembling bunk beds, then seeing the joy in tiny faces as they climb on them for the first time. Stopping to get a 4-year-old their special request meal of Chinese food and French fries.

Moments like these reinforce the critical importance of collaboration, compassion, and empathy. Without them, this job would be impossible. These moments also remind me that, irrespective of my mission and role as a VS, the single act of being kind–just being good to people–is a resource in and of itself.