Facebook Live Event: FBI Victim Assistance

The FBI hosted a Facebook Live session on Wednesday, January 31, 2018 to discuss the assistance and support the Bureau provides to victims during investigations. This video contains clips from the overall discussion on Facebook.

Video Transcript

Steve Lewis: So if you're just joining us we're talking to Kathryn Turman and she's the head of our Victim Services Division here at the FBI. I'm Steve Lewis from the FBI's Office of Public Affairs and we are talking about the support and services the FBI provides to victims during investigations, so you're more than welcome to ask us questions by typing them into the comments field or by using the hashtag #askFBI. We'll make sure to answer them right along the way. So along those lines, responding to major events, victim specialists also support our special agents during investigations, so can you tell us a little bit more about the role they play along with the agents?

Kathryn Turman: Sure. The victim specialists partner with agents in the field offices across the country. They often, they team up to actually work a case. The agent concentrates on the investigation, on doing the things that they need to do. The victim specialist's role is there to support the victim or the victim's family, to help them through the process, to attend to their needs, to make sure that there's good communication about the case to the victims and/or the families of victims. So they work in a pretty tight partnership and together they really bring good outcomes, not just to victims but also to the cases and investigations.

Lewis: So on your team, you know, you've got a variety of roles that make up your team, but not all of those roles are filled by humans. Is that correct?

Turman: No it's not. As of the last couple of years, we have two four-footed employees - they're coming this way now. This is their handler, one of their handlers - Melody Tittle - and Geo is the black lab and Wally is the yellow lab. They are kind of half-brothers and they are some of the newest additions to our program. They work with victims - child victims, adult victims, victims of mass tragedies - and their role and their science - what they are bred and raised to do - is to reduce distress in, and to alleviate stress and pain in, individuals that they work with, so there's a whole science and there are other people like Melody who can explain it better than I do about oxytocin exchange and things between humans and animals and particularly dogs like this, but we kind of just see it as magic. We've really seen them provide some incredible assistance to victims, help them through some very difficult times, and provide an amazing amount of comfort.

Lewis: And so I'm sure the program is actually going quite well for them so far, I presume?

Turman: Yeah it is. They've gotten around the country. They have gone all over the place. They've gone to events like San Bernardino and Las Vegas and Dallas and the Orlando Pulse. They've also...Geo was recently attending a trial with a young victim of sexual exploitation; he supported her throughout the trial and will be going back to support her in the courtroom when she gives her victim impact statement. They may also go in and assist our child interviewers with interviews with kids. They'll...they provide sort of a comfort and a focal point for children to help them settle and be able to respond to the questions during an interview.

Lewis: So if you're just joining us, we're talking to Kathryn Turman, and she's the head of our Victim Services Division here at the FBI. You're more than welcome to ask us questions by typing them into the comments field or by using the hashtag #askFBI. We'll make sure to answer them right along the way. So we'll come back here. So, you know, thinking back to 2016, we had the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people were killed and 58 others were injured, and at that time it was the deadliest attack in the U.S. since September 11, so what was the response like from your team at that time?

Turman: Well, like most of these events, we had our local FBI victim specialists on the scene right away. They played an integral part in just trying to help organize the victim response, assess what the needs were on the ground of victims and families, and we followed up within the next 24 or 48 hours with our national response team. Those folks worked with local police, with FBI. They helped set up a Family Assistance Center, they visited victims in hospitals and helped their families, they helped with emergency travel for families who are from out of town. So we brought a lot of folks into town so that they could care for their loved ones or get information if their loved ones had been killed. We also, because the attack affected the LGBT community, we used some of our FBI LGBT Advisory Committee - Employee Advisory Committee - members to come in and help augment our team, and they were able to help us in gaining the support and the trust of the community and also just in advising our own folks about special issues that might come up with that population of victims. It goes on where we've been returning personal effects, we'll be supporting the trial that's going to occur in Orlando in the near future, and most recently we just helped a terribly injured victim who is from another country to get important medical equipment through customs in his home country, so it goes on.

Lewis: So when victim specialists or when you're out at a scene like Orlando, you always have to put yourself away from what really happened to help victims, so, you know, is there like a special level of training to be able to do something like that?

Turman: That's it. Our folks who do the work directly with victims have to have at least a bachelor's degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences. They've been trained on ethics and best practices and trauma-informed care, so their focus really is as a professional, to really assess the needs of victims and try to help find the right resources and the right forms of assistance for them. So most people, when they're on the job, they're very focused on working with victims - I think they get a lot of support from each other, from their team members. We have a psychologist and a program that we're working with to provide sort of emotional support and, you know, respite for people after they've done these tough kinds of cases, but as I said before, I think most importantly the people who do this work are motivated by their ability and their desire to help and they know they're in a good position to actually provide real help and not just to sit back and wring their hands and kind of feel badly about the situation.

Lewis: So aside from Orlando, what are some of the other cases or events that your team has gotten involved with over the past few years that our viewers might be familiar with?

Turman: Wow. Well, the shooting in Charleston, at the church there. Newtown - the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, Boston Marathon bombing, the Washington Navy Yard, the San Bernardino attack, most recently Las Vegas and the Tribeca truck attack. And we also supported the locals down in Texas in Sutherland Springs after that terrible shooting at the church that took so many lives in that small community. We also work a lot of other types of cases on a routine basis, including violent crime in Indian Country, violent bank robberies, kidnappings, terrorism, and hostage-taking overseas - anything the FBI investigates with victims.

Lewis: So not all of the situations you're involved with are violent; there are also some nonviolent cases that your team gets involved with. Can you tell us more about examples like that?

Turman: Sure. The FBI also investigates complex cyber crimes and fraud crimes that might affect many different types of victims, and those cases can range, particularly the fraud cases, in terms of relatively small amounts of money to large-scale schemes that have stolen millions and millions of dollars from people. I'll give you an example: we had a case, it was a fraud case, I think it was a lottery scam. There was an elderly woman who had been directly affected. She lost every cent that she had in the scam and she was alone, kind of in the world, and the agent, when he identified her and went out to initially talk to her, recognized that she had had some significant impact from the loss and, in particular, she had stopped paying for...she didn't have money to pay for her medications and she was diabetic, so she lost her eyesight. She had a number of other medical problems. So the agent quickly called in the victim specialist, who went to the home, worked with the victim, did an assessment with her, was able to get her free prescriptions, Meals on Wheels, and to get her enrolled into a special program for the newly elderly blind, and also help her with housing as well. So those kinds of situations, you don't think about the type of impact that, even what may seem like a small fraud scheme, to somebody it can really devastate someone's life. So it's not a violent crime but it certainly had a similar impact.

Lewis: Well certainly. There's a variety of situations where your team gets involved and so I'm glad that we're getting a chance today to talk really about that and let the public and let our listener...our viewers know really all the things that are...your team gets involved with. So with that note, I do want to thank everyone for joining us so far and for joining us on Facebook. I'm Steve Lewis from the FBI's Office of Public Affairs and we are talking about the support and services the FBI provides to victims during investigations. So with me is Kathryn Turman, who leads our Victim Services Division. Her team provides support to victims during our investigations. Please feel free to ask us questions along the way by typing them into the comments field or by using the hashtag #askFBI and we will make sure to answer them as we move along, if we do have a really good question to get to. So let's get right back to it. So January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and so I wanted to talk about that with you. So what's your focus when it comes to trafficking investigations involving children?

Turman: Our focus in those kinds of cases is to provide immediate support to child victims. We work, as I said before, alongside agents on a routine basis when we do human trafficking cases involving children. Sometimes it's something we've discovered on the Internet, where you've had...it's called sexploitation, where someone will lure a child into doing something that they wouldn't normally do. They might pretend to be a child on the Internet - this happens most often with adolescents. There may be cases where children are involved in actual street trafficking and they are often coming from homes that are very difficult, very challenging. There may not be a safe place for them to go back to. So if we participate often every year in different operations that the FBI and sometimes state and local authorities do to rescue kids, to take them off the street, get them into services and into a safe place, our victim specialists will be hand-in-hand with the agents and the local police officers working in those cases. As the victims come in, we'll do an assessment, we may - particularly if they come off the street and they're wearing whatever they were wearing - one of the first things we'll do is provide them with clean clothing, a change of clothing, toiletries. We may help them if they need medications and then we'll try to assess, you know, where the best place for them to go is. We don't make decisions about custody but we'll try to ascertain whether or not they were in foster care or Child Protective Services, whether they have a family to go back to, what the situations were, and then we'll try to work whenever, wherever they end up to make sure that they get all the services that they need. Sometimes for some kids - human trafficking victims, sexual trafficking victims - the pimps will tattoo the victims; they will mark them with their own mark so they belong to them. So one of the things that we've done quite frequently is to help victims find medical services that will remove those tattoos. A lot of kids have been on the street from the time they were young teenagers and, you know, it's...they're limited in terms of what they can do and in terms of careers and support at that point in time, so one of the things we'll do is try to help them get into GED programs if it's not appropriate or comfortable for them to go back into a middle school or a high school. A lot of challenges for these kids. Unfortunately they're often very invisible. I think they're becoming more visible with education and awareness around the, around the country, so it's a big issue and a big priority for us.

Lewis: Now, what's that time span like, you know. I mean obviously this isn't something that you do for just a few days, when you're supporting children or even victims in general, so can you give us an idea of, you know, how long it is that you spend with children to help make sure and support them and help them out?

Turman: Well it could vary - it depends on the case. Sometimes our involvement starts with the forensic child interviewer. Well we have those in our program who will conduct the investigative interviews for the agents with kids. They will do an assessment of the child's psychological well-being. Also, particularly if it's a teenager, make sure they're not suicidal, or if they are, to get help. They'll link them immediately with the victim specialist. The victim specialist will work with the child and with their parent or guardian, will support them throughout the investigation, help them get medical care, help them get mental healthcare that's appropriate for kids and their families. If they go to trial we'll provide support, as I mentioned before, for them throughout the life of the case, and sometimes the needs are...I mean, people react very differently, and some kids have different reactions. I remember a number of years ago we had a little girl whose father had sexually abused her and put her images online for the whole world to see. They were being distributed all around the world and he was prosecuted. The child testified against him, and then after the trial was over and he was sentenced she wanted to change her name - she didn't want to have the same last name as her father because there had been a lot of publicity around him, around the case, so we were able to use our emergency funds to pay for the court fees for her to go through a legal name change, and it meant a lot to her.

Lewis: So you actually have a personal experience helping a child out that was a victim of abuse. Do you mind sharing that with us today?

Turman: Yeah, I like to share this example because it wasn't necessarily in the role of my job that this happened, but I was, some years ago, walking down a street near Dupont Circle in DC and I noticed a young boy - he was about 13-14 - sitting on a railing outside of a building and he had a backpack with him, and he just didn't look right, he didn't look like he fit in the neighborhood. There was something that just wasn't right, so I stopped and turned back and went to him and just asked if he was okay. He said he was fine but I gave him my card with my phone number and said "If you need something, if you have a problem, you know, you need help, give me a call." So two days later, he called at my office and I went and met him at a McDonald's, and he had run away from an uncomfortable home situation. Mom had recently remarried, his stepdad was abusive to him, so he ran away. Never been...he was in from a nice quiet neighborhood, nice childhood up until then, and was totally unprepared for what he was going to deal with on the street. So I was able to take him to a youth services organization that provides shelter and services for runaway and thrown away kids. They were able to get him some medical assistance and some services, because he had been assaulted while he was on the street, and then arranged for him to go and stay with his grandparents.

Lewis: So, based off of everything that you said, especially with this personal experience, you must have a message or maybe advice that you could give to our listeners, especially, you know, how we're recognizing this month as the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Turman: Well I think there's many forms of victimization, particularly involving children and sometimes vulnerable adults. So, you know, when you hear people talk about terrorism and terrorism prevention in countries like Israel and here - you know, if you see something, say something - I think we have to do the same thing with vulnerable citizens in our own communities. If something doesn't feel right, if it doesn't seem right then say something, do something, call the local police, call Child Protective Services. You have immunity for making a good faith report even if it turns out later to be unfounded. But I think I would much rather err on the side of doing the right thing to protect a child than maybe make a mistake and then, or to leave a child in a situation for years and years and years, which we've seen a lot. We've seen recently...recent years kids that have been held in captivity and have been tortured for many years.

Lewis: So I wanted to move on to maybe talk about some of the recruiting needs and talk about training for your team, and so if I wanted to be a victim specialist with the FBI, what kind of experience and background do you look for for potential applicants?

Turman: For our victim specialists or...and we have several other positions in our program that work directly with victims of crime providing services, so we look for people who have to have at least a Bachelor's in social and behavioral science, so social work, sociology, psychology, counseling, something like that, and then three years experience working with victims of violent crime. Sometimes we hire people who have had that experience as child protective service workers; they may have worked in the military in a family advocacy role, they may have worked in a prosecutor or police office, police department in victim services, rape crisis centers, domestic violence centers as well. So we do take into account volunteer work - that will sometimes be a credit toward that type of experience. So we really look for people who have that sort of foundational knowledge on trauma and how trauma impacts people in the best methodologies for serving victims of crime and other victims of trauma. And we look for people who also have that sort of ethical base and foundation that comes with those professions. A lot of our folks are licensed social workers; not all of them are though.

Lewis: So a victim specialist, when once they get in the door then and they're hired, obviously the training doesn't stop for them. So what...which training...what's that training evolution like for a victim specialist?

Turman: When we have new people who come on board, they go through the sort of general FBI orientation but then there's a separate orientation to our program. We do a lot of professional development - individual and group. We encourage every victim specialist, every employee, to identify the kinds of issues that they may need training on. Someone may have worked with a lot of rape victims at a rape crisis center but they may not have worked with child victims or families of homicide victims or terrorism victims, so we afford individual training opportunities. We also, at least once a month, have a webinar - what we call a roundtable online - with all of our folks, whoever can join, and then we do regional conferences and we try to do an annual conference as well. So we're always pushing out information because we want to stay kind of on the cutting edge of the victim services field.

Lewis: Do you actually have a need for victim specialists or even other, different roles on your team right now?

Turman: Sure, always. And when I first came to this program we had five people and me and now we have 226. Counting the folks out in the field, we have forensic child interviewers, which requires a little bit higher level of training and a specialization in child development, in child trauma, but we also have victim services coordinators who work with victims of terrorism and mass violence, particularly cases overseas, and we also hire program managers. They're folks that have usually run victim service programs - they've been around a while, a lot of experience, and they come here to headquarters and their job is to sort of shepherd a region of victim specialists out in the field to provide them with information and support and training and information. And then we also have been, in recent years, hiring non-victim services professionals for jobs like management and program analysts, victim notification specialists, tech - you know, IT people, because we're doing more and more in terms of communicating with victims using information technology. We're always looking toward the future for that. So we've really broadened our opportunities quite a bit.

Lewis: So, before we move on to the last part of our discussion, I again just wanted to welcome everyone who's watched the session so far and our broadcast so far, and thanks everyone for just recently joining us. I'm Steve Lewis with the Office of Public Affairs and we are close to wrapping up our discussion with the FBI's Victim Services Division and Assistant Director Kathryn Turman, and with us also are our two crisis response canines, Geo and Wally, as well. So if you do have any questions that you want to ask as we start to wrap up, there's still some time, so please feel free to type them into the comments box or use the hashtag #askFBI. We actually did get a question from Facebook - Glenn, thanks for asking. Glenn asks, what specific branches within the FBI deals with exploitation, and how would you apply once you're accepted into the Bureau?

Turman: That's a little bit of a larger question, but I will tell you we have a Violent Crimes Against Children section that's part of the Criminal Investigative Division here in the FBI. They're close partners of ours. We actually have some staff, some child victim services coordinators, that sit with them out in their office in Maryland. A lot of people who come in - particularly as an agent - will work a lot of different types of crime. If they're interested in child exploitation or other crimes against children there's often an opportunity to apply to go into those sections or units - there are multiple units. They can also work these cases out in the field as well, because a lot of the cases originate in the field so there's always...in every field office there are multiple agents that handle crimes against children and child sexual exploitation.

Lewis: So that's one of the things I think that's great, you know, as far as all the different variety of opportunities that we have. And so, it looks like we do have another final question before we do finally wrap up for the day here. So we have a question from Carlson on Facebook, and Carlson asks, what should citizens do better to help identify human trafficking? And I think you may, you might have talked about this a little bit when we were talking about our human trafficking awareness.

Turman: You know, I think sometimes these victims are visible. I mean, there are certain cities in the United States where you can go to and you can see young people and even adults being trafficked on the street. Sometimes it's more hidden but I think just being aware of it, looking for opportunities - almost most communities now, particularly large communities, have human trafficking task forces and coalitions and things like that. They often look for volunteers; there may be opportunities to help support some NGOs, some nongovernmental organizations. That's what we found are the needs of these individuals, are often great and they need housing, they need medical care, they need education, they need mental health counseling, and a lot of times the services aren't...they're not there in many communities. So I was talking to an agent about a year ago who had been working with a coalition. He had been asked to go and speak at, I think, a church or a synagogue, and they ended up - one of the members of the church - ended up donating an estate, basically a large home with a swimming pool and a tennis court and some outbuildings as a shelter, and not even just a shelter but sort of a rehabilitation center...

Lewis: That's incredible.

Turman:...for victims of human trafficking in that area. So, you know, I think just to be aware of it in your community, take opportunities to, you know, talk to your local police force, find out what they're doing, and see what kinds of information and tips they may need.

Lewis: Well perfect - thank you so much for that. And so, you know, this is a good opportunity to sign off for our session, and so I wanted to thank you, Assistant Director Kathryn Turman, for joining us. And again, Kathryn Turman is part of the FBI's Victim Assistance Division, and I also wanted to obviously thank Wally and Geo, our crisis response canines. I'm not sure if you folks can see them on the scene right now. What we'll do one final, kind of...there you go. So there's....

Turman: Pretty relaxed.

Lewis: Right. So actually, yeah, so we'll have you see them real quick. There they are - there's Wally and Geo, so again they're our crisis response canines who...it's been a great program for us so far. So again, thank the room for joining us. I do want to point out a couple resources for you essentially to follow following this broadcast. So first one is fbi.gov - so a lot of the information that we talked about today is on fbi.gov. But also, more importantly, as well, for those who are interested in applying for positions, there also is FBIJobs.gov. So two great places for information. And again, please continue to follow us on Facebook. You know, we will have another Facebook live session coming up, so thanks again for tuning in and please have a good afternoon.

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