Thursday, April 24, 2014

Innovation in Victims’ Services: Courthouse Dogs

In many ways, Aloha is just like any other playful pup. She loves to roll in the grass, chase her handler’s young daughters, and chew on her favorite red toy. But Aloha is not your average dog. She is a courthouse dog; an extraordinary canine who provides paws-itive support to victims of violent crime. The one and a half-year-old Australian multigenerational labradoodle, with her captivating green eyes and a bright pink nose, is one of two companion dogs that serve the Yolo County District Attorney’s office.

From right: Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, Government Operations Agency Secretary Marybel Batjer, and County Victim Services Program Manager Laura Valdes, with Aloha
District Attorney Jeff Reisig introduced the working dog program to Yolo County in 2008. The concept developed out of the notion that dogs — as man’s best friends — might provide a comforting and reassuring presence to crime survivors during victim/witness interviews and courtroom interrogations.

Aloha was bred and trained at Gabby Jack Ranch, a nonprofit organization out of Penn Valley, California that provides service, therapy and comfort dogs for people with physical and/or emotional challenges. She began her service training when she was just ten weeks old with Training Coordinator Terry Sandhoff, and is now part of an elite team formally known as High Performance Therapy (HPT) Dogs focused specifically on aiding the victim services community. In order to most effectively support survivors, who often suffer enduring psychological disabilities such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Aloha has undergone extensive, specialized training focused on the needs of victim services.
“Therapy dogs help people victimized by others to open up, tell someone and turn their traumatic events into personal triumph.”
—Gabby Jack Ranch founder and CEO Jacque Reynolds

Canine companions like Aloha are trained to assist crime victims and witnesses as they prepare for court and while testifying in trials, as well as to build courage and confidence in their ability to open up about the crimes they have been too afraid or too ashamed to face. In addition, the temperament, intelligence and friendly dispositions of HPT dogs make them very successful in comforting both adults and children alike. For kids, pups like Aloha serve as “a friend to whom they can share all of the horrors, tell all of their fears and receive non-judgmental and unconditional acceptance,” shares Gabby Jack Ranch founder and CEO Jacque Reynolds.

Aloha currently supports survivors through the victim/witness interview process, and she has completed training to accompany both child and adult victims to court. In addition to providing physical comfort, her presence serves to lessen the distress and re-traumatization associated with the often lengthy legal process. To this day, Aloha has lent her gentle, loving presence to more than 45 unique cases ranging from a twelve year-old child victim of sexual abuse to a 51 year-old, mentally disabled rape victim.

As we continue our observance of Crime Victims’ Rights Month, we commend Yolo County for its continued commitment to placing victims as a top priority and its creative innovation in the victim services community. “Victims don’t remember our names, but they don’t forget Aloha,” notes Laura Valdes, Yolo County Victim Services Program Manager. The statement is a testament to the value of the comfort dog program as an emerging avenue of hope and healing for victims of crime.

California Victim Compensation Program Logo
The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) provides compensation for victims of violent crime. CalVCP provides eligible victims with reimbursement for many crime-related expenses. CalVCP funding comes from restitution paid by criminal offenders through fines, orders, penalty assessments and federal matching funds.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Lost Children of Cambodia: Part 2

Last week, Kristin opened our eyes to the crisis of child exploitation in Cambodia. In part two of our blog series, she exposes some of the horrendous crimes against children that are occurring in Phnom Penh every day, while also revealing inspiring stories of hope and transformation emerging out of one of the darkest corners of the world.

As you mentioned last week, you volunteered at the Agape’s Rahab’s House, which helps and heals child victims of sex trafficking. Walk us through a typical day there.

The center serves 100+ kids at any given time. From 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., we worked with kids who have graduated from the program. From 11 a.m. to noon, we would visit brick factory workers or impoverished families. We would bring them enough rice for a month, soap, mosquito nets, and blankets. At noon, we would eat lunch with the graduates and children at the center. Then from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., we hosted a kids camp for the children of Phnom Penh and brick factory children. During kids camp, we would host activities, games, and crafts. This part of the day was always my favorite. It was the moment that you could see children—those you knew would be trafficked that very night—laugh and start to understand that there are people out there who do not want to hurt them. Sometimes a mere high five from one of the campers could make your day.

Kristin (third from left) with AIM staff at the Rahab's House facility in Siem Reap
Through this center, AIM communicates that if anything ever harms them, there is a safe, good place they can come to. AIM’s outreach efforts are about building relationships, community, and overall helping and healing victims.

What will you remember most about your time at the center?

The most rewarding part of my trip was meeting the warriors on the front line, the survivors of trade, and knowing that by just being there, I was helping. It was the interactions that I will remember.

Are there any interactions in particular that stand out in your mind?

A personal favorite of mine was with a girl at the center. I can’t remember her name, but I will remember her face forever. She was rescued from sex trafficking by AIM. She was shy and could not speak English but every day we were there she would stay on the outskirts of the room with a timid smile. For me, her being there was enough reason to make the journey. On my last day at the center, one of the graduates translated for us. I was so blessed to be able to finally communicate encouragement to her and let her know that others around the world do care about her; that she is significant, cared about, and that we want to see her thrive. For me, that will be one of my best moments of my life.

Another great one was how I saw that helping others transcends language barriers. I was sitting with a little boy at the riverfront, and we were playing with dominos. He didn’t speak English, but I would say “one” and point to the corresponding domino and he would repeat “one.” Then he would say “moy” [holds up a finger], and I would repeat “moy” [holds up a finger]. We continued to do this throughout our game to teach each other. When it comes to human connection, that’s what matters; that’s what I will remember. It was the coolest moment because you realize, you’re a human, I’m a human (no matter how different our lives may be).

I’m sure they will remember you for the rest of their lives, too. It’s inspiring to hear how you and the rest of the AIM staff are generating tangible, positive change in the community. Are there any victories that you hold particularly close to your heart?

One of my favorite stories is of a girl named Toah, who entered the trade around the age of 14. She was locked up in a brothel and somehow was able to gain access to a phone. She had heard of AIM and that it would help get (trafficked) girls like her out of their situation. She called Don Brewster (the head of AIM) asking for him to rescue her. It takes a couple of days to complete the legal rescue process, and when the AIM team finally went to raid the brothel, it was empty. Somebody had tipped them off. Shortly after that failed attempt, Don got another call. “Can you come get me?” asked the young voice on the other end. “They let me go because I told them Papa Don was coming to get me.”

Toah was only enslaved for 22 days, but during that time she was raped 198 times. However, because of the efforts of Don and Bridget Brewster—two people who decided to take a stand—she was freed. It’s stories like this that you have to hold onto, especially when so many fall through.

What was the most difficult aspect of your journey?

Seeing children sold right in front of our eyes and not being able to do anything about it. At the riverfront camp, creepy guys would come and sit and lustfully look at the kids. At one point, I watched a mom coach a little girl how to walk in front of a John. As she glided by in her blue nightgown, she flashed her perfectly practiced smile as she tried to not wobble in her platform sandals. As soon as she passed him, her face dropped. It was so heartbreaking to watch.

How do you handle that? It would make me so angry.

It’s draining. The injustice makes you angry, but you use that as fuel to push past the emotional exhaustion to help the kids. Being there is not about you. It’s about the kids. It’s about the staff that is there 386 days a year. It’s about doing the most you can with the time that you do have there. It’s not easy. We all broke down at some point during the trip. But I have no hatred for anyone there. It is such a multifaceted, complex issue, and there’s not one way to solve it. There’s no way to heal it tomorrow. It’s about teaching compassion and changing hearts that have been hardened. It’s amazing how you can affect someone without even knowing it.

You mentioned that you don’t harbor any hatred—not even towards the pimps who exploit the poor and vulnerable or the Johns who willingly purchase the children?

It’s difficult, definitely, but they are people too. You don’t know what happened that made them that way.

Despite the horrific acts you witnessed and challenges you faced as an "outsider" fighting the status quo, would you return to Phnom Penh?

Absolutely. It was so inspiring to see what can happen if two people do stand up for basic human rights and alter their lives to see it through. Don and Bridget Brewster are the people who truly make a sustainable long-term difference in the world. It was such a blessing to be able to help them. When they first came to Cambodia, it was estimated that 100% of the female children were being trafficked in Phnom Penh. Today they estimate that it is down to 60%. That is a direct reflection of how hard their team works and how the tide is changing. It also means that we have to work even harder to ensure that we can reach that 60%. That is exactly why I have signed up to go back this July. There is still work to be done. So thank you for joining with us in the fight against injustice.

For information about “Every Day in Cambodia,” visit the CNN Freedom Project.

Want to get involved in the fight against child sex trafficking in Cambodia? Visit Agape International Missions (AIM).

California Victim Compensation Program Logo
The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) provides compensation for victims of violent crime. CalVCP provides eligible victims with reimbursement for many crime-related expenses. CalVCP funding comes from restitution paid by criminal offenders through fines, orders, penalty assessments and federal matching funds.

Monday, April 7, 2014

SAVE Celebrates National Youth Violence Prevention Week and 25 Years of SAVEing Youth

By Carleen Wray, Executive Director of SAVE

Students Against Violence Everywhere, better known as SAVE, started at West Charlotte High School in Charlotte, N.C. in 1989 following the tragic death of a student who was trying to break up a fight at an off-campus party. Students met first to console each other, then formed an organization to promote youth safety working together to prevent future incidents from occurring.

From that one high school chapter, SAVE has grown into a nationwide nonprofit — the National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere, dedicated to decreasing the potential for violence in our schools and communities across the country. Today, more than 200,000 students are directly involved in SAVE programs at their middle school, high school and college chapters.

This week SAVE chapters across the country will participate in National Youth Violence Prevention Week April 7 to 11. SAVE has partnered with five likeminded organizations to sponsor the week. Each day during the week corresponds to a specific challenge presented by one of the sponsors and executed by youth around the country. Information about each sponsor and an example of suggested daily activities follows:
  • Monday, April 7: Promoting Respect and Tolerance
    • Students will host a cultural day where dress, customs and food from around the world are celebrated. Other schools will ask students to get to know another student of a different background to help increase understanding as well as promote respect and tolerance.
    • The day is sponsored by Teaching Tolerance, an organization dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting equitable school experiences for children.
  • Tuesday, April 8: Manage Your Anger, Don’t Let it Manage You
    • Students will participate in a contest between grade levels to see which can get the most students to sign a pledge to remain fight-free. Additional activities will teach healthy ways to release anger and stress, such as exercising or role playing.
    • The day is sponsored by American School Counselor Organization, an organization that supports school counselors' focus on student development so they are prepared to lead fulfilling lives as responsible members of society.
  • Wednesday, April 9: Resolve Conflicts Peacefully
    • Some schools will plan, direct and star in a public service announcement on ways to manage and resolve conflicts peacefully. Others will create peer meditation programs.
    • Sponsored by the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which aims to ensure each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
  • Thursday, April 10: Support Safety
    • Students will participate in a SPEAK UP-themed contest in which they design posters promoting the anonymous and free 1-866-SPEAK-UP national hotline for students to report weapon threats at schools.
    • Sponsored by the Center to Prevent Youth Violence, an innovative organization whose mission is to end the crisis of youth violence in America.
  • Friday, April 11: Unite in Action
    • To finish out the week, students will unite in action as they engage in service projects, create peace murals and mentor younger classmates. Some will also start a student-patrolled school crime watch program and anonymous process to report safety threats.
    • The final day is sponsored by Youth Service America, an organization that improves communities by increasing the number and the diversity of volunteer opportunities for youth age 5 to 25 around the globe.

In addition to participating in National Youth Violence Prevention Week, SAVE is celebrating 25 years of engaging, empowering and educating youth in violence prevention techniques. Since its inception in 1989, SAVE has mentored and provided resources, confidence and support to empower student leadership and help make their schools and communities violence-free. Marking the 25th Anniversary, SAVE is kicking off a fundraising campaign aimed at raising $25,000 to support chapters and safer schools in more than 125 schools across the country.

The 25th anniversary fundraising campaign is being held through, the world’s largest online campaigning platform solely for nonprofits. The $25,000 goal aims to empower students to end violence and bullying in schools. The funds will cover the cost to establish or renew 125 SAVE chapters at U.S. elementary, middle and high schools and colleges. Interested schools can complete the quick application on the fundraising website. Interested donors can learn more about SAVE’s 25th anniversary campaign at the National Association of SAVE page on

For more information on SAVE or starting a SAVE chapter, visit the National SAVE website, or contact SAVE at (866) 343-SAVE to receive free start-up materials and guidance.

Carleen Wray is the Executive Director of the National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE). SAVE is a nonprofit organization that strives to decrease the potential for violence in our schools and communities by promoting student involvement in crime prevention, conflict management, and service learning activities.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Lost Children of Cambodia: Part 1

It’s no secret that human trafficking is a worldwide epidemic. Increasing public awareness, political activism, and media engagement have allowed us to better identify and assist victims, but human trafficking remains a complex problem without a simple solution. This is especially true in Phnom Penh, where the sexual exploitation of children is unparalleled. In the bustling capital city of Cambodia, kids as young as four and five years old are regularly sold for sex with grown men. Why are parents trading their daughters into slavery, and why is the government allowing this appalling abuse to happen?

To shed light on the growing problem of child sex trafficking in Cambodia, the CNN Freedom Project recently released “Every Day in Cambodia,” a documentary featuring Academy Award-winning actress and UNODC Goodwill Ambassador for Global Fight against Human Trafficking Mira Sorvino, that profiles two organizations actively working to prevent sex trafficking: Agape International Missions (AIM) and 3Strands.

Founded by activists Don and Bridget Brewster, AIM is a California-based nonprofit focused on ending the evil of child sexual slavery in Cambodia. The mission of AIM is to prevent, rescue, restore, and reintegrate.

Kristin Damask, a local community member and humanitarian, recently participated in AIM’s global outreach program, where she was able to experience firsthand the crisis in Cambodia. For two weeks, Kristin volunteered at AIM Restoration Home for formerly trafficked children, and upon returning, she shared with us both the horrific acts and the emerging hope she witnessed in Phnom Penh.

What inspired you to make this journey?

I was first exposed to the harsh reality of sex trafficking after my friend, Liv, came back from Cambodia. She shared firsthand accounts of the atrocities that were happening to defenseless children—stories of graphic, perverse cruelty that were happening to girls younger than my six year old niece. I knew that I had to do something to help stop this from happening to little girls that did not have overprotective aunts.

How pervasive is this problem of child sex trafficking in Cambodia?

Kristin (center) in Cambodia
It was blatantly transparent when I was there in November. Our team could not go out to dinner without walking past several pedophiles that were eating dinner with a young girl they had bought. In our hotel I would see men leaving rooms with girls that appeared to be around ten to 14. It was like we were the ones out of place by trying to help the victims of sex trafficking, rather than the customers who were participating in the crime.

Are there boys who are trafficked?

Yes. It’s less common, but there are boys that are forced into sex trafficking as well. I saw this more transparently the day we spent working with Hard Places Community, which targets street kids most likely to become victims. While volunteering there I was able to interact with a few boys that had been trafficked.

What are the most common ways that children enter the trade?

There are numerous ways that the children become victims of sex trafficking. Several are sold by their family into the trade or even by a neighbor. In most cases, this is to pay off a debt. Some are kidnapped from Vietnam or Thailand and brought into Cambodia. Some children, not knowing what they are doing, sell themselves to provide for their families.

It sounds horrible to us, who live in a wealthy first-world country, but it's not a simple, surface-level issue. It is out of desperation. Several of the families in Cambodia live on a dollar a day. If they need medical attention, they take on loans with high interest rates that are impossible to pay off. When they get in over their heads, that's when the loan sharks come around to collect—either their money or their daughters.

You also have to understand that the parents themselves have faced trauma in their lives. Several of them grew up during the Khmer Rouge genocide that tortured and murdered 1.7 million of Cambodia's populace. Many kids (now parents) were even forced to kill their own families.

Why does the government allow this abuse to persist?

Corruption runs deep. That's not to say that there aren’t good cops or government officials that want to see the change take place, but there are several bad seeds that prevent the protection of the children. I have even heard of a story where a cop's wife ran a brothel while her husband worked to protect it from the law.

A game changer would be to allow undercover surveillance in the prosecution of brothel owners and their customers. Currently they are allowed in drug cases, but not in prosecuting against sex trafficking.

AIM is involved not only in the rescue of victims, but in their restoration and reintegration as well. What happens after a child is rescued from a brothel?

AIM will evaluate each child to find the program that will best suit their well-being. Most will go straight to AIM’s Restoration Center where they can be given not only therapy, healthcare, and education, but freedom from what has happened to them. This is accomplished through a holistic healing program that showers them with love and rebuilds their self-worth using a Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach.

At this center, the girls have access to Agape Training Center. Through this program Agape builds up their skills and knowledge to allow them to enter trades that will not exploit or harm them. After graduating from the program, the older girls can be reintegrated into society if it is deemed safe. If not, AIM helps them find housing, whether it is in AIM’s safe house or in the community.

AIM also serves several of the girls through the AIM Employment Center, which provides not only job opportunities, but also several services to help the girls thrive. AIM offers free continuing education, meals, child care, and a community. This center produces the 3Strands and AIM Apparel products.

Join us next week as we continue our conversation with Kristin and delve deeper into the realities of child sex trafficking in Cambodia.

California Victim Compensation Program Logo
The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) provides compensation for victims of violent crime. CalVCP provides eligible victims with reimbursement for many crime-related expenses. CalVCP funding comes from restitution paid by criminal offenders through fines, orders, penalty assessments and federal matching funds.

My Story Could Be Yours: Sexual Assault Awareness PSA the California Victim Compensation Program commemorates the entire month of April to Crime Victims’ Rights, it is as important to bring attention to and raise awareness for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  CalVCP is committed to reaching out to educate the public about sexual assault and resources available to victims and survivors for assistance and healing.

Please watch and share our new video public service announcement, My Story Could Be Yours, and help us spread the word about sexual assault.

California Victim Compensation Program Logo
The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) provides compensation for victims of violent crime. CalVCP provides eligible victims with reimbursement for many crime-related expenses. CalVCP funding comes from restitution paid by criminal offenders through fines, orders, penalty assessments and federal matching funds.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Crime Victims' Rights Month: The Attention Belongs to Victims

According to the California Attorney General’s Office, over 440 violent crimes are reported in California each day. During April, CalVCP observes California Crime Victims’ Rights Month (CVRM) to honor, recognize, support, and advocate for survivors of violence.

In a time when much attention is placed on the criminal offenders, and even offender rights, it is imperative that we bring focus back to the victims who need it. This year’s CVRM theme, “Victims’ Rights, Victims’ First,” underscores the need to make victims’ rights a top priority.

Violent crime does not discriminate; it can affect anybody, in any community. During CVRM, our hope is not only to raise awareness, but to inspire action. We encourage everyone to take the time to learn about your rights and the services available to you and your loved ones.

CalVCP will honor victims and thank those who assist them throughout a number of activities during Crime Victims’ Rights Month. We encourage you to join and participate:

  • County Observances — CalVCP will join county officials across the state to honor both victims and the advocates who help guide survivors through the justice process and direct them to critical resources.
  • Podcasts — CalVCP will release a series of short interviews with courageous survivors who will share their experiences and describe their healing process.
  • Victims’ Rights Digital Town Hall — CalVCP will host an online town hall discussion addressing a variety of topics, including how to reach the underserved through collaborative efforts.
  • CVRM April 2014 Public Service Announcement — This video features California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris speaking to survivors, advocates, and community leaders on the important work being done to prevent crime, provide services to victims, and honor the lives of those lost to violent crimes.
  • Blogs — CalVCP will post a number of guest blogs examining issues, personal stories, and helpful tools and services, written by respected leaders in the victims’ rights community.
  • Denim Day — On Wednesday, April 23rd, CalVCP and millions across the nation will wear denim as a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault.

For more information, visit CalVCP's California Crime Victims’ Rights Month website.

California Victim Compensation Program Logo
The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) provides compensation for victims of violent crime. CalVCP provides eligible victims with reimbursement for many crime-related expenses. CalVCP funding comes from restitution paid by criminal offenders through fines, orders, penalty assessments and federal matching funds.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cycle of Crisis: Already Facing an Uphill Battle, Foster Care Children Targeted by Traffickers Too

By Rosario Dowling, Program Director & Jay Rivera, Communications Manager, CAS (Californians Against Slavery) Research & Education

Every day in California, 70 children enter the foster care system for the first, second or third time depending on each specific case. Most children enter the system as victims of physical/sexual abuse, neglect, the lack of essential needs, or abandonment. These are also well-known indicators of vulnerability for a potential sex trafficking victim.

Where are our foster care children being housed? In out-of-home placements, group homes, juvenile hall, and homeless on our streets. In Sacramento alone, two of the children’s receiving homes are situated along “tracks” of pimping and pandering. It is no wonder that 75% of the girls that I have come in contact with in juvenile hall are from foster care and in a cycle of endless visits to our states’ juvenile court system.

A recent House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) hearing on Feb. 26, titled, “The State of Efforts to Stop Human Trafficking” had a detective testify that 67% of sex trafficked victims were in foster care or in the care of social services. The State of Human Trafficking Report released in 2012 found that 72% of the sex trafficked victims reported were born in the US.

Ending this cycle of crisis isn’t an easy fix but a long term solution that requires the efforts of everyone in the community—not just adoptive parents, emergency placement homes, and respite care homes. Teachers, mentors, role models, friends: become the stability and support that our children need and crave. Intervene on their behalf before the traumatized child becomes the 14% statistic that exits the system of “care” and enters the prison system, as stated in a 2011 Senate Office of Research CA report. We know who and where targeted victims of sex trafficking are. The resources are already in place to combat human trafficking. We cannot blame social services for the ills of our children, if we ourselves are not lining up to care for them.

Rosario Dowling has been a chronic volunteer from an early age, starting as a bilingual tutor in 3rd grade. She believes that championing the “underdog,” especially those in their adolescent years, is vital to the fabric of our community. Besides having the perfect job, she still finds time to volunteer at the Sacramento County Juvenile Hall through Bridge-Network’s Motivated For Change program; mentoring, retraining, and redirecting of current mindsets for better outcomes with male wards in the Placement (group home) Unit. Rosario was an instrumental member of PROPOSITON 35 Team, leading its grassroots effort in Northern California.