Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Beyond the Physical Damage of Violent Crime

By Julie Nauman, VCGCB Executive Officer

It has been said that pain and suffering are natural elements of the universal human condition. Most of us will experience some degree of trauma in our lifetime, but our responses to that trauma will vary significantly based on a variety of factors including genetics, disposition, temperament, and early home life. Mental health professionals cannot pinpoint a single, universal reason that some victims display more resilience to the crippling effects of trauma; however, they do know that there is a strong link between violent crime and ensuing psychological distress. For this reason, mental health services can be a critical resource for victims.

On the heels of recent tragedies like the Isla Vista shooting and the Reynolds High attack in Troutdale, OR, it is certainly important to consider the factors that may cause criminal conduct and to address the role of our mental health system in violence prevention; yet, it is equally important to address the well-being of victims and to recognize the host of mental health challenges they face as a result of violent crime.

Over one-third of California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) payouts are mental health-related. Last year, the program provided over $21 million to crime victims for mental health expenses alone, proof that physical injury is far from the only major impact of violent crime.

CalVCP Staff Psychologist Dr. James Kent explains that violent crime leaves behind not just tangible scars, but also serves as a mental reminder that the world isn’t as orderly and safe as we’d like to believe. As victims attempt to cope with the aftermath of a violent crime, they may experience debilitating psychological and emotional effects that persist long after physical wounds have healed. According to Dr. Kent, symptom responses can include anxiety, depression, diminished self-esteem, self-fault, increased dependence, feelings of incompetence. Victimization can also result in shock, numbness, denial, hyper-vigilance, anger or irritability, detachment or estrangement of others, memory loss or forgetfulness, sleeping disorders, and recurring flashbacks or intrusive thoughts. Child victims have been known to suffer long-term mental health effects leading to poor academic performance, aggression, antisocial behavior, and substance abuse.

CalVCP is dedicated to assisting victims with expenses related to inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment that is necessary as a direct result of a qualifying violent crime. In addition, minors who suffer emotional injuries from witnessing a violent crime may be eligible for up to $5,000 in mental health counseling. This filing status can be especially valuable in instances such as school shootings, when a minor witness is not related to the victim but was in close proximity to the crime. By providing financial assistance and resources, CalVCP strives to promote healing and allow victims the opportunity to restore their lives to their fullest potential.


To learn more about the mental health benefits available through CalVCP, watch our Victim Services Talk Series (Ep. 4, "Mental Health Services for Victims") or visit our Victim Issues webpage.


Julie Nauman is the Executive Officer for the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board (VCGCB). VCGCB provides compensation for victims of violent crime and helps to resolve claims against the State.

Friday, June 27, 2014

9 Ways You Could Be Inviting Cybercrime

By Julie Nauman, VCGCB Executive Officer

We teach our children to use the buddy system. We remind them to look both ways before crossing the street. We instruct them not to accept gifts from strangers. But one of the most dangerous threats of all lies in the place many of us consider to be the safest: our own home.

Despite all of the precautions we take to protect our families and safeguard our residences, none of us are immune to the risks of the internet. Our computers, smartphones, and tablets allow us to access boundless information and communicate with people all over the world; unfortunately, these virtual connections also expose our vulnerabilities and leave us open to online predators.

In honor of National Internet Safety Month this June, here are a few common ways that you may be inviting cybercriminals into your home, and what you can do to safeguard yourself and your family from identity theft, fraud, harassment, cyberstalking, and more.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mending the Sacred Hoop: Native American Victims’ Services

Native Americans are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault than any other race, and one in three American Indian women reports having been raped during her lifetime.1 Although they suffer some of the highest abuse rates of any group in the United States, Native Americans remain significantly underrepresented in the victim services community. Cultural and linguistic obstacles, as well as a lack of physical access to services, keep many from reporting crimes, while a deep-seated mistrust of the justice system and unclear legal jurisdiction2 prevent others from coming forward.

In an effort to reshape this status quo, passionate advocates like Mary Thompson, Domestic Violence Advocate and Cultural Coordinator at the Sacramento Native American Health Center (SNAHC), are working hard to reach out to underserved Native American communities in Northern California. The Sacramento Native American Health Center is a comprehensive clinic that provides wraparound services to improve the health and well-being of Native American Indians. As the only Native American clinic in the greater Sacramento region with a cultural component, the SNAHC works with women, men, and families to promote a holistic approach to victim healing and recovery.

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.

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.

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:

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.