It’s usually the criminals, and not their victims, who get the most attention from authorities. But the city is now directing concern to the people who need it the most by providing special advocates to care for vulnerable victims of every crime, in every police precinct.
Over the next three years, 157 victims' allies will be assigned to precincts across the city—two or more to a station house. The specially-trained advocates will review police files and follow-up with victims who could be traumatized, be in further danger, feel angry, isolated and be confused about how to proceed after a life-threatening situation.
In 2011, funding had been cut for Safe Horizon, an organization that’s provided victim-focused resources since 1984, forcing them to downsize on its programs such as care for the children of people going through the court system. But last week, a massive expansion was announced, marking the launch of the new and largest Crime Victim Assistance Program in the country.
One significant shift will be that the advocates will reach out to victims who report crimes or who are named in police reports, instead of expecting victims to seek help for themselves.
“Sometimes they need to be told that they are victims of crimes and that there is help available,” Safe Horizon Vice President Maureen Curtis told Metro.
Each station house will have one advocate trained to handle domestic abuse issues, and another generalist advocate to attend to victims of robbery, harassment, assaults and other issues, such as elder abuse.
“Sometimes we think only the victims of domestic abuse or sexual abuse have trauma, but we know that all victims of crimes experience trauma,” Curtis said.
Some people heal quickly, she explained, yet others need someone to talk to who can also tell them what their rights and options are. The advocates help victims navigate the labyrinthine criminal justice system, the public housing system and benefits system, and even health care options.
“To have that support to deal with their trauma, I can't say enough about how powerful that can be,” Curtis said. “This program has the power to change the landscape of victim’s life.”
There are currently 13 precincts that have the victim’s advocates, with another 13 planned for November. By 2018, every one of NYC’s 77 precincts will have advocates working alongside the police.
Not only will the advocates help the victims, but the additional benefit will be that the victims can better assist the police and the criminal justice system.
“We are beginning the healing process for crime victims at the earliest point in their interactions with us,” New York Police Commissioner James P. O’Neil stated in a news release. “The relationships formed will enable victims to participate in the criminal justice system in a new way, with active support and with a better understanding of the process and increased access to services.”