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Crime Victims’ Rights Week: An Interview with a Community Victim Liaison

April 15, 2020

By Rachel Friederich

DOC Communications

National Crime Victims' Rights week is April 19–25, 2020. This year’s theme, "Seek Justice | Ensure Victims' Rights | Inspire Hope," celebrates the progress made by advocates who paved the way as we look to a future of crime victim services that is even more inclusive, accessible and trauma-informed. Check out the 2020 NCVR video (youtube video).

Created in 1983, Washington’s Victim Services Program is the oldest corrections-based victim assistance program in the United States.

An Interview

Name: Felita Luna

Number of years worked as a victim liaison: 6 years

Counties served: Clark, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania and Wahkiakum

What is a Community Victim Liaison?

A CVL, or community victim liaison, acts as a liaison between victims or concerned community members and other correctional staff. We advocate on the victim’s behalf, inform victims of their rights, answer questions, address concerns and assist with personal safety planning.

What are some of your duties?

As a CVL, one of our primary duties is to assist victims who have safety concerns regarding someone who is currently under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections. Oftentimes this involves crisis intervention, active listening, providing information (i.e. release date – if the individual is still incarcerated, if there is an active no-contact order, or how to obtain a civil protection order), developing a safety plan and making referrals to local agencies for resources.

CVLs provide case consultations regarding community concerns, partial confinement programming, in-state transfers and offender release plans. We hold victim wrap-around meetings for high-risk cases.

A wrap-around is a meeting facilitated by the CVL in which all of the stakeholders (victim, CVL, classification counselor, community corrections officer, and community partners) meet and discuss the case in detail, work together to mitigate risks and develop a safety plan for the victim.

Many of us sit on Department of Corrections committees such as the End of Sentence Review Committee, Headquarters Community Screening Committee, Critical Incident Stress Management teams and the Community Parenting Alternative Program. CVLs also participate with local domestic violence task force committees.

Why did you decide to become a community victim liaison? Was there ever an “aha!” moment when you knew this type of career is something you wanted to do?

Unfortunately, there was never an “aha” moment for me, I kind of just “fell into the work.” While in college pursuing a degree in criminology, I also attained a victim services certificate. Fresno State was one of the few colleges that offered this specific certification during that time. I never thought I would use the certification.

I began my career with the DOC in 2008 as a community corrections officer. About a year into it, I was laid off. I knew I wanted to continue to work in the criminal justice system, so I applied for a job as a victim advocate with the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office. At the time of my interview, I brought my victim services certificate. It turned out one of the interviewers had also attended the certification course at Fresno State and I was hired soon thereafter. I quickly learned I had a great passion for the work and have continued with it since.

What is the most rewarding part of your job or the part you enjoy most? What makes you want to go to work every day?

The most rewarding part of my job is that I am able to help empower others during a distressful time in their lives. Knowing I am able to help and contribute to society in this way makes me want to show up each day for work.

What is something about your job and/or victim services you don’t think people know about?

Crime victims have statutory rights. These rights are listed in RCW 7.69.030. Some of these rights include the right to feel safe, the right to be informed and the right to provide input. DOC’s Victim Services Program helps ensure such rights are afforded to victims. We assist victims with enrollment for notification of release from incarceration, solicit their input regarding partial confinement programs and release plans and develop a personalized safety plan.

Why is it important to be an advocate for crime victims?

Victims are an important part of the criminal justice system. They often times feel forgotten, lost, distrustful or hopeless. As an advocate, we are there to listen and help communicate their wishes. We also act as a “buffer” so victims are not re-traumatized by the systems that are in place. Advocates connect victims to many resources – medical care, law enforcement, social service agencies and nonprofit organizations focusing on domestic violence/sexual assault prevention, awareness and advocacy.

What is the most difficult or challenging part of your job and how do you meet those challenges?

One of the most challenging parts of our jobs is maintaining “visibility” within the Department. With a smaller unit, it can be challenging to connect with staff in order to educate and train about our program. The Victim Services Program was in the Case Management Academy but was cut out a few years ago to allow for other curriculum. As a result, we have thought of other creative methods to reach staff. We have offered individual unit trainings, shared our PowerPoint presentations with units who have saved them on SharePoint and reached out to new staff individually by sending them a “welcome packet.”

Your job involves hours of travel around the state to meet with community victims and you listen to their stories, often of violence, trauma and abuse. Hearing those stories can be emotionally and physically taxing. How do you cope/ensure work/life balance?

Hearing and reading about trauma each day can be quite taxing. In order to limit secondary trauma, it is important to find healthy outlets. I find talking to my co-workers to debrief after a difficult case is helpful. Spending time with family, exercising regularly and massage therapy have proven to also be helpful.

What advice would you give to someone wishing to enter this career field?

I would advise a new advocate to “care for yourself as you care for others.” Try to be “present” in each moment and ensure you have a good support system – you will need it in this line of work! The work can be challenging but also very rewarding.

What are some ways to learn more about National Crime Victims’ Rights Week?

NCVRW is celebrated annually in April. It is a good time to take a moment to reflect and learn about victimization and the trauma associated with crime that can be long lasting. Pick up a book, listen to a podcast or ask questions.

Some that I recommend are:

It is my hope that community members can learn through these materials, and not first hand, to better understand why trauma is often coupled with violent crime.

The DOC’s Victim Services Program has a list of polices, publications and guides to state laws regarding crime victims’ rights, which can be viewed here. The National Office of Justice Programs also has a National Crime Victims’ Rights Week page.