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Just Thoughts is the blog of the Empire Justice Center, New York’s statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live. Here staff and guest authors will share stories, announcements and perspectives on timely issues related to our work.    



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Calling All Victim Advocates!


As the weather turns cooler and the beauty of the foliage enchants, as the scent of pumpkin spice fills the air and Halloween candy is ever-present, remember to wear purple to raise awareness about domestic violence, and consider volunteering to help the Crime Victims Legal Network.

This October marks the 30th anniversary of national Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM).  DVAM was launched back in 1987 to unite individuals and organizations working on domestic violence issues and to raise awareness of the experiences of these unique victims of crime.  Wearing the color purple during this month, especially on the Thursday during the third full week of October (this year, October 19th), has helped to draw attention to this important issue.  Over the past three decades, we have shined a light on this social injustice that knows no social and economic boundaries, and through grassroots and legislative efforts, have made a significant difference in the lives of intimate partner violence survivors. But our efforts are still needed in support of these victims – and for other victims of crime.

The New York Crime Victims Legal Network (CVLN) is a partnership of organizations working together to better address the civil legal needs of crime victims, including victims of domestic violence.  Crime can have a huge impact on victims and their families.  The emotional reactions to a crime can include a variety of behaviors such as increased concern for personal safety, withdrawal from others, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, and a range of feelings from fear and anxiety to guilt and helplessness.  On top of this, victims of crime may have to face multiple legal problems that stem from their victimization. It can be overwhelming, and many people aren’t sure where to turn.

The CVLN is in the process of developing new tools that will connect victims of crime with the information and services they need.  A dedicated website will have a suite of features including a triage screening tool, legal aid help directory, self-help resource library and live chat.  From the Needs Assessment we conducted last year, we know many crime victims don’t seek help because they don’t know where to go, don’t think that anything can be done to help, or because they think they can deal with things on their own.  The triage tool is being designed to help crime victims identify their legal needs.  For the pilot stage, we are focusing on providing legal resources in the areas of housing, family, employment, immigration, and finances – the top needs identified by victims of crime and service providers.  By offering know your rights and self-help resources, we hope that more crime victims become aware of the options available to them, and through the help directory that they know where they can obtain help with their legal problems.  And to assist users in finding their way around the website, a live chat feature will be available.

To create a product that truly meets the needs of crime victims in New York State, we need feedback from real people.  If you are a victim of a crime who resides in Erie or Genesee County, would you consider becoming part of our Community Insight Group?  We’ll be turning to you at various stages of the development of the website to get your thoughts, opinions, and advice.  Is the website design aesthetically pleasing?  Is the site easy to maneuver?  Is the content helpful?  Your feedback will play an important part in guiding the direction of the website.  User testers will receive a small stipend for their assistance.

Service providers – we can use your help, too!  Please help us recruit user testers.  Reach out to past clients you believe would likely use our site, anyone who could potentially have civil legal issues directly or indirectly stemming from their victimization.  We’re inviting 10-12 people to be a part of this Community Insight Group.  Or you can help by volunteering as a content expert, someone who reviews the legal content being developed for the site and makes sure the resources we offer are useful.  Please email me at rparthasarathy@empirejustice.org if you are interested in helping or for more information.

I hope we can count on your help with the Crime Victims Legal Network.  And don’t forget to wear purple!



This report was produced by the Empire Justice Center & the New York State Office of Victims Services under Grant No. 2014-XV-BX-K009, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.









The Crime Victims Legal Network Project: Moving into the Pilot Phase


Last Spring, the Crime Victims Legal Network Project launched a comprehensive needs assessment to better understand the civil legal needs of crime victims in New York State.  To the hundreds of crime victims and service providers who completed surveys or took part in focus groups and in-depth interviews: Thank you!  I am overwhelmed and gratified by your participation and excited to share the results with you. 

The Crime Victims Legal Network Project is a federally funded partnership between the New York State Office of Victim Services, Empire Justice Center, the Center for Human Services Research at SUNY Albany (CHSR) and Pro Bono Net.  Together with our fourteen-member Advisory Committee, we are working to develop a first- of- its- kind statewide network outside New York City that uses sophisticated technology solutions to make it easier for crime victims to access civil legal aid.

Over a year was spent designing and conducting a multi-phase Needs Assessment, led by our research partner, CHSR.  The Needs Assessment was essential to helping us identify the civil legal problems faced by crime victims, the barriers to seeking help and the role an online resource could play in helping fill the existing gaps in services outside of New York City.  While we had a sense of what these problems and gaps were, we want to create an evidence-based solution that will play a meaningful part in assisting victims of crime and the professionals who work with them.

The response to the surveys was tremendous.  We received 310 responses to the victim of crime survey, and 412 responses to the service provider survey.  Focus groups for both sectors were conducted in nine regions across the State, and civil legal attorney and law school clinical faculty were interviewed.

Here are some highlights of the analysis of the issues, services and challenges in meeting the civil legal needs of victims of crime:

  • Most crime victims faced problems related to money or finances, family and housing as a result of their victimization. 
  • High percentages of victims reported needing help with knowing what services were available and understanding the legal system.
  • Of those who did not seek help to deal with their problems, many indicated that they did not know what services were available or they didn’t think anything could be done.
  • Service providers also indicated that the biggest barrier to meeting the needs of crime victims was victims’ lack of knowledge about the availability of services.
  • Focus group participants and interviewees echoed these responses and highlighted transportation as well as language access and cultural issues as barriers to victims receiving civil legal aid.
  • With regards to the use of technology in helping meet these service needs, most victims indicated that they would, or may, consider using an online tool, and most service providers reported a willingness to refer their clients to an online resource.


The complete report can be found on CHSR’s website.

As the Project Leader, I had the privilege of assisting in four of the focus groups in western New York, and I am humbled by the generosity of all the participants.  The expertise of service providers was astounding, and your recommendations – all of which came from a place of genuine caring – were taken to heart.  And the crime victims?  Your willingness to share some of the most intimate and traumatic experiences of your life to ensure that other crime victims get the help you didn’t is nothing short of incredible.  Thank you, to all the participants.

What’s so exciting is that, now with the analyzed results, we can make sure that the technology solutions developed for the Network Project are truly grounded in the real life needs and preferences of crime victims.  Based on the results, Pro Bono Net, our technology partner, has proposed that the Network’s technology include a website with a suite of features designed to meet the needs of crime victims, and at the same time help civil legal assistance providers in delivering holistic services to their clients.  And that’s what we are starting to develop during this second phase of the Project.

May 1st marked the start of Phase II, the pilot phase of the Network Project.  As we develop the technology, we will be focusing on growing partnerships within the western New York region, specifically in Erie and Genesee counties, the geographic area of the pilot.  Our goal is to work with service providers – both legal and human services providers – whose clients may benefit from the technology solutions being developed, and have them test the online resource and help us improve it before we expand it to the rest of New York State. 

For the pilot stage, we will be focusing on the top concerns identified by both crime victims and service providers in the needs assessment: family, money/finance, employment, housing and immigration.  Your knowledge, along with the continued guidance of the Advisory Committee, will help us make sure the information on the website is useful, practical and can really assist crime victims with their civil legal issues. 

In the next few months, I’ll be reaching out to some of you to be a part of this initiative.  If you’re interested in learning more about the Crime Victims Legal Network Project or in helping out, please contact me.  I can be reached at rparthasarathy[at]empirejustice[dot]org.

This report was produced by the Empire Justice Center & the New York State Office of Victims Services under Grant No. 2014-XV-BX-K009, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.



Tags: crime victim | domestic violence | Crime Victims Legal Network Project





Crime Victims Legal Network Project’s Needs Assessment Survey


We are looking for your help!  Please complete the Crime Victims’ Legal Network Needs Assessment Survey that will help crime victims seeking civil legal services.

You may have come across it already – a hard copy survey in the library or in the waiting room of a human service organization in your community.  Perhaps you’ve seen a poster or received a link to an online survey from a colleague on a professional listserv.  If you have, I hope you complete the survey and be a part of the Crime Victims Legal Network Project’s Needs Assessment.

The Crime Victims Legal Network Project is a federally funded partnership between the New York State Office of Victim Services, Empire Justice Center, the Center of Human Services Research at SUNY Albany and Pro Bono Net.  Together we are working to develop a statewide network using cutting edge technology that can make it easier for crime victims, especially those in rural & underserved regions, to access much needed civil legal services.

This broad-scale, multi-phase Needs Assessment will help us gain a better understanding of the non-criminal legal needs of crime victims in New York State.  We need to know how to improve access to civil legal services, and how those services can be improved - and we need your recommendations on how to do that – both from victims (en español) of crime and service providers.  We need to know:

  • Who informed you of your rights as a crime victim?
  • If you had a legal problem, would you use a virtual help program to video conference with an attorney?
  • Would you use an online web-based program to help you prepare court forms?
  • What are the most critical needs for civil legal services that are not being met?


The information we obtain will help us make sure that the technology solutions we develop are grounded in the real-life needs and preferences of crime victims.

I was a crime victim years ago.  I didn’t go to the police, I didn’t seek help, I didn’t tell anyone.  To be honest, at that time I don’t think I really knew that what happened to me was a crime.  I had no idea where to go for help, no clue what my legal rights were, and I certainly didn’t know that so many aspects of my life would be impacted.  As Project Leader, I don’t want anyone to be as isolated, as alone and as overwhelmed as I was.  By sharing your experiences with us, you’re helping us create a Network that can help thousands of New Yorkers connect to legal resources they didn’t have access to before, or to help they may not have even known about. Your voice is essential to making this Project meaningful and valuable.

     
  Remla Parthasarathy, Crime Victims Legal Network Project  



The surveys – one for people who have been victims of crime (en español), and one for service providers – are just the first part of the assessment.  Next steps include putting together focus groups – small group discussions led by facilitators – that will be conducted as part of the second phase of the assessment.  The focus groups will start in July and August in ten cities across New York including Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Plattsburgh, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Utica, Watertown and two on Long Island.  Additionally, the research team will be interviewing attorneys, staff at law clinics and legal professionals, looking to garner key insights that will help inform the network’s development.  So you have different opportunities to be involved.

Some of you may take a look at the hard copy survey, see the multiple pages and immediately say ugh, I’m not going to do this – it’s way too long and I don’t have the time. 


Please take another look.

We crafted the surveys to be as easy to complete as possible, and the information you provide will be invaluable as we work to assemble the Network.  I took both surveys myself and it didn’t take very long.  The survey is anonymous, and after completing one you can enter yourself into a lottery for a chance to win a $150 gift card.  We’re hoping for at least 500 people to complete a survey – that’s you & 499 others.

If you’re interested in being involved in a focus group, or would like a link to the survey, please contact the primary researcher Susan Erhard-Dietzel at sdietzel@albany.edu or 518-591-8796.

Thanking you in advance for your participation in the Needs Assessment, and looking forward to sharing the results with you.

The Crime Victims Legal Network Project has received the guidance of an amazing group of individuals who serve as its Advisory Committee members.  They have been instrumental in the development of the Needs Assessment questions, and their support has buoyed me in my work. These members are:

  • Philip Burse, In Our Own Voices
  • Tabitha Carter, The Safe Center, LI
  • Joseph Fazzary, Schuyler County District Attorney
  • Lisa Frisch, The Legal Project
  • Lisa Gerritse, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office
  • Rachel Halperin, Legal Service of the Hudson Valley
  • Rochelle Klempner, New York State Courts Access to Justice Program
  • Jennifer Nadler, Onondaga Community College
  • Karen Nicholson, Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled, and Disadvantaged
  • Robin Marable, Legal Assistance of Western New York
  • Lew Papenfuse, Worker’s Justice Center
  • Susan Patnode, Rural Law Center of New York
  • Charlotte Watson, New York State Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts
  • David Young, Disability Rights New York


This article was produced by the Empire Justice Center & the New York State Office of Victims Services under Grant No. 2014-XV-BX-K009, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.













Bringing awareness to the many civil legal needs of crime victims


team



When you hear the words “crime victim,” what images immediately come to mind?  Someone who was mugged or assaulted, or who had their property stolen or damaged?  Someone who sustained injuries – physically or emotionally – because of the crime? Someone going through the criminal court process “Law & Order” style, the complaining witness in the District Attorney’s case against the defendant, waiting anxiously in court for a “guilty” verdict?

If that’s what you pictured, you wouldn’t be alone. Nowadays, there is an assumption that crime victims will have access to the help and assistance they need through the police and the criminal court system.


But many victims have non-criminal legal needs that are not addressed by these support systems. Yet these related issues have the same power to upend a victim’s life.

Picture this:  Someone is attacked and assaulted in their neighborhood, a couple of blocks from where they live. They are beaten up badly, and their wallet with cash, credit cards, and I.D. is stolen from them. Although the attack did not occur in their apartment building, they may no longer want to live there --- they may feel uneasy walking in the neighborhood and they are constantly reminded of what happened to them.  They can’t sleep, not just because they are now hyper-vigilant, but they are also in pain from injuries that are still healing. They can’t make it to work because of the injuries, even though not working means not getting paid, which in turn may impact their ability to pay child support, rent, or their medical bills. They think of moving, but that means breaking the lease to the apartment and incurring financial penalties.

That crime victim may have medical, landlord-tenant, employment, child-support, and possible identity theft issues to worry about, in addition to any criminal court matter.

Overwhelming? Yes.
But where can they go for help?


Fortunately, the recently-created NYS Crime Victims Legal Network Project will bring awareness to the many civil legal needs of crime victims while also helping victims access civil legal assistance. 

The Project, a partnership between Empire Justice Center, the NYS Office of Victim Services, the University at Albany’s Center for Human Services Research, and Pro Bono Net, will focus on the on the 57 counties outside of New York City.  It is funded by the federal Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs.

The Crime Victims Legal Network Project will commence in two phases. During the first 18-month phase, we will conduct a needs assessment to determine the civil legal needs of crime victims, and the availability of those services. In the second 12-month phase, we will develop a new online resource that allows victims of crime to easily find the legal help and services they require. Critical to the Project is an Advisory Committee comprised of victim advocates, attorneys and social workers from community based organizations, district attorneys, court personnel, and crime victims. Their knowledge and expertise will guide the needs assessment and, ultimately, the implementation of the online tool.

NYS is one of four sites selected in 2014 to form a legal network; six other sites were selected in 2012.  We’re fortunate to be one of only 10 sites across the nation that received OVC funding to create this network, and we’re excited to work with colleagues around the country who can support our efforts and from whom we can learn. Each of the ten sites is building a network to meet the specific civil legal needs of crime victims in their community. We plan to create a technology-based tool to meet the diverse needs of residents living in areas outside New York City – areas that are typically under-resourced.


From my vantage as the Project Leader, I can say how great it is to get the Project off the ground and start the needs assessment. Having worked for over two decades with victims of domestic and sexual violence, I have an acute awareness of civil-legal concerns faced by that population of crime victims, and I’m excited to see if the empirical evidence matches our experiential knowledge. For me, the best part of the Project is that we’re working to provide resources and build capacity in areas where there are little or none, and that soon this underserved, vulnerable population will have access to the legal services they need. To make justice accessible to all – it’s one of the reasons I became a lawyer in the first place.

The goal stated in OVC’s “Vision 21: Transforming Victim Services” report is a simple one: to permanently alter the way we treat victims of crime in America. That’s what the mission of the Crime Victims Legal Network Project aims to do in New York State – to develop new technology solutions to connect victims of crime with the appropriate trauma-informed, culturally competent legal services they need. Keep your eye on us in these next few years, while we work to make positive transformations.


This report was produced by the Empire Justice Center & the New York State Office of Victims Services under Grant No. 2014-XV-BX-K009, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.