Supporting victims in their journey to becoming survivors is fundamental to community safety. When a person has been harmed, wronged, or experienced loss at the hands of another, they need justice and healing. The criminal justice system must ensure that they have the rights and resources necessary to defend themselves, as well as services to facilitate their re-entry to the community. Attention and resources must be directed to the victims whose lives may be forever changed by the act of another, as crime victimization takes away a person’s power and safety and many endure the effects of trauma long after the justice system has completed its role. It is a sad reality that the vast majority of victims do not find justice in the system, as many offenders are not known, arrested, charged, or convicted. It is important for us to have a system that takes care of victims and survivors regardless of the outcome of the criminal case.
When a traumatized person is stressed or re-traumatized, they can experience physiological responses that have lasting impacts. In stressful situations, the body’s stress response system releases numerous transmitters and hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline flood the body in stressful situations. This reaction can impair the body’s normal coping and functioning mechanisms, including the ability to recall, recount, or relay information. Furthermore, victims of crime–and particularly young victims of violent crime–struggle to process trauma and may turn their pain inward and hurt themselves. Alternatively, they may also turn their pain outward and hurt others. Repeat victimization is a key cause of crime and insecurity in our communities. As Los Angeles District Attorney, George Gascón will advocate for a system of parallel justice, where we not only seek legal prosecution of offenders, but also provide support services for victims in their evolution to becoming survivors. Below are the policies and principles that Gascón will pursue as Los Angeles District Attorney:
- End Cooperation Requirements for Victims
The District Attorney should aim to minimize harm and protect the public regardless of whether a criminal case is filed. This philosophy is a dramatic shift from the current Los Angeles County DA’s policies, which require victim cooperation for even basic compensation services. There will be no requirement to testify under Gascón’s administration in order to receive services. Additionally, harm will be recognized for all members of the community who are impacted by community violence and trauma, even if they are not the direct victim. This is especially important for children, as studies show that children are traumatized by violent events in the community even if they are not present for the event.
Any meaningful evaluation of the criminal justice system makes painfully clear that today’s defendant was often yesterday’s victim. The criminogenic factors that we are all aware of align with defining victimization, i.e. trauma, community violence, lack of basic needs, etc. To break the cycle of crime and victimization, persons who have experienced harm should not be further traumatized by the threat of incarceration or charges being brought against them. Further, the implementation of such harsh cooperation tactics disproportionately impact women of color. Victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and gang-related incidents are regularly incarcerated and treated poorly in the name of obtaining convictions for public safety.
2. Enhance Accessibility and Delivery of Victim-Centered Services
Victim-Centered Justice goes beyond what the system dictates, and instead focuses on the needs of victims. This includes compassionate and sensitive delivery of services without judgement. It ensures victims have a voice in the criminal justice process and that they can speak to the harm they have experienced while receiving the tools and resources they need to return to their lives. Physical, mental, emotional, and economic losses experienced by a victim need to be addressed in order to facilitate healing and recovery for a victim. As he did during his tenure as San Francisco DA, George Gascón will direct the Victim Services Division within the LA DA’s office to provide comprehensive services to victims of crime to help mitigate their trauma, including crisis support, navigation through the justice system, safety planning, and financial resources to pay for health, mental health, safety and relocation.
Not everyone experiences crime victimization in the same way. People who are vulnerable and marginalized can have additional barriers and needs in accessing services following a criminal victimization. As LA DA, Gascón will develop several specialized services to respond to populations that need extra support and assistance. Services range from special court escort for victims whose safety is at risk because of their immigration status to those experiencing threats from a defendant.
George Gascón will spearhead multiple outreach and engagement efforts to reach victims who have traditionally avoided interaction with system-based victim advocacy. Such efforts include providing trainings to partners, extensive community outreach events, funding partnerships and collaboration with service providers, and out-stationing community-based advocates to target communities with the highest rates of criminal activity but lowest rates of service utilization. Many in our communities are hesitant and even too intimidated to come to the Hall of Justice to get help, and we must therefore make these services more accessible by bringing them to the community.
3. Reorganize Victim Services Division to Be More Effective
George Gascón will organize the victim services division (VSD) into four units: Advocacy, Claims, Restitution, and Policy.
Advocacy will comprise the bulk of VSD’s work. Advocates are assigned to teams by crime type. Advocates work closely with deputy district attorneys, develop expertise in working on specific crime cases, and gain extensive knowledge of community services and resources for different victim types. Teams include general felonies, intake, juvenile, child abuse/sexual assault, human trafficking, elder abuse, homicide, mass casualty, and community.
Community Advocates focus on victims who reside in high crime/low engagement zip codes by engaging in outreach, relationship building, and direct services in the community. Advocates are able to provide more in-depth services for both reported and unreported victimization with a focus on reducing trauma and secondary traumatization. Gascón’s office will measure connectedness and the impact of trauma at first engagement, six months after receiving services, and one year after receiving services. The goal is to increase connectedness of victims to healthy relationships and increase awareness of how trauma is affecting the person while also providing access to resources and services.
The California Victim Compensation Board (CalVCB) currently provides financial resources to victims of crime in California. It is funded by fines and fees. CalVCB covers out-of-pocket medical, dental, mental health, relocation, home security improvement and funeral/burial services. The District Attorney’s role is to develop a contract to accept, process, and determine eligibility for compensation claims.
In addition to the state funds for victims provided by the CalVCB, Gascón will identify internal financial resources to pay for expenses that are not covered by CalVCB. These funds would cover funeral and burial services that are denied by CalVCB, rental assistance, emergency hotel stays, groceries, and medical supplies. The VSD would also participate in the development and advocacy for local and state policies and legislation on behalf of our work with Victims of Crime.
4. Implement Modern Victim-Centered Policies
George Gascón would implement the following policies that reflect best practices for assisting victims of crime:
Vulnerable Victim Policy flags cases in which a minor and unrelated adult are co-defendants in a case and provides further assessment to identify any exploitation of minors.
Sexual Assault Survivor Policy seeks victims input in modes of engagement (in person, by phone, by test, no contact) and provides for communication of their choice in charging decision meetings with the prosecutor, investigator, and advocate.
Sex Worker Safety Policy provides for sex workers to report crime victimization without fear of prosecution on sex work-related crimes including solicitation, loitering, or misdemeanor drug possession.
Victim Crime Advisory Board While SF DA, Gascón worked with the VSD to launch the first victim of crime advisory board in California. He would do the same in LA. The advisory board will be comprised of people who have been victims of crime, sworn in by the District Attorney, and will serve a two-year term. The advisory board members assist the VSD in providing relevant, effective services that incorporate victim’s voices. They review policy and legislation while serving as ambassadors of our work in the community. The board works throughout the year, meets quarterly, and attends all VSD events.
Training The VSD will provide training sessions to local, statewide, national and international convenings, sharing cutting edge innovation and best practices in the field. Locally, victim advocates and claims specialists will present to community-based agencies and government partners throughout the year on topics including elder abuse, fraud, sexual assault, domestic violence, and victims of crime events. This division will be a key part of the Crisis Intervention Team and Police Academy training. We will train professional victim advocates and other victim services providers, law enforcement officers, court employees, state employees, city employees, service providers, and community members on topics like communication with survivors.