PASS­ING, BARELY

Penn­syl­va­nia’s vic­tim advocate gives the state an ‘A’ for its ser­vices but just a ‘C’ for pro­tect­ing its cit­i­zens

The Citizens' Voice - - CAPITOL WATCH - BY WIN­STON CHOI-SCHAGRIN AND PAULA KNUDSEN THE Cau­cus

This year, amid #Me­too and a grand jury re­port on abuse by Catholic clergy, Penn­syl­va­nia has ex­pe­ri­enced a groundswell of sup­port for vic­tims’ rights. Cit­i­zens have marched through Har­ris­burg to seek pro­tec­tions for vic­tims of child­hood sex abuse and ral­lied in the Capi­tol to en­shrine rights for crime vic­tims in the state con­sti­tu­tion.

They’ve held vig­ils and news con­fer­ences and met with politi­cians — all to de­mand that leg­is­la­tors pass a se­ries of bills that would help vic­tims of haz­ing, hu­man traf­fick­ing and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Much of the time, Jen­nifer Storm has been among them.

Storm, 43, of Al­len­town, is the state’s vic­tim advocate. When the Of­fice of Vic­tim Advocate was estab­lished in 1995, dur­ing Gov. Tom Ridge’s Spe­cial Ses­sion on Crime, it fol­lowed Penn­syl­va­nia’s decades­long his­tory of sup­port­ing vic­tims; the state was home to the coun­try’s first rape-cri­sis pro­gram and its first do­mes­tic-vi­o­lence coali­tion.

Though the of­fice is one of the lesser-known state agen­cies, it is tasked with pro­vid­ing a wide range of ser­vices for vic­tims, from help­ing them nav­i­gate the me­dia and the crim­i­naljus­tice process im­me­di­ately af­ter a crime takes place to no­ti­fy­ing them of changes to their offender’s sta­tus.

But it also in­cludes a mea­sure of restora­tive jus­tice, of­fer­ing pro­grams to the of­fend­ers, such as the in­mate apol­ogy bank and the vic­tim-offender di­a­logue pro­gram, that en­cour­age re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and ac­count­abil­ity.

Since Storm was ap­pointed di­rec­tor of the of­fice by Gov. Tom Corbett in 2013, she’s over­seen a sub­stan­tial ex­pan­sion of the agency: the staff has al­most dou­bled, the bud­get has grown and the of­fice has bro­kered new part­ner­ships with other state agen­cies, in­clud­ing the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice and the Penn­syl­va­nia State Po­lice.

But more sig­nif­i­cant may be how the agency’s scope is chang­ing un­der her watch, how it is broad­en­ing its man­date to in­clude men­tal health and sub­stance abuse ser­vices.

And Storm wants to see more.

Q: What are front-end vic­tim ser­vices? A:

It can in­clude things like go­ing to the hospi­tal when some­one is coming in for a rape exam, and ac­com­pa­ny­ing them and mak­ing sure that they un­der­stand all of their ther­a­peu­tic and sup­port­ive op­tions.

I of­ten re­fer to vic­tim advocates as “the li­ai­son” or “the nav­i­ga­tor.”

Of­ten, the advocate is the voice for that survivor if they can’t be their own voice. I spent 10½ years here in Har­ris­burg run­ning Dauphin County’s vic­tim ser­vices pro­gram, and I was re­ally big, es­pe­cially in the event of homi­cide, on mak­ing sure that me­dia had a fam­ily ap­proved photo to put out, be­cause you al­ways see the ran­dom Face­book pic­ture or a mugshot or a PENNDOT pic­ture.

Also you (of­ten) see noth­ing but the ac­cused or the offender. I’ve al­ways been very pas­sion­ate about mak­ing sure that vic­tims have a voice in the me­dia. And they should be cen­tral to the story, and of­ten­times they can be a side note. Q: So what’s a back-end ser­vice? A:

There’s a lot that hap­pens when a per­son goes to pri­son or when they go on to su­per­vi­sion — and vic­tims need to know all about that.

Our of­fice has close to 50,000 reg­is­tered crime vic­tims, peo­ple who have opted to get no­ti­fi­ca­tions, in­for­ma­tion, ac­cess to advocates, ac­cess to con­tin­ued ser­vice.

But the num­ber of peo­ple who are el­i­gi­ble should be around 100,000. A lot of vic­tims are con­fused at the time of sen­tenc­ing, and they just think that if some­thing hap­pens, lo­cal vic­tims advocates or the DA are go­ing to keep me up­dated.

When I first started work­ing there, we were get­ting calls daily from sur­vivors say­ing, “I just bumped into my rapist at Gi­ant. What’s go­ing on?” Scream­ing at us. As I was eval­u­at­ing the whole process, I thought, well that’s be­cause they just don’t know what they don’t know. So I made it my mis­sion to reach out to DAS to work with the vic­tims ser­vices, to work with the sen­tenc­ing com­mis­sion.

Un­for­tu­nately the way the Crime Vic­tims Act is writ­ten, it’s in­cum­bent on the pros­e­cu­tor to give the vic­tim in­for­ma­tion about us, and that’s it. So I have a bill that didn’t get taken up this ses­sion but that would man­date the pros­e­cu­tor to give the vic­tim’s in­for­ma­tion to us, so we can reach out to the vic­tim, give them a full in­for­ma­tional packet with who we are, what we can of­fer, what we have — that way they can make a more in­formed de­ci­sion.

Q: who’s el­i­gi­ble?

A: Vic­tims of per­sonal in­jury crimes. But quite frankly, we broaden it. So a per­sonal in­jury crime doesn’t even in­clude bur­glary — which is ridicu­lous. At some point that needs to get up­dated.

Q: Your of­fice is over­see­ing what seems like two very dif­fer­ent types of pro­gram­ming, by of­fer­ing ser­vices for both vic­tims as well as parolees and peo­ple on pro­ba­tion.

A: Sort of. We be­lieve philo­soph­i­cally that restora­tive jus­tice is an in­te­gral com­po­nent of vic­tim ser­vices, and it’s al­ways been part of OVA’S mis­sion.

If we are solely look­ing at vic­tims through this lens of “we’re just go­ing to deal with the vic­tim­iza­tion that hap­pened, and we are only go­ing to work with you, and we are not try­ing to do some­thing restora­tive on the other end,” then we are not re­ally ad­dress­ing the is­sue of vic­tim­iza­tion.

We know that 80 per­cent of of­fend­ers are coming out of pri­son. We want them to come out bet­ter peo­ple. We want to be able to say to that vic­tim: The pro­gram­ming that the offender got helped them to re­ha­bil­i­tate or pay their resti­tu­tion, be­cause we did pro­gram­ming to en­cour­age ac­count­abil­ity. If we wouldn’t en­gage in all those pro­grams, how are we re­ally serv­ing that vic­tim?

Q: With all these pro­grams and this of­fice’s cre­ation, it sounds like Penn­syl­va­nia was at the fore­front of a lot of these things. Where are we to­day? You know what the past year has been like, with the #Me­too move­ment and the church abuse re­port and traf­fick­ing and all these vic­tims bills that seem to be so front and cen­ter. How do you think Penn­syl­va­nia is do­ing in terms of treat­ing vic­tims?

A: If I had to give us a score­card on ser­vices, I’d say we have an A. If I had to give us a score­card on pro­tec­tions and laws, prob­a­bly a C. Maybe a C+. You are ab­so­lutely cor­rect that we have been at the fore­front of vic­tims ser­vices.

In all 67 coun­ties, we have vic­tim-ser­vice pro­grams; we have over 200 pro­grams. We’ve ac­tu­ally started to ex­pand into sub­stance-use disor­der agen­cies, men­tal-health fa­cil­i­ties. We are even broad­en­ing what vic­tim ser­vices look like, and we are start­ing to go into non­tra­di­tional places to make those con­nec­tions, which are vi­tal, be­cause ei­ther the vic­tim­iza­tion is the root cause, or their men­tal­health is­sue is di­rectly linked to some­thing that hap­pened ad­versely in their child­hood — it’s all con­nected.

The cau­cus

Jen­nifer Storm, a vic­tim advocate, is in­ter­viewed by The Cau­cus staff in Oc­to­ber.

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