An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Gregorie: It's April 13th, 2003 and I'm Trudy Gregorie who's here interviewing Viki Sharp. And, Viki, why and how did you first get involved in the crime victims' movement?
Sharp: I actually got involved in the crime vic... victims' movement when the late Paul Forgash gave me a call. He was a friend of mine and he was involved with a brand new program they were starting in Tucson, Arizona. And he called me. He said, "Viki, you would really be interested in what we're doing." I, and so I went to the first victim witness training that was held in Pima County and I loved it. I loved it because it was a new challenge. It was something that needed to happen, that was important work, was exciting work and had lots of opportunities and I was drawn to it immediately.
Gregorie: Were there other victim witness programs that were active in Arizona at that point in time?
Sharp: Well, certainly not to my knowledge. At that time, you know, if anyone had said to me I was gonna go into victim witness work, I would've said, "Into what?" Because it wasn't something we were talking about. It was not anything I'd ever been exposed to, I'd ever thought about. So at that time, in retrospect, when I learned about later what was happening, there were a few programs, but they were basically in prosecutors' offices doing court-assist types of things, not, nothing like the program that was begun in Pima County.
Gregorie: So how was it different? How was the program in Pima County different?
Sharp: Well, Pima County was one of those programs, one of those first few programs that was funded by an LEAA grant. And that grant was given to Pima County and some interesting things were done in Pima County. What happened was everyone came together. Although it was housed in the county attorney's office which is referred to as a district attorney's office in some other places, it was a product of the entire community. It brought together law enforcement, social service agencies, prosecutors and said, "What can we do with this money, with this grant to create a program that's comprehensive for victims, that meets the needs of crime victims in our community?" And so several people tossed out things. Law enforcement said, "We need somebody at the scene right when it happens to assist the victims." Prosecutors said, "We need somebody to hold victims' hands and walk 'em through the criminal justice system and explain it to them." Social service agencies said, "We need people that are available, not just eight to five." And so all of those things were taken into consideration and what was begun in Pima County in 1975 was a program that endeavored to respond to victims right at the moment it happened, right where it happened and then to take them on through the system if that was what occurred as a result of the crime, but to connect them up with existing resources in the community and to provide the services that there gaps.
Gregorie: Were there things that you and your staff began to learn about crisis intervention and about victims within that first few hours and days after a crime occurred? Were there things that you began to learn?
Sharp: Well, the crisis intervention piece was the most challenging, and is what the Pima County attorney's victim witness program is most famous for because there was really not much in the literature at that point about crisis intervention. Much of what was written about crisis was by armchair psychologist. He said, "You couldn't do much in the first few minutes or hours after somebody was traumatized, rather than, other than hold their hand." We quickly learned that wasn't true and in fact what we did immediately in the aftermath could save people months and years of counseling. And I truly believe after all the years that we've done crisis intervention that in many cases we could even prevent PTSD. I think that... that's, it's a huge arena that really we've only just begun to work with. Doing crisis intervention was tough, though, in the early stages. Law enforcement really did not like the concept of having bleeding-heart, social-worker-type folks at their crime scenes. And so the biggest challenge in doing crisis intervention initially was winning over law enforcement, getting them to agree to call us to a crime scene, to allow us to be there and to work with people.
And so that was the biggest challenge and we had to overcome many different things in doing that. I think one of the successes of that that's important was that we started small. We started on Friday and Saturday nights providing the on-scene crisis response. And then as things mushroomed we went to seven nights a week. And then we went to 24 hours a day. But we started small, and did it well because if you screw up around law enforcement in the early stages, then you've lost the trust and then you're sunk. So we had to make sure we did it well. We had to make sure that we understood the police culture and the police procedure so that we didn't mess up their crime scenes. So that cross-training was very important.
And it was very important in the early days and I think it continues to be important that we had law enforcement liaisons, not just from the top who said it was important, but liaisons of sergeants who were on the street at night, on the street during the day, doing the actual work who believed in what we did and who helped us if we made a, you know, who would get, let us know right away if we'd done something that wasn't okay or if law-enforcement was unhappy with us, that let us know that and fix that, bridge those gaps. So that was, I think, extremely critical in the beginning stages.
Gregorie: Now you said that the program went from Friday and Saturday to seven days a week to 24 hours. How did you staff a program like that?
Sharp: Well, the crisis intervention started out being a joint project between sta, a staff member and a volunteer driving the crisis unit. And I might explain we didn't ride with law enforcement. We had our own vehicles that were law enforcement vehicles that we responded to the scene in. And originally it was a staff member and a volunteer. It evolved over the years to becoming strictly done by teams of volunteers. Now of course that's a tremendous cost-savings, but it's much more than that because what it did was it caused the community to really become involved in victim issues and trauma issues in the community. Instead of having paid staff, we had folks who were community members that we trained. And I also believe that people that you train in crisis intervention that are community members are much better at crisis intervention than your folks with Master's Degrees and Ph.D.'s in counseling and psychology. And I know I have a little different take on that, but I believe that crisis intervention isn't about long-term therapy.
It's about doing the psychological first aid, if you will. It's like your paramedics who get there and keep people from bleeding to death and then get 'em to the experts for long-term care. And crisis intervention is about working from your gut and from your heart and being able to do that immediate stuff and certainly you don't need people with... with letters after their names to do that. What you do need is the everyday people who've had some good training about, you know, the basic skills necessary to go along with that caring. The other thing that volunteers provide that staff doesn't is that they have another life. And so they have more balance right off the bat. Staff members who are doing it day in and day out, everyday as a professional work, I think they lose some of that passion or they get tired, you know, or they don't have some of that balance there. And so I think volunteers are just critical to any program, not just from the cost savings and that's where folks usually look at that.
But from the involvement and from what they bring, the heart they bring and the energy they bring and the different views they bring. I think that's critical.
Gregorie: Were there ways that you tried, strategies that you tried to develop to help keep that passion with your volunteers as well, to keep them interested in the program over time?
Sharp: Well, there are several things that we did with the volunteers. One that we did that was a little bit revolutionary was our staff was covered under an employee assistance program through Pima County. I got Pima County to pick up coverage for the volunteers as well so that they could have free counseling--not just about tough calls they went to--but maybe about what was going on in their own personal life 'cause that gets in the way of doing good crisis intervention. So we brought that in. The volunteers had a monthly meeting where they would get together and learn new things. Whenever you learn new things that keeps the passion up and the excitement up and that sharing kind of thing. We taught volunteers to process calls so that they were really dealing with that. And we have a couple volunteer coordinators whose job it is to love and care and nurture those volunteers, so they feel like they're valuable and that somebody cares about 'em.
And when they see that they had a tough call the night before they call and check on 'em the next day to see how it's going. We also instituted a few years ago a vicarious trauma prevention plan and a way to address vicarious trauma which I just think is critical. Doing this work hurts. It hurts people's hearts. It hurts their spirit. Through our senses we take in the pain, the suffering, the smell, geez -- at a crisis scene, you know, that distinct smell of blood or of a dead body, seeing people cry, their pain. It seeps into our spirits. And I think it's really important for both the volunteers and the staff to acknowledge that right up front and to provide support and to help them learn how to balance their life so that they can continue to keep on giving and not burn out themselves or not need to numb it.
Gregorie: Now you say that this program was housed within a county attorney's office and the program started back in, what year did it start?
Sharp: Nineteen seventy-five is when the program began.
Gregorie: Seventy-five, so being in a county attorney's office you had the opportunity to see how the process and how rights and legislation impacted victims. Can you describe how it was in 1975 and is it different now?
Sharp: Well, certainly it's different, but I don't think it's as different in Pima County as it is in some other places. And one of the reasons for that is being blessed with the leadership that we had. At the time the program began, Dennis DeConcini was the county attorney in Pima County, and what a man of vision and creativity, and he was followed by Stephen D. Neely and Steve Neely was all about creativity and innovation and about victims. Both of them were so focused that, I mean, very early on it, they decreed that victims should be notified about everything; that victims should be present; that victims should have certain rights. And so we operated as if that was true before it even occurred. And so, I think in the early days, certainly we were finding our way on all of these things. And then we were trying to create it and make it happen and in many cases we could do that without the rights on the books.
The rights on the books just, I think, gave it more insurance and certainly, broadened what was happening in other communities. Certainly saw an influx of money with VOCA, when VOCA came to be, with the President's Task Force issues were raised that we hadn't even looked at. And so the President's Task Force, I think, was critical, certainly organizations like NOVA, like the National Organization for Victim Assistance, as they brought people together. You know, in the early days we weren't brought together so we didn't know what other people were doing in other jurisdictions. Or I think that was critical, us being brought together under the umbrella of NOVA to talk and to learn and to, you know, every NOVA conference that I went to, through the NOVA workshops that were done, I got new ideas or new ways of doing things and just in talking with people in between those workshops, it was invaluable in developing things.
Gregorie: And through that networking and ed, and training that you were able to get at the national level through NOVA, did that inspire Arizona to begin its own state network for victim services?
Sharp: Yes, it was probably, gosh, the early '80s when about three organizations in the State of Arizona, the Pima County Attorney's Office, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and I'm afraid I can't remember the third one off hand, came together and began talking about having a statewide coalition that would meet on a regular basis. And I remember in those early years, there were like two or three or four of us, who got together and chatted about things and the last time I was at a state coalition meeting, there were easily 45 people, representing all the different programs in the state. And so there was a huge growth in that arena as well, again information sharing, as well as collaborative efforts, like a state conference and an annual state conference to bring people together and to increase the learning level as well.
Gregorie: Did the state coalition also get involved in any of the activism to get laws passed for crime victims?
Sharp: Well, in the State of Arizona that didn't happen a lot as a state. Counties kind of operated independently. In Pima County we had a very unique group called "We the People" that grew out of, again a grassroots group, some victims as well as just some community activists, who kind of led the charge on the constitutional amendment in the State of Arizona. But it was quite a challenge 'cause it was heavily contested in Arizona by the defense attorneys and the public defenders. And so a lot of creativity went into how those petitions happened, you know. I can even remember times around the holidays dressed up as a snowflake or a Santa Claus outside of different stores and things to get petitions signed. I mean we did ridiculous things to get those names on those petitions and to get the Constitutional Amendment passed. And I think Arizona was even tougher because the Constitutional Amendment that was written in Arizona was a tougher one and so it was harder to get through.
Gregorie: And in looking at the Constitutional Amendment and the challenge that all of you faced in getting that passed, what would you say was the great, in the pioneering area of really getting started in doing a comprehensive program that's systems-based is doing crisis intervention through a big volunteer program, what would you say was your greatest challenge that you and your staff and colleagues faced in affecting change?
Sharp: Well, I'm not sure that I'm gonna answer you directly about that, but what came to mind that you talking about that is one of the biggest challenges that we had that I never resolved, that I feel very strongly about was having services mandated and specifically I'm talking because crisis intervention was such a big piece for us that I think I need to keep focusing on that 'cause I really think Pima County did a lot of pioneering in the crisis intervention field. And one of the things that happened was that law-enforcement has always had the discretion about whether to call the crisis unit or not. Now our constitution and our supporting legislation said that crime victims should have a right to be notified of crisis intervention services. But the way law enforcement chose to do that was by handing out a pamphlet. And at the time of a crime getting a pamphlet about crisis, that crisis intervention services are available was not effective.
And for years I tried to make it part and parcel even if it was just a specific population like children or older folks that, or violent crimes, that law-enforcement shall call the crisis unit to provide those services. And then folks could say, "No, I don't want you here." But I wanted that service to automatically happen for every crime victim. I was never able to effect that change. Law enforcement had always, the response was that they wanted the discretion about whether to call the crisis unit or not. As a result of that I think lots of people fell through the cracks. We tried many ways to address that like doing public service announcements, going in the backdoor and saying, "If you are a victim or are friends of victim, ask for the crisis unit." We tried to do lots of different things to make that happen. Consistently getting police officers to call has just been impossible. And I think until it becomes part of the process and the procedures that there's gonna continually be those folks falling through the cracks. The one little piece of hope was in the last couple of years we started a collaborative project with law enforcement where they agreed in a certain target area when there was a domestic violence call and there was... (Change of tape)
Gregorie: Viki, you said that having services mandated particularly having crisis intervention mandated so that it is not the option of law enforcement to inform the victim, but crisis intervention would be there and then the victim could make a decision. And has that changed any in the last few years, your relationship with law enforcement on that?
Sharp: The only success I've had in that over the years of trying to make it be part of process and procedure was about two years ago we started a collaboration in Pima County and we got law enforcement both the city and the county to agree within a specific target area whenever they responded to a domestic violence call and there was a child in the home, that they would call the crisis unit under this special project 'cause we were trying to see if we could intervene with those little munchkins that were witnessing the violence and make a difference. And so they did buy into that project, but I will tell you that even that was difficult because they would start out with a bang and then they'd forget. So we were continually going to police briefings to remind them, but once again they weren't told that if they didn't call there were any consequences and I think that's one of the big gaps in our victim services. You know, we put rights into effect and we put services into effect, but if victims are not given those rights or not given those services, there's really no recourse.
There's no stick over the head of law enforcement or the criminal justice system. And so it becomes the ones who buy into it or who care, it happens and it's just pretty hit and miss about when people truly get the services and the rights they deserve.
Gregorie: In trying to accomplish the goals that you wanted to accomplish in Pima County and throughout the whole State of Arizona, you mentioned dressing up like a snowflake to get petitions signed at Christmas time. What were some of the other strategies and tactics that you and your colleagues used to try and achieve your goals?
Sharp: Oh, dear, me. Gosh, there's so many over the years. At one point we had a radio show, which was pretty fun. Once a week we had a radio show called, I believe it was called "The Victim's Voice." And we would tackle different kinds of topics and subjects on a weekly basis and, you know, we did everything from domestic violence to sexual assault to kids to uh, and we had both victims on and advocates on and volunteers on and that was fairly successful, but that went by the wayside after a while. You know, one of the things I think that happens to us in the field is so many times we have great ideas, but we can only stretch so far. And so I think we try some of them. You know, a lot of things grew out of our victim witness program, you know, at one point, in the late '70s, we looked at the whole cycle of violence and about how we wanted to intervene in that. And so we began a domestic violence diversion program, which really didn't belong in victim witness, but nobody else wanted to touch it.
So we created that and then it went out on its own. In those early '70s, we also created like some different mediation programs-- family-hood, neighborhood mediations. Of course that was before the Shall Arrest laws. So we were mediating domestic violence at that time, too, but we created that type of a program where got volunteers to participate in that and then it went out on its own and became its own agency. So many times we would have an idea and we would birth it, but we couldn't nurture it to adulthood, but we would birth it and somebody else would pick it up. So, we, many times we were the seat of a beginning program. I think that's probably what'll happen with the kids who witnessed domestic violence project as well. So, I guess, you know, as far as specific things, I don't know that it's specific things so much as it, it was a philosophy of where we would say, "Damn, another good idea. How can we do it?" And I think that was part of the excitement in the early years in the field because we rarely had the resources or the people or the things we needed to make things happen.
But we had the passion and the commitment and the excitement of finding a way. And we always found a way, whether it was dressing up like a snowflake or it was doing something much more serious. You know, finding somebody to give voice--that was powerful. Or whether it was talking the airlines into flying a mom to pick up a child that had been kidnapped. Always we were able to find a way and that spark I think is really important to the field.
Gregorie: Now in an area like Pima County you have a lot of different cultures, a lot of different languages, how did your program address those needs?
Sharp: Oh, that's a great question. I feel very strongly that any program that serves the community should reflect the community. I just think that's critical and so we did an amazing amount of outreach to make sure that we had both on our staff and our volunteer court at least one or two of everything. You know, and by that I mean every size, shape, color, belief --everything we could come up with. And then what happens not only do you reflect the community, but you learn from each other. You learn from each other about those differences and those similarities. It... it's funny when we look at different cultures we so often look at the differences as opposed to the similarities and to finding the shared joys. And so that was something that was really important was... was to have that reflected in the staff and the volunteers. In fact our staff in the last few years has an equal balance of men and women, which is not true in most of the movement. And I think that's critical as well because men and women bring something very different to this field.
Gregorie: Do you think there were any failures that you saw either in Pima County or in Arizona or in the country over the last several decades?
Sharp: Oh, sure. There's a number of failures and that's exciting because it's out of the failures that all the good stuff comes, you know. Where the gaps are there's still places to create more stuff and new stuff and that, I mean, that's terrific. I mean, you, I, as I said, my biggest problem with crisis intervention, was the getting the law enforcement to con... consistently call and request it for folks. And I never solved that, despite everything that we tried to do on that, never solved that. And so that still needs to be solved by advocates of the future. And I believe it will. You know, the Constitutional, the Federal Constitutional Amendment, I'm sure everybody's mentioned that. I mean, I think for certain that that's something that has to happen and we haven't been successful with that yet. You know, I mentioned earlier and I've gotta go back to this 'cause I just think it's really important in the field. One of the things I don't think that we have very successfully done is to take care of our folks in the field.
I just think that that is so important. You know, there's other professions in... in, you know, of course, that speaks a few things, too, about whether this is a profession or not. You know, the certification, the credentialing, to make sure that everybody's competent, in the field needs to happen so that victims know that somebody that they're seeing knows what they're doing. Not like we know exactly everything we're doing, but that people have a real good basis. But we also need to take care of our professionals, you know. In the teaching field people have a year's sabbatical, you know, where they can leave and do some writing or to get away and then to come back. And I think we just have not paid attention to how difficult this work is on folks. And what we need to do, to give them choices, to maybe rotate them out of doing direct services for a little while and then rotate 'em back in. I think that's really a critical issue for this field in the future.
Gregorie: We just looked at what could be called "failures" or "opportunities." What would you say is the greatest accompliment, accomplishment over the last 30 years that have promoted victims' rights and services?
Sharp: The greatest accomplishment? Well, I really think the impetus was the President's Task Force, the President's Task Force, the passage of VOCA. I mean I think that's what began--you know, certainly it was a grassroots--it came from the hearts and the spirits and the needs of crime victims. But I think what really boosted it was that Task Force and the passage of VOCA.
Gregorie: What do you think is needed today to kind of continue the growth in our field?
Sharp: Again I think we need to look at the education. I think we need to look at the education that we provide for our staff and our volunteers in our programs. I think we need a Federal Constitutional Amendment. I think we need to continue the opportunities for networking and sharing. I think there needs to be strong ongoing training because I think without ongoing training that people get more burnt out and don't get the spark to keep things going. And I think there need to be vicarious trauma prevention plans and ways to address that.
Gregorie: Now I know that in your case you've had the opportunity to also train on victim services and particularly crisis intervention outside of the United States. What are some of those opportunities that you've had?
Sharp: Oh, that's been a tremendous experience. I spent a number of years working with New Zealand and doing crisis intervention training and that was fascinating because at the time I did that in New Zealand there was very little crime happening. And as I would talk about things like armed robberies and those kinds of thing, they'd all sit there with their mouth open. Like, "What are you talking about? The worst thing that happens here is somebody takes a pumpkin from somebody else's pumpkin patch." But a couple of years after I did that first training through the Country of New Zealand, I got a call from a victim advocate in Rotorua and he was so excited and this sounds terrible, but he was very excited. He said, "We've just had our first armed robbery and we're watching the tape of your training and we have a few questions to make sure we want to check with you before we go help these people." So, you know, it was neat that at the time there wasn't a lot of crime happening, but I was able to provide training so that as crime increased in the country, those advocates were ready to deal with it.
And so that was very exciting to have that opportunity. Also, did quite a bit of training in the country of Japan. And that was very exciting because of the cultural changes that are happening in Japan. You know, culturally for so many years to be a victim was a thing of a great shame. And to see the evolution of what's happening there as they recognize that it's not an issue of shame and that it is something that needs to be talked about and acknowledged and dealt with. And so it was very exciting to do training in many cities in Japan and to work with some of the Japanese leaders in developing the crisis intervention piece in their country.
Gregorie: And you don't speak Japanese, do you?
Sharp: No, I don't speak Japanese but, you know, that's one of the interesting things even in New Zealand when I was on the Maori working with the Maoris and there were other languages. And when I was in Bosnia and there were other languages, victim advocates and victims speak the same language even if you don't have the same words. You know, when you look into people's eyes and you can feel it and you know it. You know what they're feeling and it's the same words. You know, worked through an interpreter when I was in Bosnia and, you know, I would say something like, you know, "I am so sorry this happened to you and I can't imagine what your lives are like." And it would erupt into Bosnia in conversation and I'd be looking at the translator and I wouldn't know what was happening, but I could sense what was happening, you know, when she said, you know, "They're so excited to talk to somebody who doesn't act like they know what's happening, that just wants to listen."
You know, the bottom line after all the years of doing this work where we try to look at different techniques and different ways to make things happen, the bottom line is when people are traumatized or victimized or hurt, they need somebody to listen. If you do nothing else, but you listen and you care, you make a huge difference. You make a huge difference in any language.
Gregorie: I think that's the best advice that you can give to people coming into our field. Are there other things that you would want to say, advice you'd want to give to professionals and to volunteers that are coming into our movement right now?
Sharp: Well, actually, yes, there is. There's a couple of things I'd like to say. My experience is that many times victim advocates are so wonderful at loving and in care, and empowering and caring about crime victims, but not so wonderful about doing that with each other. I found as a group that many times we can get very critical and judgmental of each other and I think at times because we get ourselves so tired because we push ourselves so far, we tend to get irritable and cranky with each other. And I think we do a disservice in that. I think we could a lot more empowering and caring and positive work among ourselves which I think would even carry us farther in the victim field. And I think that sometimes stuff and things get in the way of what it's really about. Sometimes, you know, for managers, the personnel issues and the dealing with the political stuff and dealing with administrative kinds of things, get in the way and we begin to lose our vision of what the work's about.
And I think it's so important for people who are in management positions with victim services to continue to do different training things that they attend and not just put on, where they get re-inspired and they get back in touch with what it's about 'cause it's so easy to get caught up in the minutiae and the other stuff we have to deal with. Many of the programs are grant-funded and the administrators spend a lot of time writing grants, doing grant reports. Those kinds of things can begin to cloud, and cause you to lose sight of what this work is truly about.
Gregorie: And in thinking about professionals and volunteers coming into our field, has your program worked with, have you ever had young people who wanted to be volunteers? I mean people who are teenagers?
Sharp: Yes, that was a very interesting experience, too. We had in the community, maybe 10 years ago, a little girl who was kidnapped and murdered. And following that, in addition to working with her family, we did a community group crisis intervention. And she was killed--she lived in an apartment complex--so we had literally a couple hundred people show up at this group intervention which we did at a bingo hall because we could get all those folks in there. And as I was leaving that night to go do that work, my daughter who was at the time 12 years-old, said to me, "Mom, I want to go with you." And I said, "Oh, honey, you don't want to go with me. This is mom's work." "Well, no, I want to go with you. I want to help." And I said, "Well, honey, you don't know how to help." And she said, "Well, I can care." And I said, "But I'm sorry, you can't go." And she said, "Well, are there gonna be children there?" And I said, "Well, yes." And she said, "Children that knew this little girl?" And I said, "Yes." And she said, "Well, then I want to go and help."
So finally I said, 'cause she was just like a little woodpecker, I mean she was gonna stay with it until she got what she wanted, I said, "Okay, you can come, but you gotta be quiet." So I had a group of counselors, advocates who were working with the children, because we work with them separately from the adults and Kari went, my daughter went with that group. And every so often I'd look over there to see what was going on and all the kids were talking to her, you know. It was like she was a kid magnet instead of the adults. Well, so I finally thought well, criminey, if that's gonna happen let's teach the kids how to help each other. And so it was a interesting experiment. I took about 15 children and I took the kids who were children of people who worked at victim witness 'cause I was afraid we might mess up the kids and I wasn't gonna mess up the general public. I thought I'd mess up our kids 'cause then we could help 'em. So I took those kids and I gave them the same training course I gave the adults and it was fascinating.
These kids were from 12 to about 16, these 15 kids. And in the training course that I gave 'em, they got it like this (snapping finger). They got it faster than the adults got it, 'cause they didn't have to do all this processing stuff. They got the skills. It was incredible. And so what we did was we used them a couple of times to work with when we had groups of young people, to lead the group crisis intervention. We had adults with 'em to back 'em up if they needed our help. Well, they didn't our help. They did much better than most of the adults. But we used them in a couple of situations. We had one where a little girl had been at a summer camp and was mauled by a bear. And so we had adults working with the staff members from the camp and with the parents of the kids, but we had our young people working with the young people. They were dynamic. They were incredible. And as I talked to these kids and as I trained these kids and I would say to them, "How many of you have been in a situation or have had a friend in a situation where there was some family violence?"
Every hand went up. "How many of you have ever thought about killing yourself or had a friend that talked about it?" Every hand went up. You know, we were so afraid to talk about these topics with the kids. Well, heck, the kids are talking about these topics all the time. And when they talk, you know, frequently children don't go to wise adults. They go to other kids to talk about their issues. And I'm not advocating making kids be counselors, but when they go to the other kids, if they have just a few skills, you know, about what to say and know about some resources and know about wise adults to get to, I think it makes a big difference. And also did some training with the inner city schools in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I had a whole group of young people again who were living in the inner city where there was lots of violence occurring. And they were so excited at the end of that training to have some skills to go back to for their friends and their family.
We did not continue the program on 'cause we did not have an advocate who was willing to keep it going after the first year, in addition to all their other responsibilities. But I did think and hope it-- has great potential for the future and is an area to be looked at.
Gregorie: And did that impact at all some of the way that you began to train about working with children for critical incidents besides, you know, having children who might could help, but and the issues that you addressed or how you addressed those issues?
Sharp: I don't think it did. I think certainly there's the potential there. It's kind of like how do you provide victim services without talking to crime victims about what it is they want and need. I mean that's the heart of it, you know, and so, theoretically you could certainly say, you know, that children and young people can tell you much better how to assist children and young people than some of us old heads. But... but did not do that in that situation.
Gregorie: When you think about the future for victim services and the United States or even beyond the United States from your experience, what is the vision that you have for that future?
Sharp: Oh, I think it's nothing but good stuff. I think we've got more and more young people coming into it. You know, as I said earlier, when I started in victim services, what were victim services? I mean they were nothing. We didn't know what they were. There's a tremendous foundation that has been laid, by many pioneers, staff and volunteers and victims, alike. There's a tremendous foundation and now we've got, more and more young people. We've got more technology and we've got, I think that the possibilities are endless. There's lots of work to do still. So I think it's an exciting field, a challenging field for young people. And I think it's just gonna do nothing but grow and get better and that victims are gonna become much more a part of the fabric and the conversation. And I think that things in the system are gonna get much more equaled out. I think that there's gonna be much more fairness. I really would like to see more of the restorative justice concept, where there's more focus on healing and getting people back to wellness than there is on punishment.
Gregorie: And particularly in Pima County, and the native populations indigenous to that area, has restorative justice been, had as many problems to implement as it has in other areas?
Sharp: Well, most of the Native American tribes, restorative justice is what they've always been about. And so this is nothing new to them. It's just kind of new to those of us who are not part of that culture. And so, you know, I think that there is definitely a step ahead in that arena.
Gregorie: And for Pima County having started one of the very first programs that had a crisis intervention aspect to their services that grew to the level that it did, have you had the opportunity to train on, in other jurisdictions that wanted to replicate that program?
Sharp: Oh, yeah, especially in the early years. In the early years, there was a great deal of attention, lots of national attention around the program that focused on that, the on-scene mobile crisis units 'cause it wasn't being done anywhere else. We also had a made-for-TV movie made about the on-scene crisis intervention called Night Partners, which was kind of a hoot, but the movie itself was a bit of a hoot. But what happened at the end of it was people go excited about it, you know, and called. And so over the years many, many folks came and visited Pima County, looked at what was happening there, replicated it or did a spin-off that worked in their community 'cause I think in each community something a little different works better, depending on what's already there, what's in place and who the players are. There's another county in Arizona that does not have on-scene crisis intervention, but there's never been somebody that stepped up to the plate and said they were willing to take it on. So it's kind of, you know, sometimes it's at a police station. Sometimes it's out of a county attorney's offices.
Uh, one of the things I was trying to create in this last year was a community-wide crisis response team where every agency would take a piece of that so that much more on-scene response could be being done for, especially for children. So I think that there's still a lot of collaboration that could happen in communities. And I think in each community it can be a little different.
Gregorie: Have you have also been involved in crisis response to some of the mass victimizations or incidents that involve a number of people in the community?
Sharp: Well, I personally was part of... of NOVA Team Five to Bosnia, but Pima County has sent through NOVA crisis teams to literally dozens of different places from Hurricane Andrew to New York City to Oklahoma City... so we've had a lot of exposure to doing that. And I think one of the things that happens is that if you have a local team that does a lot of on-scene crisis response, their skills get very honed. And so when you have a major disaster those folks are terrific to go in because it's second nature to them. If you take folks out of other programs that are not doing crisis intervention, give 'em a general training and then they don't get called for two years... I think they're a little more like fish out of the water when they actually go to do it. So that has been a real advantage, the Pima County folks because they... they're doing this kind of stuff day in and day out anyway. It just becomes on a larger scale.
Gregorie: And is there, are there any stories, any lessons learned, anything else that you would like to share?
Sharp: Oh, golly, that's wide open isn't it? (Laughter) My favorite victim witness story. The only thing that pops into my mind is, you know, as I look back to nine, from 1975 till 2003 when I look back at how we began, you know, with just a couple of people. And we would have meetings with volunteers and staff and things in everybody's home. And we'd go in their home and, you know, somebody'd bake pies or cookies and we'd talk about everything. We'd process everything and it was almost like we were an extended family. And there was so much closeness and so much support and such a buy-in, you know. The beginnings of a movement are so exciting 'cause nobody knows for sure where it's gonna go or what there is to do or how to do it. And over the years there's been, you know, as things grew, golly, you know, I remember when we first started doing cases we were doing 'em on little index cards and we had a little file thing that we were sticking all the little cards in there, you know.
And if you wanted to look up a case, you had to flip through the card and every card had something different, you know. And then suddenly Steve Neely insisted we all have computers and nobody knew how to use a computer. And they all sat on our desk because we were people-people. We were not technology people. We didn't know how to do a computer. And so there was this incredible evolution over the years from being in people's neighborhoods to suddenly having offices. And going from having offices in the back closet to having offices on the floor that had windows, you know. As the movement progressed in prominence and importance, you know, from going to, on the police calls, taking all the "dump calls," the calls that had nothing to do with victims, you know, taking the stinky person somewhere to make the police officer happy. But that, doing that then encouraging that cop to call us the next time he did have a crime victim, you know, those building, the building stuff, baking cookies for all the cops to get 'em to make a phone call, you know, to, for crisis stuff.
You know, we started out doing this down-home stuff and there was something really beautiful about that down-home stuff. As the movement has progressed, some really good things have happened. Some things have been put into place, you know, that are really important. But we've also I think as it's evolved lost some of that personal stuff, some of that personal contact and caring. You know, it's a lot different in the office today where we send the e-mails instead of getting together at somebody's house and having cookies and talking about the cases. And so, you know, progress is always a double-edged sword. You lose something and you gain something. And so, you know, I think it's important to look back and see where we started, but I don't think we need to stay there and muddle around in it either. I think we need to look to the new generation and the technology and the exciting ideas they have 'cause they're gonna take it in an entirely different way than we've taken it. And I think it'll be exciting to see where it goes.
Gregorie: And so do I, Viki Sharp. Thank you, very much.
Sharp: Thanks, Trudy.
|This project was supported by Grant Number 2002-VF-GX-0009 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this product are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.|