Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Protecting Victims’ Rights: Victims Information Notification Everyday (VINE)

By Sheriff Greg Ahern (Alameda County), President of the California State Sheriff’s Association

As our communities become more entrenched with technology, many law enforcement partners are taking on a greater role to create safer communities. The California State Sheriffs’ Association (CSSA) is assisting victims of domestic violence and other serious violent crimes through the Victims Information Notification Everyday (VINE).

The VINE Program is a 24-hour service that provides instant notification to individuals concerning the whereabouts of the person(s) who victimized them. Administered by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in partnership with the CSSA, the VINE database tracks an offender’s information from the point of apprehension to re-entry into society, and it details transfers and relocations while he/she is incarcerated. This system allows victims to take the necessary steps and precautions for self-protection. Victims, witnesses, and next of kin can sign up to receive notifications, and all registrants’ information is confidential.

VINE has been partnered with the Alameda County community since 1996. During this time span, the system has delivered over 230,000 notification telephone calls to victims in the county. In addition, VINE was one of the first systems to utilize email technology, allowing registrants to receive notifications while away from home. To date, the Alameda County VINE Program has notified almost 4,000 individuals via email. VINE has also recently expanded its ability to contact users through social media efforts: a new iPhone and Android smart phone application informs victims of changes in the custody status of criminal offenders. This application is free to crime victims and is anonymous for users.

Although VINE caters primarily to victims of domestic violence, it also serves as an informational resource for both the public and private sectors. For example, VINE is used by employers to track the release date of disgruntled employees; journalists utilize the system to find the release date of high-profile offenders; judges refer to VINE to learn the release date of offenders who they have sentenced; and law enforcement consults this service to stay informed on the status of offenders in their own case files.

As the nation’s first automated system for victim notification, VINE seeks to preserve a victim’s right to personal safety following a crime. Just this year, there have been 961 new VINE registrants in Alameda County, and over 11,000 VINE notifications have been sent. The program’s success is even more impressive when reviewing statewide statistics. VINE is now live in 53 California counties, and there have been over one million offender searches performed throughout the state in 2013. The program has proven to be an effective tool that enables survivors to take pre-emptive action to avoid being victimized again. I urge law enforcement agencies that utilize the VINE Program to publicize their success, and others that are not members to join this valuable program.

For more information, see the California VINE website.

Gregory Ahern has served as the Sheriff of Alameda County since 2007 and is the current President of the California State Sheriff’s Association. Employed by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office for over 30 years, Sheriff Ahern has been actively involved in the development and implementation of a number of Alameda County programs, including the Youth and Family Services Bureau, Drug Education and Enforcement programs, Cold Case DNA Unit, and D.U.I. Enforcement Unit. He also initiated the Urban Shield tactical training exercise that provides a training venue to several thousand first responders each year. Sheriff Ahern earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Business Administration from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga.

Friday, September 13, 2013

September is National Campus Safety Awareness Month

By Abigail J. Boyer, Assistant Executive Director of Programs, Outreach, and Communications at the Clery Center for Security On Campus

This summer, it was hard to escape the omnipresence of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, a pop tune with controversial lyrics and an even more controversial music video. While admittedly catchy, the suggestive song raises questions about what consent really means, in turn providing a valuable opportunity to have critical discussions about sexual violence and community responsibility to create a culture of respect.

The issue is of particular concern on college campuses, where one in five female students is a victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault—commonly by someone known to the survivor. With September as National Campus Safety Awareness Month (NCSAM), university campuses should be a major focus of sexual violence education and prevention.

The first six weeks of the fall semester are often referred to as the “red zone”, a time when colleges and universities typically see an increase in sexual assault and other crime. With this in mind, August and September should mark the start of a year-long conversation about campus safety and the role students can play in changing the culture in their community.

Bystander intervention emphasizes this community responsibility and empowers peers to step in when they see attitudes or behaviors that could lead to sexual assault. Intervention doesn’t always mean a physical confrontation; a distraction or even the simple question, “Are you okay?” can make all the difference. Being a good bystander can also mean challenging rape culture by questioning pervasive attitudes like those heard in “Blurred Lines”.

Students should know there are on- and off-campus resources available to survivors of sexual assault, as well as federal laws that guide institutions’ responses to sexual violence. Victims have rights under both Title IX and the Jeanne Clery Act. Recent amendments to the Clery Act included within the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (known as the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, or Campus SaVE) strengthened and expanded many of these rights to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

As part of our Safe Campus, Strong Voices campaign (a partnership with Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment, with guidance from a number of other incredible organizations), the Clery Center provides a toolkit for institutions to use as they implement programming during the month of September. This year’s “Day of Action” is centered around the PACT5 project in which five universities created student-produced documentaries about sexual assault.

We are excited and honored to be part of these important efforts to help students, parents, faculty, and professionals at institutions nationwide engage in meaningful dialogue about the impact of sexual violence and other crimes on campus communities.

Whether addressing the media’s hyper-sexualization of women or a classmate’s demeaning remark, it’s our hope that these conversations empower college communities to take a step back and consider, “What can we do to change a culture of sexual violence?”

Abigail Boyer is the Assistant Executive Director of Programs, Outreach, and Communications for the Clery Center for Security On Campus. Working in the non-profit field since 2007 as an educator, trainer, and speaker, Abigail presents nationally on topics related to the Clery Act, dynamics of sexual and domestic violence, victims’ services, and non-profit outreach. Abigail earned a bachelor of arts degree in Political Science at West Chester University.

Friday, September 6, 2013

There’s a New Bully on the Block

By Julie Nauman, VCGCB Executive Officer

It has been one year since the since the death of 15 year-old Audrie Pott. The northern California sophomore committed suicide last September after she was sexually assaulted by male classmates while passed out at a party, and then subjected to public persecution when photographic evidence of the attack circulated via social media.
Photo credit: Pott family

The fate Audrie endured — a daughter driven to self-destruction by the dual distress of sexual assault followed by aggressive cyberbullying — is a parent’s worst nightmare. As mothers and fathers, we aim to raise children who are kind and respectful toward others, and we hope other parents try to do the same; but the unfortunate truth is, what happened to Audrie could have happened to any teenager. In light of back to school season, I want to shed light on what the FBI deems one of the newest and most significant issues that plague our youth today: cyberbullying.

With the growth of electronic technology and the infinite scope of the internet, peer harassment today often extends far beyond the academic setting. Abuse known as cyberbullying refers to the public persecution of someone via devices such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites and text messages.

Although cyberbullies leave no physical signs of abuse, their psychological effects can be more extensive and long-lasting than bruises and broken bones. Hurtful messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a wide audience, and removing this content from the digital realm is extremely difficult. For bullied kids, the modern day structure of an always-connected society can breed, sustain, and amplify seemingly inescapable torment. Thus, it should come as no surprise that these victims suffer far-reaching physical, academic, and mental consequences. Cyberbullied children have a higher tendency to use alcohol and drugs, struggle in school, and battle health problems. They may also experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem that persist into adulthood.

Though its magnitude is evident, cyberbullying isn’t easily remedied because parents are often unaware of the problem. The 2008–2009 School Crime Supplement revealed that children only notified adults in one third of bullying cases. Negative messages surrounding snitching, gender stereotypes, fear of rejection, concerns of retaliation, and lack of confidence in adults’ actions contribute to this trend.

Tragedies like Audrie’s highlight the continued need for anti-bullying efforts on a societal level. I encourage parents to take a proactive role in piloting this cultural shift; by educating kids on the topic, maintaining open and supportive dialogues, and acting as role models, we can begin to not only change adult attitudes that too often dismiss bullying as “kids being kids” but also nurture positive youth advocates in our communities and empower children to take the lead in bullying prevention.

For resources on preventing and responding to bullying, visit www.stopbullying.gov.

Julie Nauman is the Executive Officer for the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board (VCGCB). VCGCB provides compensation for victims of violent crime and helps to resolve claims against the State.