Thursday, April 24, 2014

Innovation in Victims’ Services: Courthouse Dogs

In many ways, Aloha is just like any other playful pup. She loves to roll in the grass, chase her handler’s young daughters, and chew on her favorite red toy. But Aloha is not your average dog. She is a courthouse dog; an extraordinary canine who provides paws-itive support to victims of violent crime. The one and a half-year-old Australian multigenerational labradoodle, with her captivating green eyes and a bright pink nose, is one of two companion dogs that serve the Yolo County District Attorney’s office.
From right: Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, Government Operations Agency Secretary Marybel Batjer, and County Victim Services Program Manager Laura Valdes, with Aloha

District Attorney Jeff Reisig introduced the working dog program to Yolo County in 2008. The concept developed out of the notion that dogs — as man’s best friends — might provide a comforting and reassuring presence to crime survivors during victim/witness interviews and courtroom interrogations.

Aloha was bred and trained at Gabby Jack Ranch, a nonprofit organization out of Penn Valley, California that provides service, therapy and comfort dogs for people with physical and/or emotional challenges. She began her service training when she was just ten weeks old with Training Coordinator Terry Sandhoff, and is now part of an elite team formally known as High Performance Therapy (HPT) Dogs focused specifically on aiding the victim services community. In order to most effectively support survivors, who often suffer enduring psychological disabilities such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Aloha has undergone extensive, specialized training focused on the needs of victim services.
“Therapy dogs help people victimized by others to open up, tell someone and turn their traumatic events into personal triumph.”
—Gabby Jack Ranch founder and CEO Jacque Reynolds

Canine companions like Aloha are trained to assist crime victims and witnesses as they prepare for court and while testifying in trials, as well as to build courage and confidence in their ability to open up about the crimes they have been too afraid or too ashamed to face. In addition, the temperament, intelligence and friendly dispositions of HPT dogs make them very successful in comforting both adults and children alike. For kids, pups like Aloha serve as “a friend to whom they can share all of the horrors, tell all of their fears and receive non-judgmental and unconditional acceptance,” shares Gabby Jack Ranch founder and CEO Jacque Reynolds.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Lost Children of Cambodia: Part 2

Last week, Kristin opened our eyes to the crisis of child exploitation in Cambodia. In part two of our blog series, she exposes some of the horrendous crimes against children that are occurring in Phnom Penh every day, while also revealing inspiring stories of hope and transformation emerging out of one of the darkest corners of the world.

As you mentioned last week, you volunteered at the Agape’s Rahab’s House, which helps and heals child victims of sex trafficking. Walk us through a typical day there.

The center serves 100+ kids at any given time. From 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., we worked with kids who have graduated from the program. From 11 a.m. to noon, we would visit brick factory workers or impoverished families. We would bring them enough rice for a month, soap, mosquito nets, and blankets. At noon, we would eat lunch with the graduates and children at the center. Then from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., we hosted a kids camp for the children of Phnom Penh and brick factory children. During kids camp, we would host activities, games, and crafts. This part of the day was always my favorite. It was the moment that you could see children—those you knew would be trafficked that very night—laugh and start to understand that there are people out there who do not want to hurt them. Sometimes a mere high five from one of the campers could make your day.

Kristin (third from left) with AIM staff at the Rahab's House facility in Siem Reap
Through this center, AIM communicates that if anything ever harms them, there is a safe, good place they can come to. AIM’s outreach efforts are about building relationships, community, and overall helping and healing victims.

What will you remember most about your time at the center?

The most rewarding part of my trip was meeting the warriors on the front line, the survivors of trade, and knowing that by just being there, I was helping. It was the interactions that I will remember.

Monday, April 7, 2014

SAVE Celebrates National Youth Violence Prevention Week and 25 Years of SAVEing Youth

By Carleen Wray, Executive Director of SAVE

Students Against Violence Everywhere, better known as SAVE, started at West Charlotte High School in Charlotte, N.C. in 1989 following the tragic death of a student who was trying to break up a fight at an off-campus party. Students met first to console each other, then formed an organization to promote youth safety working together to prevent future incidents from occurring.

From that one high school chapter, SAVE has grown into a nationwide nonprofit — the National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere, dedicated to decreasing the potential for violence in our schools and communities across the country. Today, more than 200,000 students are directly involved in SAVE programs at their middle school, high school and college chapters.

This week SAVE chapters across the country will participate in National Youth Violence Prevention Week April 7 to 11. SAVE has partnered with five likeminded organizations to sponsor the week. Each day during the week corresponds to a specific challenge presented by one of the sponsors and executed by youth around the country. Information about each sponsor and an example of suggested daily activities follows:

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Lost Children of Cambodia: Part 1

It’s no secret that human trafficking is a worldwide epidemic. Increasing public awareness, political activism, and media engagement have allowed us to better identify and assist victims, but human trafficking remains a complex problem without a simple solution. This is especially true in Phnom Penh, where the sexual exploitation of children is unparalleled. In the bustling capital city of Cambodia, kids as young as four and five years old are regularly sold for sex with grown men. Why are parents trading their daughters into slavery, and why is the government allowing this appalling abuse to happen?

To shed light on the growing problem of child sex trafficking in Cambodia, the CNN Freedom Project recently released “Every Day in Cambodia,” a documentary featuring Academy Award-winning actress and UNODC Goodwill Ambassador for Global Fight against Human Trafficking Mira Sorvino, that profiles two organizations actively working to prevent sex trafficking: Agape International Missions (AIM) and 3Strands.

Founded by activists Don and Bridget Brewster, AIM is a California-based nonprofit focused on ending the evil of child sexual slavery in Cambodia. The mission of AIM is to prevent, rescue, restore, and reintegrate.

Kristin Damask, a local community member and humanitarian, recently participated in AIM’s global outreach program, where she was able to experience firsthand the crisis in Cambodia. For two weeks, Kristin volunteered at AIM Restoration Home for formerly trafficked children, and upon returning, she shared with us both the horrific acts and the emerging hope she witnessed in Phnom Penh.

My Story Could Be Yours: Sexual Assault Awareness PSA the California Victim Compensation Program commemorates the entire month of April to Crime Victims’ Rights, it is as important to bring attention to and raise awareness for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  CalVCP is committed to reaching out to educate the public about sexual assault and resources available to victims and survivors for assistance and healing.

Please watch and share our new video public service announcement, My Story Could Be Yours, and help us spread the word about sexual assault.

California Victim Compensation Program Logo
The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) provides compensation for victims of violent crime. CalVCP provides eligible victims with reimbursement for many crime-related expenses. CalVCP funding comes from restitution paid by criminal offenders through fines, orders, penalty assessments and federal matching funds.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Crime Victims' Rights Month: The Attention Belongs to Victims

According to the California Attorney General’s Office, over 440 violent crimes are reported in California each day. During April, CalVCP observes California Crime Victims’ Rights Month (CVRM) to honor, recognize, support, and advocate for survivors of violence.

In a time when much attention is placed on the criminal offenders, and even offender rights, it is imperative that we bring focus back to the victims who need it. This year’s CVRM theme, “Victims’ Rights, Victims’ First,” underscores the need to make victims’ rights a top priority.

Violent crime does not discriminate; it can affect anybody, in any community. During CVRM, our hope is not only to raise awareness, but to inspire action. We encourage everyone to take the time to learn about your rights and the services available to you and your loved ones.

CalVCP will honor victims and thank those who assist them throughout a number of activities during Crime Victims’ Rights Month. We encourage you to join and participate:

  • County Observances — CalVCP will join county officials across the state to honor both victims and the advocates who help guide survivors through the justice process and direct them to critical resources.
  • Podcasts — CalVCP will release a series of short interviews with courageous survivors who will share their experiences and describe their healing process.
  • Victims’ Rights Digital Town Hall — CalVCP will host an online town hall discussion addressing a variety of topics, including how to reach the underserved through collaborative efforts.
  • CVRM April 2014 Public Service Announcement — This video features California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris speaking to survivors, advocates, and community leaders on the important work being done to prevent crime, provide services to victims, and honor the lives of those lost to violent crimes.
  • Blogs — CalVCP will post a number of guest blogs examining issues, personal stories, and helpful tools and services, written by respected leaders in the victims’ rights community.
  • Denim Day — On Wednesday, April 23rd, CalVCP and millions across the nation will wear denim as a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault.

For more information, visit CalVCP's California Crime Victims’ Rights Month website.

California Victim Compensation Program Logo
The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) provides compensation for victims of violent crime. CalVCP provides eligible victims with reimbursement for many crime-related expenses. CalVCP funding comes from restitution paid by criminal offenders through fines, orders, penalty assessments and federal matching funds.