Webinar presenter Sara Mahoney answered a number of your questions after her presentation, "Beyond Victim Blaming: Understanding and Working with Victims of Domestic Violence." Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: When you've been in a coaching role and have seen this behavior and caught the overtones of the attitude, how do you counsel that other probation officers or other justice professionals? How do you get them to tweak their attitudes?
Sara Mahoney: It depends on your relationship with that co-worker. If I'm not in a supervisory role in my office so I don't have to worry about that part of it. I got a pretty good relationship will all of my co-workers. There needs to be an opportunity for officers or justice professionals who work similar cases all the time to be able to be briefed with each other. I work really closely with a sex offender officer that's specialized in our department too. We know that those cases have a lot of crossover and similarities between those offenders. It's easy for me and her to call out those things about each other because we all do it. I don't think anybody should feel bad when they find themselves being stuck in that rut. If you have a good relationship with that co-worker, it's like anything else. I'm a firm believer in just being honest. I'm a straight-shooter and I go right to the point, I don't beat around the bush a whole lot. I'm like, "Hey, I heard you talking about that case, what's going on with it? What's the deal with this victim or offender?" Make it be like you really just want to gain insights because a lot of times, at least for my department, we thrive off of beating things off of each other, no pun intended. Just be like, "Hey I've got this case and this is what's going in, and I'm having a really hard time with seeing it from this perspective — what am I looking at the wrong way here?" Relationship with the co-worker is probably the most important and being straightforward about it.
Maybe you've been doing the caseload for a long time, are you sure you're still in it? Do you still love it as much as you did before? Because if you don't, maybe it's time to find something else. Maybe it's time to work with a different population. If they're going to get mad, then they'll get mad. Maybe they'll get mad for a while and maybe they have a minute to think about it and they come back and be like, "You're right, this is what's going on."
For some of us, it's a transference issue. I've had cases that I had to give to others because it's too close to home. When things are too close to home, we tend to get our defenses up. I think that people encouraging people to be cognizant of their own stuff and their own beliefs and making that a regular topic of conversation is one way to maybe introduce it and really tackle that attitude and those beliefs, it just needs to be put out there. That's my personal thought on that.
Audience Question: Once the burnout starts, how do you give yourself a reprieve and keep yourself from burning out?
Sara Mahoney: A really cohesive department or a couple of co-workers that you can go to and share that you're having a day and what's going on. Getting some feedback from them is important.
Having a hobby and something to divert your attention. Those who work in the direct service and told not to take work home with you but your work goes home with you. I'm married to a deputy sergeant and I know all about work coming home. If you're constantly thinking about taking care of them, you're letting this be all-consuming and you'll miss out on your life. We're not superheroes, we can't save everybody. I don't like hearing that from other people and I can't believe I just heard it come out my mouth because we get into this profession to help and make things better, promote safety, and get people to become self-sufficient in their lives. We can't fix everybody. It's important to have that release valve.
Have one or two people that you know you can go to and you can say, "Let's go for a walk, I just need to break away for a few minutes and get some fresh air to get this off my chest so I can come back at it and look at it at a different perspective." If we don't pay attention to our own cues then it's a slippery slope. We're going to get stuck in a rut, get more cynical, jaded, angry and start blaming the system and other people. That's going to carry over into every facet of our life. We need to really pay attention to those things.
Get trained in what it means to do self-care. If you need counseling, then go get some counseling just to be able to have somebody outside, an objective party to vent and throw things at. It's ok to admit when you're feeling this way. Maybe you speaking about how you're feeling, you might find other people who are too scared to say anything thinking they're the only one feeling that way.
Audience Question: Do you have any additional tips that you have to increase perceived control for the victims when they're feeling like they have no power or control and are in the mercy of the system?
Sara Mahoney: Making suggestions and giving actions and meeting them where they're at is really important. We're not the expert in their life. It can be as simple as saying, "I could understand why you feel that way, why you see the situation like that?" That in itself could spark a change. "Did she just say what I thought she said? Did she say that she gets how I feel?" It could be as simple as that. It could be validating their feelings not being the be-all, end-all and the expert in their life. Being there for them, telling the victim, "Here's what I can do for you — I can call the jail administrator because those boots that you want are in the lock-up area because this guy's been in jail since April 26th." So, I'll call the jail administrator and I made a referral.
I said, "Hey, I talked to you a bunch of times and worked with you before, I'm concerned that you are focused on wanting him to heal himself and you haven't said anything about you wanting to heal. And if anybody deserves to heal in all this, it's you. You've gone through horrific things for years." And her response to that was, "You're right. So, what can I do?" And then you start talking about what services are available. We live in a very rural county, transportation is a huge barrier and this lady lives out in the middle of nowhere. She has a vehicle but she's not in fixed income and I'm like, "We have this free counseling, we could put you in touch with them and you can call Medicaid and see if they can do med transport."She's like, "I can drive." I go, "I know you can drive, but maybe we could find gas cards or something so that not everything is coming out of pocket." It's the little things where they're more likely to grasp ahold of that and not want to run with it. Instead of just saying, "We have this service available, I can give you the phone number and you can call them." Chances are that victim has 85 other things on their plate and they'll not pick up the phone and call. But if you spin it in a way that is going to make them more likely to take ahold of that and say, "Hey, you know maybe there's some other stuff that we can do and if you want, I can call this place and I can let them know the distance and the transportation stuff. If you're ok with it, maybe I can give them your name and number and they can call you and you can decide at that point what you want to do with it." At the end of that conversation, she said, "That would be really great, I really think that I need that." And then I said, "I'm going to follow up with you in a few days if for some reason, those connections haven't been made, I want to be able to help those connections get made if you still feel like you want to do this." It's the little things like that. Things that we wouldn't necessarily think would be a big deal, a lot of times are a big deal to them. I would say that if you can put yourself in their shoes in their position and try whatever you think might be a bad idea because it sounds like it's no big deal for you could be the difference between them buying in or things staying the same.
Audience Question: Is there training available to work with DV victims and the need for their testimony? I find that many victims become unwilling to help in the prosecution thus they find themselves back where they started, in harm's way. What is your experience with that specific space?
Sara Mahoney: I'm sure that there is training out there. I actually just got an email from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, they're doing a webinar about DV prosecution. I don't know how to maybe do this. If that person who's asking wants to email me, you can give them my email, or they can go to the National Coalition's website where they have their training announcements there which you can sign up for. I know that one is coming up in the near future.
Host: If you'll send Justice Clearinghouse an email which can be forwarded to Sara so we can get the link to you about the upcoming webinar.
Audience Question: How do you get your victims to stay engaged and actually fulfill, go through, and actually testify?
Sara Mahoney: I'm usually working with them after the conviction and the sentencing. I sit on our high-risk teams and this comes up a lot. Unfortunately, in this county, I think that we rely very heavily on using just the victim when we actively prosecute cases and go to trial and stuff like that. You need to have more than just the victims. If possible give them the option to not have to testify. If you're using evidence-based prosecution then you're going to be relying on things like statements, expert witnesses, photographs, medical documents, audio recordings of 911 calls. I get the responding officers, the EMTs that are on the scene, I think that when we can put it in that perspective we might get a little bit more buy-in. I also sometimes wonder what the delivery of the message is when we bring a victim in and say, "We really need you to testify." How much time is being devoted to that victim? I get we all have huge caseloads and I'm not trying to say that people don't but is there the potential to walk the victim through each part of this process so they understand it better? I feel like once they understand it better and there's not so much of an unknown, they're probably going to be more likely to follow through.
Audience Question: You talked about attitudes in the past — how often do you see that attitude still today in this day and age?
Sara Mahoney: In my area, more than I like to admit. I think it's gotten better. As I said, we live in a really rural area, we have a very high population of undereducated, unemployed people. I think that there's not as much training on this topic as there should be across the board. When I do these trainings locally, I get frustrated sometimes because I see the same people coming to the training and that's great. I'm never going to complain about that but at the back of my head I'm going, "These are the people that already got it, already know it." We need to get people here that don't get it to maybe turn that light bulb on for them. Lately, I feel like I'm on a soapbox for anybody that will listen and maybe nagging a little bit. It's a cultural shift and I actually had an attorney say to me, "You're trying to change the whole culture." And I'm like, "Yeah, no kidding." That needs to happen. It's not going to be an overnight process but we also can't ignore the fact that women and children are dying at alarming rates because of domestic violence. But it's still too taboo of a subject to talk about. We just had a New York state trooper die in the next county over, a DV offender shot and killed the trooper and then shot and killed himself, and that just happened a couple of weeks ago. We just had a pretty big case happen here within the last couple of days that was extremely frustrating and I was at a case review and I said, "What else needs to happen? We just lost a trooper, not even fifty miles away because of this type of a case. If we put a little bit more effort and time into paying attention to these red flags and these warning signs then we aren't going to have to be scrambling after the fact and hearing people go, "I saw A, B, and C, I had a feeling something like this is going to happen." We see this all the time in these cases. They interview the neighbors and they're like, "He seems like such a nice guy but I could pick up on A, B, and C." Unfortunately, at my area, I feel like it happens more than it should, considering the day and age that we're in and the amount of attention that gets put on these cases at a bigger level.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of "Beyond Victim Blaming: Understanding and Working with Victims of Domestic Violence."