August 26, 2020

RISE Project Partner Profile: Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC)

A core aspect of the RISE Project is NCVLI subgranting to six direct service providers to provide legal representation to assist victims in asserting and seeking enforcement of their rights in criminal cases, and, as necessary during and in support of such representation, provide those victims representation on collateral civil legal matters arising from the victimization. Following a competitive selection process, six were selected. The Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC) is one of them.

What is the mission of your agency and how does the RISE Project fit within that?

Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC) empowers victims of all crimes to achieve survivor-defined justice through a collaborative continuum of advocacy, case management, and legal services.

The RISE Project has allowed NVRDC to increase our capacity to provide legal and advocacy services for more victims of crime in-house, as well as our ability to train and educate the larger DC victim services community on Crime Victims’ Rights issues and enforcement in DC. Historically, BIPOC and LGBTQ people face extra barriers to safely engage the legal system after harm. Knowing this, a main goal of NVRDC’s RISE Project work is to build stronger relationships with community resources that BIPOC and LGBTQ individuals already trust and access.

We hope that through the RISE Project, victims of crime in DC who are facing crime victims’ rights issues will be swiftly connected to supportive and legal services, no matter where they start their search for justice. By increasing the capacity of our in-house services as well as strengthening the ties between NVRDC and other DC agencies that interface with survivors, we are able to create a stronger net of referrals and connect more victims of crime to the legal support they deserve in upholding their rights.

When and how did you first start working with NCVLI?

Many of NVRDC’s legal staff have relationships with NCVLI that precede NVRDC’s founding in 2012, making NCVLI a trusted TA partner from our very beginning. NVRDC is unique in that we litigate DC crime victims’ rights under the federal CVRA and have the opportunity to see how this law plays out day-to-day for the many victims that we represent. NCVLI is a valuable TA partner because they see how the CVRA is being implemented all over the country. With the breadth of knowledge that NCVLI has amassed providing TA and advocacy in all kinds of crime victims’ rights cases, they are able to provide insight on strategic arguments when we encounter difficult rights enforcement issues. If we haven’t faced an obstacle in court yet, it’s likely that they have already seen something similar and know how to help!

Tell us about a recent success/deliverable of your RISE Clinic.

In the past six months, NVRDC’s RISE clinic has served eleven new clients who are immigrants, refugees, or asylum seekers. We believe this is in part because NVRDC’s RISE Clinic is staffed by both a bilingual attorney and advocate. The ability to communicate directly with clients in their preferred language makes it simpler for the client to fully express their needs and concerns, aids in trust and confidentiality, and ensures accurate communication by the attorney of the survivor’s rights and options. NVRDC has also been representing a minor victim of sexual abuse to protect the victim’s privacy despite subpoenas by the defense for education and family services records. Without access to NVRDC’s crime victims’ rights attorneys, victims in these cases have historically been excluded from asserting and enforcing their rights to privacy. The RISE Project presents a unique opportunity for NVRDC attorneys and partners to better understand the unique challenges of privacy enforcement and the value of victims being represented in these cases.

What motivates you to do the work that you do with victims’ rights in your community?

NVRDC is motivated by the belief that survivors of crime must have a welcoming place to go to learn about their rights and to be supported and empowered in determining their response to the crime. We take a holistic approach to supporting survivors of all crime because research shows that victims who are supported in all areas of their life are better able to participate in the civil or criminal legal process. The impact of victimization can reach all corners of a survivor’s life, and so we attempt to connect the survivor with the services they deserve for physical, financial, and emotional recovery in addition to legal support. We are also highly motivated to provide as many paths as possible to recovery and justice, and assist our clients in finding the right path for them, whether it is criminal, civil, or restorative justice or a way to emotional, physical, mental, or financial recovery.

Why should other individuals, clinics, and/or organizations get involved with victims’ rights enforcement?

The criminal legal system centers the government and the perpetrator when addressing crime in the community. Engaging as a complaining witness in the legal system can be costly to the victim - missing work, emotional distress, safety and privacy violations. The impact of victimization is never isolated. It can also cost the community at large in countless ways including loss of productivity at work, loss of support for families who relied on a victim’s income, and healthcare costs. Crime victims’ rights enforcement helps keep the victim’s needs and rights a priority in the case, assisting them in safe and full participation in the legal process. By empowering victims to safely engage in the legal system, we keep our communities both safer and stronger. BIPOC and LGBTQ individuals historically face even greater risk for rights violations and being silenced in court, or may have experienced harm perpetrated by the criminal legal system in their past. An attorney providing crime victims’ rights representation can help amplify these individuals’ desires and needs within a case in a way that may not otherwise be possible for the individual alone due to endemic racism, sexism, and homophobia in this country.

What would you most like for the victims’ rights movement to accomplish in the next five years? How does your work to aid in that accomplishment?

NVRDC hopes to see crime victims’ rights enforcement assistance become widely available both in cases of power based personal violence (IPV, DV, sexual assault) and cases of nonpower based personal violence (homicide, assault). It is easy to imagine the needs for privacy and protection when it comes to a case of sexual assault, but crime victims’ rights issues are just as present and pressing after other victimizations. Victims of all crime should have access to representation to have their rights enthusiastically protected and enforced when engaging the criminal legal system. We would also like to see a decrease in belief of the myth that enforcing victims’ rights will void or interfere with defendants’ rights. Rights are not scarce - giving them to the victim will not take them away from the defendant. Victims’ rights are in place to allow victims of crime to safely and fully engage the court process. They are an integral part of serving justice within our communities. NVRDC works toward these goals by remaining present in DC court, increasing the types of cases that we take on, and increasing general awareness and understanding of crime victims’ rights and enforcement efforts in DC. We have also been working to provide forums for law students about crime victims’ rights, the role of the crime victims’ rights attorney, and common crime victims’ rights issues in order to educate the next generation of attorneys about crime victims’ rights work and hopefully increase interest in and understanding of this growing field.

Why should other individuals, clinics and/or organizations partner with NCVLI?

Even though the laws affording crime victims’ rights are not new, it’s not yet the prevailing ideology in the legal system. Crime victims’ rights have been making the news cycle more frequently, but the CVRA is not something that currently guides most of the nation’s courts on a day to day basis as they interface with victims. Many, many victims are currently living where there are no local resources for professional legal assistance if their rights are violated. If Crime Victims’ Rights are not an integral part of your local justice system, NCVLI can help you understand how to start shifting the tide!

Learn more about the Rights in Systems Enforced (RISE) Project here.