My internship at the San Francisco District Attorney in Victim Services has come to end. It was a bittersweet day because I have made connections with the advocates that I worked with this summer. The advocates showed me what they go through on a typical day. They give support to victims while caring for their safety. The task I would do on a daily basis was explaining the California Victims of Violent Crime Compensation program to our Spanish-speaking clients and process. It would be difficult for them to understand because all the paper works was in English. Some of these Spanish-speaking clients would just come in to comprehend their claims and what steps they needed to take. This made me realize that there are not enough resources for the Latino community. It’s very difficult for them to try to read their information and understand court while it is being conducted in English.
I was working on reviewing U-visa for undocumented immigrants who have been a victim of a violent crime. It was interesting seeing the qualifications that are needed for this process and the forms that need to be filled out. One main question that is asked for this is: Was the victim cooperative? With the prosecutor? With the advocate? Most of them were cooperative in the case, which made it easier for my supervisor to sign their visas. For others we needed to see more into their case and see what really occurred during court. I am glad I worked with this because it made me learn on how the process is really about and the requirements that are needed. Especially with my interest in immigration and the obstacles that immigrants have to constantly face. There were many stories that immigrants have come to San Francisco and less than a month are assaulted and become victims.
With my time at Victim Services, I want to see more of how the criminal justice system is seen from multiple sides. It’s not just the prosecutor and defense attorney but the victim as well. At times the victim’s story goes unseen. While at Brandeis I want other student to see the truth within social justice. We need to focus on not only what happens at Brandeis, but in the outside world as well. There are so many tragedies that are occurring in San Francisco and all around the United States. Sometimes the blame gets put on the victim for being a minority and being at the wrong place at the wrong time. There still needs to be justice for the victim’s families. I want to see changes and any small differences that I can do by educating these communities to protect them.
I intend to apply to be an intern in other district attorney’s offices with Victim Services in other states such as Massachusetts to see for myself how their process works in the criminal justice system. It’s great to learn from other locations and see what is working and what can be improved. I would like to see how other counties deal with violence in their communities and how their victims are being represented. We also visited a jail during my summer but did not have an extensive amount of time and I would like to learn more about how the prison system works.
Advice that I would give to anyone who works at Victim Services at the San Francisco District Attorney’s office is to be able to deal with anything and anyone who comes in. Some of are clients has suffered Posttraumatic Stress Disorder due to the incident that occurred to them which is understandable. However, we had to act quickly and help those and anyone who came in. It is very rewarding because it was great knowing that I could help someone calm down and relax to understand the support that they need. The same is with the criminal justice system because there can’t be preconceived notations about the incident until everything is laid out and explained.
Some of my ideals have been challenged because at times there are discrepancies between the victim and the prosecutor. At times the victim story changes due to how long ago was the incident and difficult to remember. Then the prosecutor feels that the victim might be lying to them or trying to protect others. The next question is whom do we believe? Is it the police officers that respond and write the police report, the victim, the defendant, and the witness? This occurs in many cases that are taken to court and makes it more complicated to resolve. I have learned that it is critical to take the time to listen to the victim’s story and what happened to them so they can trust you and that will make it easier for them to cooperate with you. It is going to help me personally to stop and listen to what people have to say because it is vital to anyone that you want to help and see him or her succeed.
Since I began at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office with Victim Services department, I have learned an extensive amount of information about the criminal justice system from the many different types of case that come into our office. I have the opportunity to meet with many victims and their families. It has been an eye opening experience to see the emotions of the victims. With victim services, the advocates are there to help the victims in every step they need during court, searching mental health treatments, and being the liaison with the assistant district attorney.
In court, especially with sensitives case such as homicides, domestic violence, and sexual assault, the victim is very vulnerable and it’s victim services job to provide the support. The advocates assist the victims with emotional support when a victim must testify, reliving relive the incident during a court proceeding. While seeing many court cases proceed, you realize that there is still a backlog in cases because most of them are from previous years. In San Francisco, this just demonstrates the increase of violence that has been occurring in the county.
There are many Latinos in the community and most of them do not speak English. I am always glad to assist them because it is very difficult for them to understand the criminal justice system. Many of them come in with information that is in English that is vital to their case, needing an explanation of the forms that are given to them. Some of them are undocumented immigrants who are terrified to speak about their incident because of the constant terror of being deported. Some of them who have been a victim of a violent crime have the option of applying for a U-visa but have to demonstrate that they were cooperative with law enforcement and during court.
I am most proud that I can answer many questions that our clients come in with and that I have been able to assist them. For example, I do intake interviews with victims without supervision, assist in filling out the California Victims of Violent Crimes application. It is great that the advocates trust me to be able to explain the program and services to our clients as well as to help them with information they need because of the language barrier. It is great knowing that the clients appreciate us assisting them with basic services such as reading letter and explaining the process of the application and the case.
I am building skills that I can take to further my interest in the legal system. I have learned from the advocates and assistant district attorneys the importance of communication within the justice system. Without having communication with one another in a work environment it is very challenging to have a resolution. For example, someone from the advocate team would talk with the victim to be their support, but the assistant district attorney would give the same person different information. This would confuse the victim and frustrate the common goal of providing assistance. I will be able to use this in academic life because while focusing in my classes I need to communicate with my professors and peers to be able to succeed. If I don’t then I will not be able to get the best grades that I can achieve. I will need their assistance to make sure that I fully comprehend the material. In my future career, I would like to communicate with my co-workers to share a common objective for all of us to thrive. Within the justice system, it is key to have communicated because it creates conflict and there is no resolution for those who have been affected. The main goal is for the victim to feel safe and supportive. The justice system is there to help the victim find a closure that will help them move forward.
I am interning at the San Francisco District Attorney Office’s in downtown San Francisco. In the District Attorney Office’s, I am placed in the Victim Services Department. We provided advocacy and support to victims of crime and witnesses to crimes. The services we provided include: assistance with “Victim Compensation Program” claims; crisis intervention and emergency assistance; help navigating the criminal justice system; resources and referrals; restitution; witness relocation; transportation; and much more. All services are free of cost.
As an intern I have a variety of duties, including filling files, updating cases and meeting with clients. In the office, there are many victim advocates that need assistance with constant updates on their cases that are in court. At the same time, as an intern I get to make contact with the clients who come to our office to check them in or to see what services they might need. Furthermore, I assist the clients with filling out the Victim Compensation Program application – those who qualify may receive financial assistance for losses resulting from a crime when they cannot be reimbursed by other sources. The program can assist with medical, dental, mental health counseling, wage income financial support, funeral burial, and job retraining.
I am in a program called Students Rising Above and they help students find internships during the summer. There are many people who applied to this internship and the selection process was competitive and included an interview that took place in February. Two weeks after this interview, I was notified and offered an internship position. Later, I was then notified if I was interested in the Victim Services department. I looked into the services that were offered and was later contacted by a victim advocate to have a phone interview. He explained to me more of what the internship in their department was consisted of. He then said if this is something that you are interested in then we would gladly like to have you on our team.
On my first day of my internship, I was extremely nervous and excited to begin. I had no idea what to expect from the people that I would be surrounded by because it was a completely new environment for me. Once I met the victim advocates I realized that I was going to have the opportunity to learn about many aspects of the legal system. The relationship with the other interns is great because we each have an interest in the legal field that makes the internship twice as better. The advocates that I work with are great because they are willing to teach us about the many different cases that they are involved in. Furthermore, they are very encouraging about letting me learn and even go to the courts to see how it is all being played out. For the summer, I hope to gain knowledge about the other side of the legal system through the eyes of the victims.
– Estela Lozano, ’16