Working with Victims

The Bronx District Attorney’s Crime Victims Assistance Unit (CVAU) provides comprehensive services to crime victims, ranging from information and referrals to individual and group therapy. The locations of the unit, in the District Attorney’s Offices on 161st Street in the South Bronx, are generally convenient because of their proximity to the court.

The CVAU saw a total of 3,240 new clients in 2012. CVAU staff made more than 41,441 service contacts with victims and witnesses during 2012. These services were provided from both the Unit’s three sites on 161st Street and the CVAU satellite office in the northeast Bronx.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

In October 2012, as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the CVAU held its fourth annual Purple Door Project. CVAU staff covered all of the Unit’s doors in purple, the designated color for domestic violence. Their hope was that the services we deliver to victims will lead to domestic violence stopping at our doors. In addition, they invited the rest of the staff to show support by displaying purple on their office door or around their cubicle. As part of its adult workshop series, the Office held a Roundtable Discussion entitled, “The Many Faces of Domestic Violence.” Seated around the table were the Chief of the Domestic Violence Bureau, the Director and a clinical therapist from CVAU, a representative from the Bronx Family Justice Center, a police officer from the NYPD’s Domestic Violence Unit, and two domestic violence survivors. The survivors shared their stories that led to a discussion between the professionals and the survivors that an audience had an opportunity to observe. The audience, composed of community members, then had an opportunity to ask questions of the professionals and survivors.

Crime Victims Assistance Unit Satellite Office

This Office’s Crime Victims Assistance Unit (CVAU) provides comprehensive services to crime victims, both at the Office’s main location on 161st Street and also at a satellite office that opened in Community District 12 in 2003 to make services available throughout the Bronx. The satellite office grew from a series of federal grants from 2002-2005 that funded an Advisory Committee tasked with planning and implementing a referral network to link clients to community service providers for services that cannot be provided by CVAU staff. During 2012 we held special events at the satellite office, including a Wellness Day during Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Coping with the Holiday Blues in December.

Wellness Day

On October 26, 2012, the CVAU hosted its annual day of wellness for victims and survivors of domestic violence. The Wellness Day mind/body/spirit workshop promoted a positive and healthy way of feeling, thinking and living. Eighteen women attended the event. Clients learned healthy coping skills, ways to reduce stress and reconnect with their inner selves through a variety of techniques that included art, Zumba, and yoga classes facilitated by professional instructors. The clinical staff provided clinical services on site and instruction behind the scenes.

Participants began the day by hearing the personal stories of other fellow survivors who have been with the CVAU therapy program for a while. The clinical staff provided clinical services on site and instruction behind the scenes.

This years classes were “Shake It” (which was meant to awaken the inner girl by moving to easyto- follow zumba dance moves that invigorated the participant from head to toe); “State Yourself” (which helped the participant learn how to use creative art techniques and positive statements to create a transitional object that can be used as a comfort object to help cope with stress, anxiety, sadness, loneliness or other feelings that are difficult and/or overwhelming); and “De-Stress and Release” (a yoga class designed to introduce victims/survivors to deep breathing, stretching and meditation to quiet the mind and feel the mind and body connecting. After each class, clients were asked to take a group picture as a commemoration of their class participation. Clients were given lunch and refreshment/ snacks throughout the day, another approach to ensuring that clients make healthy choices. Throughout the day, clients were asked to write on a poster board designed and provided for the event so as to capture their thoughts and feelings. The day wrapped up with all participants, clients and staff, gathering in a circle to share their thoughts and reflections about the day.

Coping with the Holiday Blues

Frequently the Holidays are difficult for crime victims. There is often the feeling that what once was can never be again. Therefore, during the Holiday Season CVAU sponsors two events: Coping with the Holiday Blues workshop and the Lighting of the Tree of Angels. Both of these events took place at the CVAU satellite office on Saturday, December 1, 2012. The workshop was designed to help those who were struggling through the holiday season have a better understanding as to why and not feel so isolated. Twenty-five CVAU clients and their families were invited to participate in the workshop. The adults participated in a therapeutic art activity focused on what the holidays meant prior to their victimization, what they mean since then, and their outlook for the future. Led by an art therapist who donated her time, the participants each created a scrap book. While the adults were involved in this activity, the children participated in their own therapeutic art activity, led by child therapists. At the end of the day, each child in attendance received one or two new books (donated by District Attorney’s Office staff ).

The workshop was followed by a tree lighting ceremony. The “Tree of Angels” was started by Milagros Guzman, whose 10-yearold daughter Jessica was murdered in 1990. In 2011 Ms. Guzman, who now lives out of state, requested that the Tree of Angels continue to be placed outside the CVAU Satellite Office. It is a place where families and friends affected by homicide can commemorate the angel they lost by hanging an angel ornament on the tree. In 2012 CVAU was joined by the Grace Baptist Church Praise Dancers, the Gospel of St. Luke’s Church Choir and Father Richard Gorman of Community Board 12 who provided the Blessing of the Tree.

National Crime Victims Rights Week Events

In April 2012, CVAU was involved in the yearly presentation of the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCRVW) Candle Light Vigil, the kick-off event that recognizes the plight of victims and survivors. The national theme for 2012 — “Extending the Vision, Reaching Every Victim” — focused on the progress made toward reaching the ideals that inspired the victims’ rights movement. CVAU then coordinated and organized, through the Bronx Committee for NCVRW, a partnership of allied professionals and community volunteers, the Annual display of the Bronx Line Project, an Information Fair and the Bronx Survivors Tribute. The Clothes-Line Project is a striking visual presentation of t-shirts designed by survivors of crime to break the silence surrounding victimization and to make their voices heard by others who support them in their struggles to heal. Each shirt symbolizes pain, survival, healing and empowerment, and provides a window into the life of a victim who survived violence. The messages on the shirts are individualized – some poetic, some plaintive – allowing the artists to express their feelings in their own way. This visual presentation tells the stories of hundreds of survivors of abuse, violence and neglect. The dramatic illustration of t-shirts hanging side-by-side provided viewers with a glimpse of the devastating effects of crime.

Survivors of domestic violence, rape, child abuse, elder abuse, assault and other crimes of violence decorated the t-shirts with messages, poems, photographs and drawings.

Some t-shirts were memorials to victims of homicide. On the final day of NCRVW, a Survivor’s Tribute was held where the NYPD’s Commissioner Ray Kelly addressed over one hundred people from many different backgrounds.

Bronx Homicide Survivors Support Project

During 2012 the Bronx Homicide Support Project, now in its 12th year, continued to provide two evening therapy groups for the family members, mostly mothers, of Homicide Victims. These two groups are facilitated by the Director of Crime Victims Assistance Unit and a Director from Safe Horizon. While there are now other peer-led support groups in the Bronx and other boroughs throughout the City, up until 2012 the evening group was the only professionally led traumatic grief group of its kind in New York City specifically for family members of homicide victims. However, the CVAU director was able to train another CVAU therapist in the Restorative Retelling Model and was able to have her attend a Restorative Retelling Conference sponsored by Tulane University and the Virginia Mason Medical Center’s Separation and Loss Services. Part of the handson training this therapist received was co-facilitating a day group with the trainer. This meant that the Bronx Homicide Survivors Project was able to expand its services and was able to offer two evening groups and two day groups in 2012. The social worker trained is bi-lingual, giving us the ability to offer this group in both English and Spanish. In November 2012 the first Spanish speaking homicide group was provided.

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