Every city has crime. All crimes have perpetrators. We know what happens when a perpetrator is prosecuted, but what happens to the victim? How do they begin the process of rebuilding? If you live anywhere in Whatcom, Skagit, King, Island or Snohomish County, you start with Victim Support Services.
Victim Support Services (VSS) a bright and precious stone in the bedrock of our community, an organization that bears the proud patina that forty-three years of hard work has earned them. They’re based out of Snohomish County, nestled modestly on Claremont St just off of Evergreen. VSS can also tout the badge of being the oldest victim assistance organization in the state; even among the first in America.
VSS began as a grass-roots effort in the 1970s, championed by Lola Lindstad and Linda Barker, after the abduction and murder of Lola’s daughter. In the year following, the two collected contact information of other local families who had young women or children disappear from the area and invited them to a sit-down. Thirteen families came together, Linda and Lola shared why they’d been invited, and eventually the families opened their hearts and shared their stories. The scene must have been heartbreaking, as emotions and experiences were bared beneath the auditorium lights of a local church.
As a product of the meeting, their efforts took root and are known today as the Victim Support Services. They provide a 24- hour crisis hotline, advocacy services, courtroom support, medical advocacy, information, and referrals. It is a free service which serves a wide spectrum of victimization.
Their roles, as staff and volunteers, are varied and change by the day. “When it comes to victimization, grief, or finding your ‘new normal’,” Michaela Weber, Ph.D., Executive Director of VSS points out, there is no such thing as a tidy fix. “People get up everyday, dealing with what’s been done to them, and that doesn’t necessarily go away or even get better.”
VSS has the honor of being among those called first when tragedies strike, be it a referral for an individual, school shootings, or even at the Oso Mudslide, when grief rolled as thickly as the mud that smothered Steelhead Haven.
Because navigating the landscape of victimization – or, rather, the crater left behind by it - is different for everybody, the entire staff and the volunteers who contribute to the lifeblood of the organization are all trained and certified to take your calls. VSS is experiencing a significant pinch when it comes to qualified volunteers, but are definitely doing their best, and making sure all callers are treated with priority. “Even the accountant answers the phone. The phone never rings more than three times.” Weber points this out with a smile, but she is fiercely proud of her organization, and it shines through.
Training for staff/volunteers covers “crisis intervention, victim trauma, grief and loss, traumatic loss, the criminal and civil legal systems, cultural competency and victims’ rights.” The capabilities of the organization at large include courtroom support, assistance with Victim Impact Statements, support groups, navigating the bureaucracies of filing for Crime Victims Compensation (a program sponsored through L&I), and referrals for sexual and domestic violence, to name a few. The best way to find out if they can help you or someone you know is to call. (See bottom of page for contact information.)
VSS is primarily funded through the government; just about 84% of the funding comes down through government grants, but per Michaela, they’re hoping to whittle that percentage down through private donations and sponsors.
This public outreach looks like canvassing door-to-door, events like vigils, golf tournaments and the annual luncheon The Voices of Victims, which is to be held on March 28th at the Angel of the Winds Arena in downtown. This year, the keynote speaker is Captain Chris Vanghele.
In case you need a refresher on the name, Cptn. Vanghele lead the entry team into the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. He is more than qualified to speak towards healing, both as an individual and member of a community, one marked by horrific loss and fantastical healing.
“We give people a place to begin… Nobody wakes up, gets dressed for work, kisses their kids goodbye […] and knows how to deal with an event like a train derailment,” Weber says, referring to the Amtrak derailment in Dupont. Thankfully, nobody is expected to know these things, but she, the staff and volunteers are.
And if they can’t directly assist?
“…Depending on the case/circumstance, we do partner with area agencies so that we stay current on information about other resources that are available for clients. We are very focused on making strong partnerships with other community organizations, as well! This helps to identify victims of crime -so we get referrals- and also to make sure they get appropriate and necessary services, i.e., when we refer out.”
She goes on to cite a recent collaboration with the Tulalip Tribe, whereby victims of non-violent crime now receive advocacy, a need that was identified and met through collaboration and the sharing of information. “They have been providing advocates of their own for violent crimes, but no service for non-violent crimes, so we recently partnered with [the Tribe] so that we can provide those services to that population.”
According to Weber, there’s an unmet need in communities after disasters occur which captured the attention of media or the nation. Afterwards, “local areas are then flooded with altruism.” Which is a good thing, but once the disaster has left national focus it “leaves behind forgotten victims.” There’s still a need to be met, once the schools re-open or tracks are rebuilt, which they can address through their network.
And VSS is here for all of them.
It is hard to conceive that there’s a single person who has not been impacted by crime; arson, identity theft, home invasion, scams that prey on the very young or the very old, sexual predation, robbery, fraud, hate crimes, human trafficking, homicide. If you are among the blessed who has never needed their services, perhaps you know somebody who does.
To learn more about Victim Support Services, check out victimsupportservices.org. From there, you can learn about the training process to volunteer, sponsor, donate, or the more detailed history of their organization.
Take the time to share information about their undertaking, for the good that can be accomplished for you and yours, and to continue to spread the word about Victim Support Services.
24 Hour Hotline - 1-888-288-9221
Snohomish County Office – 425.252.6081
King County Office – 425.271.0305
Whatcom County Office – 360.756.1780
Island County Office – 425.252.6081
Skagit County Office – 360.756.1780
Fax # – 425.259.1730
TTY – 425.259.0784
Special thanks to the staff at VSS for hosting myself and Stitch Mitchell at the Open House, and to Michaela Weber for her time during interviewing.