FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Joe Connelly: [email protected] | 617.838.7120
National Nonprofit Zero Abuse Project Launches Victim Assistance Corps for Child Sex Abuse Survivors in Civil Litigation
As Country Comes to Grips with the Breadth of Child Sex Abuse Crisis, Survivors are Provided with More Resources than Ever Before
Washington, D.C. (September 17, 2019) – Today, Zero Abuse Project announced the launch of the Zero Abuse Victim Assistance Corps, a national corps of highly qualified Victim Assistance Civil Specialists (VACS). VACS will serve as the primary point of contact for survivors of sexual abuse and will play a key role as a part of the multidisciplinary litigation team alongside attorneys and legal assistants.
“As more and more states pass legislation to expand the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, we must seize the opportunity to ensure survivors are empowered to seek justice,” said Jeffrey Dion, CEO of Zero Abuse Project. “The Zero Abuse Victim Assistance Corps brings decades of experience and a wealth of knowledge to law firms handling civil cases and will ensure the survivors who come forward are supported throughout the process of accessing justice. Survivors will be provided personalized support from trained professionals and have assistance in finding and accessing further services should they need them.”
VACS will have a caseload of 50-75 survivors who are clients of these civil law firms. They will field questions from clients and take the time to listen to their questions and concerns. VACS will then synthesize the information and succinctly provide it to the rest of the legal team. They will also work to identify additional support services for the client in their local area such as substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, support groups, and more.
“Civil Attorneys and survivors filing civil suits need victim advocates just as much as prosecutors do and for all the same reasons. Advocates help guide survivors through a complex and confusing legal system while providing victim centered, trauma-informed care within the context of a legal team,” added Dion. “Advocates can offer individualized communication and ancillary resources for survivors whose attorneys experience growing caseloads as a result of the increased demand for legal assistance from survivors of child sex abuse.”
VACS will be employees of Zero Abuse Project but will be contracted to the law firms so that their work is deemed attorney work product and they fall within the client privilege. The program is modeled after the FBI Victim Services Division which has over 150 victim assistance providers imbedded in FBI offices across the nation to provide support to victims and assistance to FBI agents. Initial placements for these Victim Assistance Civil Specialists will be in New York City, Buffalo, New Jersey, Chicago, and Southern California.
“The Victim Assistance Corps will both serve as a valuable resource for survivors navigating the civil process and prove to be a powerful tool for sexual abuse prevention and deterrence,” said Dion. “By ensuring that the civil process is smooth, that survivors have the resources they need, and that lawyers can accommodate as many survivors as are willing to come forward, we can deter institutions from covering up abuse and incentivize them to implement prevention programs and policies. Moreover, our experts will be working with local providers, offering them first-class trainings and education. Through deterrence, prevention, and educational efforts we can stop abuse and protect kids in our communities.”
Zero Abuse Project is pleased to announce that the following victim services professionals have joined its staff as part of this effort:
Sharetta Belfort –Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, NJ
Ms. Belfort holds a Master of Public Administration and has over 13 years of experience in the field with the New Jersey Dept. of Children and Families.
Lacresha Berger –Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, NY Co-Team Lead
Ms. Berger has a Master of Social Work and a bachelor’s in psychology. She has six years of experience working with Child Advocacy Centers, the Salvation Army and Good Shepherd Services.
Taryn Blume –Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, NY
Ms. Blume holds a Master of Social Work from Fordham and a bachelor’s in criminology. She previously worked as a clinical forensic specialist for Safe Horizon. She has seven years of professional experience working with trauma survivors.
Mark Crawford –Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, NJ
Mr. Crawford is a survivor of clergy sexual abuse and serves as the New Jersey state director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). He has more than twenty-five years of experience working with and advocating on behalf of survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Aida Esteves-Felipe –Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, NY
Ms. Esteves-Felipe previously worked as a domestic violence case manager advocate for the Urban Justice Center. She has nine years of experience working in victim services. She is fully bilingual in Spanish/English.
Marisela Hernandez –Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, CA
Ms. Hernandez has a bachelor’s degree in criminology and is pursuing a Master of Social Work. She has three years of experience working as a victim advocate for the Marion County Prosecutor in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is fully bilingual in Spanish/English.
Shannon May, Director of Victim Services
Ms. May previous served for eight years with the FBI Victim Services Division, including a one-year detail to the Office for Victims of Crime in the U.S. Department of Justice. She has more than 20 years of experience in victim services.
Rachel Mendivel –Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, CA Team Lead
Rachel previously worked as an advocate for District Attorney Offices in Riverside and Marin Counties. She has eleven years of experience in victim services.
Beatriz Mendoza–Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, CA
Ms. Mendoza previously worked for former Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. She is a survivor of childhood sex abuse. She is fully bilingual in Spanish/English.
Ashley Morhman–Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, IL
Ms. Morhman has a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in clinical mental health counseling. She previously served as a Medical & Legal Advocate for sexual assault survivors at the YWCA of Chicago. She has four years of experience working in victim services.
Lauren Moskowitz –Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, NY
Ms. Moskowitz has a Master of Social Work. She has nine years of experience as a victim advocate, sexual assault counselor, and a forensic interviewer in a Child Advocacy Center.
Zahann Nelson –Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, NY
Ms. Nelson has a bachelor’s in criminal justice. She has three years of experience working as a Victim Advocate with Safe Horizon and the New York Police Department.
Patricia Nolan–Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, IL Team Lead
Ms. Nolan has a master’s degree in clinical psychology. She previously served as Clinical and Advocacy Services Manager at the Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault. She has eleven years of experience working with survivors of sexual violence.
Siobhan O’Connor–Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, NY
Ms. O’Connor is a Human Services Specialist with over 12 years of experience providing
therapeutic services to at-risk populations. She previously served as executive assistant to the Bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo, NY, where she provided support and direction to survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
Karen Ozuna –Victim Assistance Civil Specialist, NY Team Lead
Ms. Ozuna has a Master of Social Work from Fordham and a bachelor’s in criminology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She has 15 years of experience in victim services having worked for Safe Horizon, the Courts, and Good Shepherd Services.