Member Spotlight: Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program

Aug 21st, 1970

What is your name and title and how long have you worked with your agency? My name is Nadja Soares Pereira Cabello, L.C.S.W.-C., Manager for Trauma Services: Abused Persons Program (APP) and Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program (VASAP) in the Department of Health and Human Services/Montgomery County. Tell us about your Rape Crisis Program and the issues it tackles, and does anything make sexual assault work different in your area compared to the rest of Maryland?
 Our two victim services programs have seen many changes throughout the decades of our existence.  The Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program (VASAP) started in 1977 as Sexual Assault Services, and in 1995 the Victim Advocate Program merged with us and we became VASAP.
VASAP assists victims of crimes such as rape/sexual assault, homicide, driving while intoxicated (DWI), car jacking, torture, hate crimes, arson, larceny, robbery, auto theft, and vandalism. The program provides information and referral, advocacy, crisis and ongoing counseling, and support and compensation services for victims of crimes committed in Montgomery County or crime victims who live in Montgomery County. Assistance is also provided to the victims' families and significant others.  Staff also works to educate public about issues related to sexual assault, rape, human trafficking, labor servitude, and other issues.
 
Additionally, we provide court accompaniment and victim advocacy through our corps of victim assistant staff and court volunteers. VASAP manages a crime victim compensation fund locally and our victim assistants liaison with the State's Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
 
VASAP recruits, trains, and oversees a corps of sexual assault outreach volunteers who respond to hospitals/police stations 24/7/365 days per year together with the police and SAFE nurses as part of the Sexual Assault Assistance Team (SAAT). We are proud that our collaboration with our colleagues from the police and hospitals date back to 1979.
 
VASAP has a 24/7 Crisis line through our Community Crisis Center.  This crisis line is staffed also by professional licensed clinicians, and they page our volunteers when the police or nurses call for a sexual assault outreach volunteer.
 
In the Montgomery County area, we see a large influx of foreign born immigrants, especially from Central America and other Spanish speaking countries.  Our county school system reports over 135 foreign languages spoken by their enrolled students.  This of course reflects in our client population, thus many of our clinicians and victim assistants are either bilingual or trilingual, Health and Human Services also has a language line and a translation/interpretation contract that VASAP can use to serve our many clients.
 
Lately, we have seen an influx of unaccompanied minors coming mainly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador who have suffered a great deal of crime victimization and trauma in their countries or crossing the border, thus presenting some unique challenges as they are re-unified with family members they have not seen for many, many years.
 
In addition to VASAP, under Trauma Services we also have the comprehensive domestic violence program which started back in 1976, APP.
 
 We will soon be celebrating 40 years of dedicated comprehensive and professional service to crime victims in our county!
Why are you a member of MCASA?
 
VASAP has been a member of MCASA since its inception.  It is a worthy organization  fighting for the needs of rape and sexual assault victims in Maryland and at the federal level.  The legislative accomplishments in passage of many bills supporting survivors of sexual assault is so much appreciated by all the staff and clients.  We also have much praise to give to the Sexual Assault Legal Institute (SALI) staff and the legal help they have given to some very difficult and complex cases.
What Sexual Assault Prevention work does your program do?
 
Our clinicians are responsible for covering all high schools and the middle and elementary schools that feed into them providing consultation and outreach to students who are victims of sexual assaults.  Some of our clinicians also are running co-ed groups for identified high risk students or just those who want to learn prevention of sexual violence, dating violence, and other crimes.
 
Our grant funded community educator spends the majority of her allotted time providing education and outreach to the 10th graders in the sexual assault/date curriculum health classes, providing these workshops to thousands of students yearly.
 
When invited we provide workshops on our services and crime victim issues to the community and organizations as time permits.
 
Our website, http://www.vasap.org has lots of information on our services and educational materials, including our latest video geared towards young men and bystander intervention, "Men- Step Up! Stop Rape!"
If your program received $100,000 in new funds today, what would you do with it?
What a great question!  I decided that I would ask the staff for their needs and ideas and here are the items that came up most often among the staff:
1.​Hire more full time victim assistants and give the existing VA staff a raise.
2. Relocate APP and VASAP into one centralized location.
3. Publicize the programs through PSAs and a media campaign.
4. Housing for victims leaving shelter.
5. Add one Program Manager/Volunteer Coordinator.
6.Funds to assist victims with relocation, establish a legal fund, and babysitting aid 
 Have you had any recent events or actions that you'd like to tell us about? Any upcoming ones? Coming up in April 2015 we will have our Annual Volunteer Recognition Ceremony and we will celebrate National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Crime Victims' Rights Week, April 19-25th, 2015, with the theme "Engaging Communities. Empowering Victims." We just had many client activities led by staff and volunteers of APP for October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, with posters and art work made by our clients posted on the walls of the 1st floor in our building.

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