Tell Us About It: Victim Research ConvosPodcasts
In this CVR podcast series, we talk with those doing research and serving victims and learn about the work they've done together.
Tell Us About It, Episode 29: Using Data to Empower and Support Victims at the NVRDC
A convo with Bridgette Stumpf and Lindsey SilverbergAug 12Time: 30:17
In this episode, we talk to Bridgette Stumpf and Lindsey Silverberg of the Network for Victim Recovery of DC. They share NVRDC’s experience in becoming a data-informed champion for victims, from the steps they’ve taken to promote data collection and quality to their use of data for advocacy and programming.
Susan [00:00:00] Welcome to “Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos,” a podcast from the Center for Victim Research with support from the Office for Victims of Crime. On each episode of “Tell Us About It,” we talk to researchers and practitioners about their work, the tools being built for use in the field, and how we can work together to build an evidence base for victim services.
Susan [00:00:20] On this episode of Tell US About It, we talk with folks from the Network for Victim Recovery of DC about the ways they incorporate research and data into their work. Bridgette Stumpf is the executive director. Lindsey Silverberg serves as director of advocacy. We’re so glad you two could join us. Bridgette, tell us about the Network for Victim Recovery of DC. What type of organization are you and what are you trying to accomplish?
Bridgette [00:00:45] Yeah, I’m happy to, Susan, thanks so much for inviting us to chat with you today. We’re excited to be here. NVRDC is a holistic victim service provider, and really what we’re doing is trying to achieve what we call survivor-defined justice through a collaborative continuum of advocacy, case management, and legal services. But really survivor-defined justice is this idea that we’re advocating for survivors to have options and choices and really promoting improvements in the responses to violence that each survivor has a dignified experience following victimization.
Susan [00:01:20] Lindsey, how does data help you all further your mission? I guess that’s pretty broad question, so can you start with a broad answer?
Lindsey [00:01:29] So I think that data helps further our mission because it gives people context to the experiences that survivors have with violence. And we’re able to use that not only for the community at large to understand how violence is impacting people in their community, but also to really tell stories and provide real life examples of the ways that survivors experience violence.
Susan [00:01:58] So Lindsey, a lot of programs struggle with data quality. When you’re trying to collect data and serve victims at the same time, how do you ensure data is collected consistently?
Lindsey [00:02:11] So at NVRDC, we actually have implemented a lot of data quality checks and particular, like, priorities in order to ensure that our data is collected consistently. One of the things that we call it, although I don’t know everybody would call it a party, but every quarter we have a data party where as a staff that serve — that are on the direct service staff sit down together and we actually complete any of the data that we need to for our grants, for our newsletters, for kind of any other outward facing communication that we might need to. That helps us one, to ensure that we all do it, but also it gives us set aside time, which I think is so important. One of the problems that I think we run into as a victim service field is that the direct services are always going to be the most important thing that we do. But we need to have time to be able to really find a way to collate that data and be able to use it to talk about it. And so our data party, which we do bring food and candy and stuff to make it more fun, gives us that opportunity as a group to make sure that we’re doing it right. And then some of the staff, we spend a lot of time with different systems to make sure that we’re sort of cross-checking the data on a regular basis to ensure that things are accurate, because the worst feeling is getting to the end of the quarter and going back three months and trying to remember and figure out what you did. So it’s helpful to do it as we go.
Susan [00:03:49] Bridgette, do you have anything to add about the data culture that you have built at NVRDC?
Bridgette [00:03:57] Yeah, I think as a victim-serving organization, to Lindsey’s point, we are always going to prioritize how we’re showing up for the clients. And so it’s very easy in the victim services space to not have data as a priority. And one of the things that I really appreciated about Lindsey’s leadership in our organization is that she has actually, I think, raised the expectation of data as a priority in our service provision. And so whether that’s just, you know, sort of doing quality control checks on, are we asking the right questions and general needs assessments? Are we updating them regularly? Are we going over those update with staff in these data parties? Lindsey didn’t mention that the leadership team is actually in those parties. So if there are questions, if there’s lack of knowledge, there’s an opportunity to constantly give some of that institutional guidance that she has, having created that data expectation. And so I think one of the things that helps victim service providers have a culture that prioritizes data is actually that top-down buy-in of the leadership understanding why is data critical in telling our story of impact so that funders and stakeholders and even the community, to Lindsey’s point, understand why we are so critical in this, and really, the response to violence and survivors’ access to recovery.
Susan [00:05:23] Now, NVRDC is also known as policy advocacy organization for victims. Can you give us an example where you were able to use your data to address or get insights into a policy issue? Bridgette?
Bridgette [00:05:37] Yeah, we, much like being data nerds, we would probably consider ourselves a little bit of policy nerds, too. I think we just really can appreciate how policy advocacy is a part of that promoting systems that are responsive to survivors’ needs. And so when I think about data and how it’s informed our approach to policy advocacy or informing legislation, one thing that’s been really helpful is to use trends in data to understand how survivors experience policy changes, because I think oftentimes there is this idea that survivors are not paying attention when laws are changing and how that’s impacting their willingness to have sort of help-seeking behaviors. And so a couple of examples that I think of [such as] in 2012, there was a report done in DC by the Human Rights Watch. And in that report, they detailed some pretty negative experiences that sexual assault survivors had with DC police. And that report was released in January of 2013. Come February, our hospital advocacy program, which Lindsey has created and really oversees, had the lowest number of cases. I think it was 19 cases, if I remember correctly. That’s the lowest number of survivors accessing forensic medical exams ever in the history of us running this program. And that trend, I think, is reflective of the reality that when we look to do policy advocacy, we cannot neglect the ways that survivors use information and data to also decide how they’re going to respond to these changes. And so we think about that, also right now, in the Title IX context, we actually tracked trends in Title IX survivors, or really college campus survivors, that were coming to us for Title IX services and representation. And what we found is that in 2018, when there was a discussion that the rules were going to change and the protections might be rolled back under Title IX, we saw a dip in campus survivors coming to us for support. And again, I think we think about data as a helpful tool to track how messaging and communications about what is coming in terms of policy changes, how that might impact a reporting culture for a survivor who’s assessing whether or not the institution or the system they want to engage in is going to be a safe place for them.
Susan [00:08:09] Now, Lindsey, are you able to communicate with your team how that data that they’re collecting gets used in policy, is it clear to them?
Lindsey [00:08:19] Yeah, I think so. One of the other things that we try to be really transparent about is, you know, we ask the staff to collect a fair amount of data. And so one of the things that we try to do from the top down is make sure that we’re being transparent with what we’re using that data for, what it ultimately looks like. Because I felt — I think it also helps give our staff context to all of the hard work that they’re doing that they’re so often operating one-on-one directly with survivors that it’s nice for them to be able to take a step back, see the impact that they’re having more broadly, and then also use that to understand how that’s impacting policy, the ways in which it’s helped change it.
Susan [00:09:01] Now, Bridgette, you gave some examples of some things that have happened in the past few years. But let’s talk about a current issue. The COVID-19 pandemic has really impacted our field and put some constraints on victims and survivors. [Does] your data show anything or has — is it showing anything about the effects of the pandemic and the related shutdown?
Bridgette [00:09:26] Yeah, we are definitely learning from the data that we’ve collected during that COVID-19 response. One of the things that I think is important is to give kudos to Lindsey and our leadership team. Right on the very beginning of DC’s mayor issuing stay-at-home orders, we really collectively moved to create kind of a tangential system to collect data on a daily basis, which was different than the system we had set up for reporting, which is typically monthly or quarterly basis. And so we moved to this shared document that was really a living real-time document to assess how many cases have we seen at the hospital, how many calls for service, how many legal requests to be received. And so moving quickly to kind of know what data points we needed to be measuring or looking at, I think was a really helpful sort of approach to knowing what saw, right? What was the reality for survivors? And I think what’s often surprising to people is to hear that we, we saw 71 sexual assault survivors seek a forensic medical exam during stay-at-home orders before we moved into the reopening phase. And that’s surprising because those survivors had to present at the hospital, right, where much of the screening for COVID was happening and the treatment for COVID cases, and so those survivors were making decisions about where they felt safer, right? Sort of not getting evidence collected, not getting medical treatment versus a potential health risk of presenting. And so collecting that data was really important for the general public who might make assumptions that sexual assault either wasn’t happening during stay-at-home orders, or that survivors weren’t going to be willing to access those services in a hospital setting. Now, it’s also been really hopeful because we’ve seen a lot of discussion about the rates of intimate partner violence being exacerbated, right, particularly when abusers might not be leaving the home to go to work. So there’s not the same opportunity for respite for victims to seek help like they might typically do not during a pandemic. What we saw at the hospital was of those survivors that access those exams, we typically see about 15 percent of them are presenting because it’s sexual violence and an intimate partner violence relationship. However, that percentage doubled during the pandemic. And so, you know, being able to articulate that reality of who we’re seeing need these services is a really helpful way to communicate not just to funders about the need, but also to the general public so that we’re enhancing that awareness of how even when the world stops, unfortunately, sexual violence does not.
Lindsey [00:12:23] And I think that we were able to figure out that trend because of the fact that we prioritized data, we prioritized having these sort of daily discussions about what was happening on the ground. And so we were able to look at the narratives and experiences that the survivors were coming into the hospital and recognize that it was a much higher percentage of intimate partner violence, sexual assault. And so we’re really able to sort of shift focus and be able to talk about that more publicly in a way that if we hadn’t been collecting data on a daily basis or having those meetings, that we would have maybe missed.
Susan [00:13:01] So I’m wondering, how did the two of you each develop this interest in research and data? It’s great to see how it’s playing out, but how did you come to this? Lindsey, let’s start with you.
Lindsey [00:13:14] Sure. I have always found research and data so interesting. And I took a class in college, a victimology class in college, where I had all the sudden, like all of my interests just sort of seemed to fit together in a way I had never experienced before. And as I started to get involved in the victim service field, I really realized that for the majority of direct service providers, we didn’t have the tools, we weren’t really empowered to make data a priority. And it was one of those things for me that I just feel so passionately about. And so since then, it’s just sort of evolved into my pet project and I love data and I love looking at it and I love figuring out ways to use it to communicate.
Susan [00:14:00] Brigdette, how about you?
Bridgette [00:14:03] Hmm, you know, it’s one of those things I’m like, a little bit embarrassed to admit that I don’t think I recognized the value of data when I got into the victim services field. My push was really much more focused on giving survivors, particularly in the crime victims’ rights base, giving survivors an opportunity to really amplify their voice in of the most traumatic moments of their life, and it probably wasn’t until I had the opportunity to lead NVRDC in partnership with Lindsey and our staff and our board that I come — I really came to realize that data is the tool we use to tell our story, right, or tell a survivor’s story. And so for me, it’s this weird convergence of — I didn’t know the value of it until I had it to use. And had it not been for Lindsay and other in the leadership team that were really good about thinking proactively about what data we needed, I don’t think I would have put together that that’s the tool to tell the story that I was kind searching for, wanting to find to really help illustrate our impact. And so it was just sort of once I knew that it was there and we started using it in kind of — both using it, I think, to tell the story, but also to analyze our programs and our services. So one of the things that we did early on, we actually developed a client assessment feedback process where we train volunteers, excuse me, who are not actually directly involved in their client services so that they could ask clients after their case had closed what their experience was with our staff, you know, get candid feedback about that experience. And we use that to sort of pivot, okay, where are we missing the resources and services that survivors are looking for? How do we enhance that? Where do we improve? And I think I’ve always sort of loved this idea of a quality control and being accountable to what we are saying or our job is and what we’re here for. And so once I also saw data as a tool to be accountable to our community, I think it sort of helped me latch on to, okay, how do we integrate this collection and storytelling of the data into all of our programs, all of our sort of organizational approaches to the work?
Susan [00:16:23] Wow, you all are doing so much with data. As you are starting to look at trends or see gaps, have you been able to use data to look at areas maybe that you want to expand into or new programs or services? Lindsey, why don’t we start with you on that one.
Lindsey [00:16:48] Sure. Yeah, I think that one of the things, as Bridgette mentioned, using data to be accountable to ourselves and really evaluate where we’re doing well in our programs and where there is space, maybe to change something or tweak something. One of the things that we found that came out of the data that we collect was that not all survivors feel safe engaging the criminal justice system or the civil justice system, that for a lot of survivors, that’s not a safe, not a safe place. They’ve had bad experiences before. They’re looking for some other option to have a conversation with the person that harmed them. And restorative justice has been around for a long time, but has traditionally not been seen as a avenue for sexual assault or intimate partner violence survivors because of the fact of how intimate the violence is. And so looking and hearing from the survivors that we were working with, that was a space where they really had interest in being able to directly speak to the person that caused them harm without having to go through the criminal justice system. And so we were actually able to create a partnership with a local group here in DC to pilot a restorative justice program for sexual assault survivors who are interested in exploring what that sort of avenue to justice looked like for them. And it’s been very successful and it’s given survivors another option that, again, we wouldn’t have known if we hadn’t been evaluating our programs with data.
Bridgette [00:18:26] I think I’ll just add to that, and I didn’t even realize how this tied back to the data question until I was sort of thinking in my head about how just in the last year we were just having a conversation about typically of the 500 sexual assault survivors that we see present at the hospital, historically, about 60 percent of those 500 people would report to the police. But in the last year, there’s been a downward trend where we’re now — we’re seeing the same numbers show up, but the trend and who reports has actually gone down to about 50 percent. A 10 percent decrease in reporting is not insignificant when you’ve seen 60 percent sort of consistently being the reporting rates for sexual violence in the nation, right, sort of national prevalence rates. And so for us, it really does force us internally to have really thoughtful conversations about what is the reality of the particular sexual assault survivor client that we see at the hospital and why might their experience might not make them feel like it’s okay or safe to engage in that traditional notion of the criminal legal system, right? You report to the police and then potentially there’s a prosecution. I think just assessing how survivors are interfacing differently with the program and the institutions in the system that exist forces us to say, okay, what is our responsibility? What is our role in creating those other options where there’s other opportunities and pathways for recovery, if we know the willingness to report to police is potentially going to continue going down. We don’t want that to mean that those survivors are just not getting any response.
Susan [00:20:06] That’s great. So you’re using data to say, to reveal there’s an issue here and then you’re able to gather more data to think about how could we address this? So sounds like there’s all kinds of data successes at your organization. But surely there are some challenges to gathering this data. Can you talk a little bit about what some of those have been, either with staff or with the victims and survivors you’re gathering data from?
Bridgette [00:20:39] Yeah, I have a couple examples. The first one is related to the creation of our Victim Legal Network. So we host the Victim Legal Network of DC and that was one of the wraparound networks that was funded through OVC. And we were really excited to have the opportunity to turn a really robust legal community in DC into kind of this coordinated non — you know, sort of entry point that is no wrong door to justice for any victim of any crime. But one of the challenges when we did our initial needs assessment was you can’t really expect to go to crime victims and say, hey, where were your rights enforced? Where were they not enforced? Because the challenges that we know historically, crime victims don’t actually always know about their rights. And so we had to sort of pivot to say, okay, who’s better situated to know when client present with crime victims’ rights issues, whether or not those issues get met, whether or not they don’t, and there’s a gap, so we had to really be thoughtful about how we collected that data in the surveys that were actually conducted with service providers and not the victim community. And I would say and another example is an IRB. I only know that word thanks to Lindsey. But Lindsay and I both kind of went through this IRB process with a research partner that we have, and our goal was to help tell the story of the need for restorative justice. We wanted to do individual interviews with survivors who engaged in reporting to the police and survivors who had not and really come to understand what are the criteria or what is that decision-making point where someone says that is a safe place for me versus that is not. And then to assess if restorative justice had been available, would they have engaged and that sort of option? I think we only got one or two clients that did the interview. And that’s the challenge, right? It’s a lot to ask of someone to say, hey, come in, talk to us about your experience, relive what we know, you know, is sort of often a difficult resharing. Now, on the flip side, sometimes it can be really empowering to have clients have that opportunity. But I do think that’s one of the unique challenges, is that we have a lot of creative ideas about how we can use survivor stories and experiences to inform how we advocate for system change and how we advocate for policy changes and funding for those policy changes, but it’s really hard to get the clients who have, honestly, the privilege and opportunity to be able to be in a space to share their experience.
Susan [00:23:17] Lindsey, is there anything you’d add to that?
Lindsey [00:23:20] No, I think I think Bridgette really said that very succinctly. It is hard to ask survivors to relive something that was so horrible and harmful in their life. And so I think, I guess I will say the thing for me that I find with data, right, is when we talk about it on an aggregate level. It’s a bit easier as victim service providers to collect that type of data to tell a story and use that to sort of lay the groundwork for survivors who do want to share their experience. So I think that the quantitative and qualitative data are both really important in different ways because, you know, one gives us a sheer understanding of the numbers of people that are experiencing it. And then for people who are interested in actually sharing their narratives and their stories and experiences, the qualitative piece really allows us to sort of play out what the sheer numbers look like as a lived experience for someone.
Susan [00:24:26] Now looking forward, what type of data analysis or evaluation or research do you wish you could get into, assuming, of course, that you had funding? Lindsey, why don’t we start with your wish list.
Lindsey [00:24:42] Sure. My wish list is long, but one of the things that popped to my head are always program evaluation. I think it is so important to be able to look in detail about what we’re asking of staff, what we’re asking of survivors to share with us, really look at how those questions and the data that we’re collecting and the services we’re providing impact survivors in a way that is objective and comes — is research-based, right? So program evaluation for me is always an important thing that I would love to see funded more. And yeah, I’ll start with that one and turn it over to Bridgette because I know she has some, too.
[00:25:27] Yeah, in terms of research, I have a couple examples that I’m thinking of, and one of the most recent came from a conversation I had with someone earlier this year who’s a former prosecutor, and he disclosed to me that in college, he was having an experience where several survivors of sexual violence who did not have a relationship with him would come and share their experience. And it created a curiosity in me, which I think is often where our research wish list comes from is just getting curious. And I thought, gosh, what was it about him, about this person that made random strangers feel like he was a safe place to go disclose their experience of sexual violence. And I thought, imagine if we could take that information and replicate it in a curriculum or training that we gave to others who were on the front lines of responding when survivors disclose. And so that’s one thing that I’m particularly interested in right now. And how could we create a pool to help those advocates on college campuses or system-based advocates or community providers figure out how we can hone those traits that survivors use to either identify, you know, perceived safe or not so safe spaces. So that’s one example. And I think I was also — you sparked an idea in me, Susan, about this idea of culture, right, like, how do we have cultures in victim services that really prioritize data? And I thought back to an all-day training we were doing with our staff where an individual staff member presented an idea about how we might create more equity and how we create opportunities for our clients to engage in policy advocacy, whether that’s providing testimony with the local council. And she really brought up how different survivors’ experiences are going to mean they have different access to childcare for that date, take off work, get transportation. And from her suggestion, we created a survivor support fund where our staff can actually request emergency funds that we fundraise for to make sure that we’re creating more equitable access to policy advocacy for our clients. And for me, what that kind of illustrates is that we have this huge gold mine of qualitative data in our staff right? They’re really the ones on the front line seeing these trends real-time. And if we could figure out a way to kind of poll from all of that institutional knowledge and the ideas of what they have, I think that we would get a lot of good ideas on how we can pivot and respond to make sure we’re showing up in the best way possible for the clients that we’re serving.
Susan [00:28:21] Wow. You have both given me so many — you’ve sparked so many ideas for me and I hope that the same thing is true for our listeners. You’re really doing so much great work, and really expanding your ability to carry out your mission with this constant thinking about research and data. It’s been so much fun to talk with both of you today. Thank you so much.
Bridgette [00:28:48] Oh gosh, we love talking about this. So any time we’re happy to continue the conversation. And honestly, I just have to say, Susan, to you and your team, thank you for being willing to uplift the important, really critical role that data plays in our work. I really think that without these conversations, we unfortunately just don’t always have, quite honestly, the time and victim services to take a pause and think about where we can do better and it really takes people creating space for us to have these conversations and to spark those ideas so that we can all sort of figure out how to use data to show up in the work.
Susan [00:29:27] Well, thank you both.
Susan [00:29:30] We hope you enjoyed this episode of “Tell Us About It.” If there are research or practice experts you’d like us to interview or research tools you’d like us to feature on this podcast, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Closing [00:29:44] “Tell Us About It” is a production of the Center for Victim Research, funded by the Office for Victims of Crime’s Vision 21 Initiative, Cooperative Agreement number 2016-XVGX-K006. The Office for Victims of Crime is part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. However, the points of view and opinions discussed on this podcast are those of the host and expert contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.