The U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service’s (DSS) Victims’ Resource Advocacy Program (VRAP) empowers those who are victims of crimes investigated by DSS.
Through its transnational investigations, DSS frequently encounters victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking, terrorism, robbery, and identity theft. These victims are best served when they understand the legal process surrounding their case and situation as well as the social services available to them.
Referrals for assistance come from a variety of sources. The program routinely receives requests for support from the 29 DSS domestic offices, nearly 200 regional security offices overseas, and from other associated clientele. VRAP also supports department employees and eligible family members who may be identified in a DSS investigation as well as anyone under chief of mission authority overseas or who is involved in domestic cases.
Prioritizing the needs and desires of the victim is a vital component of victim advocacy. Victims often have a hard time accepting assistance, but VRAP works to overcome this initial challenge. From early encounters, VRAP incorporates victim-centered practices to build a legal, therapeutic, and social service response supporting DSS investigations.
VRAP’s victim-centered approach works with all impacted individuals during an investigation. This method helps end the cycle of vulnerabilities, including continued victimization, and encourages victims’ transition into survivors, empowering them to create a healthy and optimistic future.
As some victims require protection under U.S. criminal and civil statutes, VRAP is well suited to ensure these options are enacted. Some victims need limited support, but others, especially foreign victims, may be faced with no viable options in escaping the influence of abusers and traffickers, and to accept assistance, they may have to give up their family, language, and culture.
VRAP personnel remain engaged with victims as their cases progress, which can span months or even years, to ensure they understand the judicial process and are prepared for court. In addition to supporting those who are victimized, VRAP personnel assist DSS special agents by coaching them through victim interactions or by linking witnesses to the services and resources they need during investigations, prosecutions, and beyond.
VRAP received information of a human trafficking victim in a DSS case who needed assistance escaping his abuser’s home. Before DSS special agents and local law enforcement finalized their plan to extract the victim from the home, VRAP had already coordinated housing and case management assistance through local support agencies. VRAP then led the effort to schedule therapy, legal representation, and witness support.
In another instance, during preparation for a trial involving a DSS passport fraud investigation, VRAP arranged travel and lodging for a witness to provide vital testimony. The victim required specialized help including drug detoxification and medical consultations, which VRAP coordinated through a local social service provider. This support allowed the victim to testify, further enabling his recovery.
Many cases require victims to seek behavioral and mental health services, and VRAP’s internal expertise and connections to vast networks of providers support those needs.
VRAP, through its training and awareness component, keeps advocates up to date on nuances encountered in the field and trains others who engage with victims. The program leads advocacy outreach to those who are survivors of workplace violence, violent crimes, fraud, terrorism, mass casualties, and other critical incidents. VRAP personnel also collaborate with a number of DOS offices and services, including the Bureau of Medical Services for mental health support, as well as the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, the Office of Casualty Assistance, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Family Liaison Office.
While various U.S. laws require all U.S. law enforcement agencies to provide some type of advocacy support, DSS is unique in having many victims located all over the world as a result of its global mission. With more than 100 years of service, DSS employees better understand cultural sensitivities and foreign laws, allowing VRAP to best support those who have been victimized by crimes investigated by DSS.
Authorities for the program are based primarily on the Crime Victims’ Rights Act and on Chapter 34 of the U.S. Code, which requires the designation of an official to provide services for victims identified by a federal law enforcement organization in Section 20141. The Foreign Affairs Manual, United Nationals Declarations, Violence Against Women Act, Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Victims of Child Abuse Act and other related legislative works are also guiding principles. Additionally, VRAP looks to the Attorney General’s Guidelines for inter-agency policy directives on servicing federal crime victims.