Looks Can be Deceiving: Victim Advocacy, A Life’s Mission, but Never Fully Compensated

court room, victim advocates

Crime Victim Advocates are a strange breed… Typically, it is not a chosen profession.  Rather, they come from the ranks of the survivors of crime. It is a hard row to hoe, seeing the dark side of life, the violence and the pain in the aftermath.

Violent crime sneaks up on “its prey” and shatters life as we know it. We are told in an academic manner that we must traverse through the stages of grief outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross…one step forward, then three steps back, never on an even keel.  We get stuck along the way ultimately to come out the other side a different person who can help others via their own life transformation.

Some survivors experiencing such a transformation, may be able to put it behind them “in a corner of their mind,” proceeding on a new path. There are those advocates who spring into action in very non-traditional ways.  They feel compelled to spread their message however they can.

Crime victim advocates may be able to find paid work within state or federal government arenas or non-profit organizations as well as some prosecutor’s offices and some police departments. However, frequently such positions are few and far between. Many of these positions are often the most low paying too!

Taken from my Blog The Murder Business… What’s Wrong With this Picture?

Crime Victim Advocates – (Court Based or Non- Profit)

$45, 0000 annually which is 38% lower than the average of all job postings!

Private Investigators (As of May 2009) Average Hourly wage is $22.66; Average annual wage = $47,130; Investigators with one year of experience = $25,602 annually; Investigators with 20+ years of experience. Range = $37,443 to $70,080 annually;

Private Investigators working in the Management, Scientific and Consulting Industries the most well compensated: Average = $90,030 annually;
Private Investigators in the Natural Gas Distribution Industry earn $83,080 annually; Private Investigators in the Computer System Design Industry earn $79,380 annually; Private Investigators in the Telecommunications Industry earn $74,800 annually; The highest paid private investigator employed by a state is Virginia at $$68,420 annually;
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics…

Police Detectives earn a range of $34,402 to $94,171 annually;

Homicide Detectives earn a median salary of $62,110 nationally; In a 2010 Survey of 435 detectives a salary range of $44,613 to $81,796 was reported; Detectives in the Federal System earn an average of $75,390 annually; Detectives in State Government earn an average of $54,940 annually; Detectives in Local Government earn an average of $61,230 annually;

Top Five Highest Paid Cities – Detective Salaries as of an August 2010 Survey) (Includes Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and St. Louis)

Salary Range on Average was $68,200 to 107,304 annually;

Domestic Violence /Intimate Partner Homicide- Director of Non-Profit:

  • Executive Director positions earn an average of $48,155 annually;
  • Program Manager Non– Profit position earns an average of $42,907annually;
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) earns an average of $39,996 annually;
  • Masters of Social Work (MSW) earns an average of $33,384 annually;

Left to their own devices, Advocates work at their passion on a part-time basis, nights and weekends, or they may even give up their paying jobs to pursue their mission IF there is another source of income in the household.  However, most people do not have such an option, especially in these dire economic times.

A majority of Advocates cannot afford the exorbitant costs of life coaches or most publicity and marketing companies. Moreover, many organizations are cutting paid speakers out of their budgets no matter how dynamic or compelling the speaker or message may be.

The realities of being an Advocate frequently include self-promotions, locating bookings for presentations, writing articles and books, (hoping to procure the services of a publisher “who will bite” and share your vision in order to disseminate your vital message and perhaps yield some income).

Case in Point:

Susan Murphy-Milano

Susan Murphy-Milano

Susan Murphy-Milano, a beloved former colleague and intimate partner violence expert, always presented herself –her countenance, style of dress, nails accessories etc. like she “had a million bucks.” In order to be professional, you must look the part, after all. However, reality tells a far different story.

Susan Murphy Milano is in a state of high indignation–a condition she experiences with exasperating frequency. Milano is an advocate for battered women. She’s not a lawyer or a social worker but sort of a guardian angel: she listens to their stories, tells them what their legal options are, hooks them up with shelters and counseling services, coaches them through media interviews and press conferences. For all of her trouble she receives no pay.”

 “Later she confesses, “Friday I was on burnout–I can’t catch up sometimes. I don’t think I got five hours of sleep all last week. . . . I don’t know how long I can keep going like this.” Milano knows that she courts exhaustion by keeping this schedule. A vegetarian, she worries about “keeping my health and mind straight” but smokes a pack a day. “I don’t relax well,” she admits. “I’m a real nervous Nellie.” But she shows no signs of slowing down.” 

 “It seems that no one thinks about how Susan is supposed to live, either. Being a full-time, unpaid advocate has been hard financially. When we first met, in late February, she said rather wistfully, “I’m all on my own. I get paid by writing speeches, doing fund-raising, consulting, writing articles. It’s pretty hand-to-mouth. . . . I keep waiting for someone to come and say, ‘We’ll hire you.'” But none of the agencies seemed interested.”

On our many phones conversations over two years, I would hear Susan crunching on some snack as we talked, with a “creaky cupboard “making noise in the background in her home. I asked her once, “Susan, how well do you live?” Her response, “Not very well, Donna.”

For all the thousands of Advocates out there who continue to forge a path for others selflessly, carry on, but make a Plan B for a steady income…  You deserve it!

Looks Can be Deceiving: Victim Advocacy, A Life’s Mission, but Never Fully Compensated

Birthday Blog: New Horizons- What is Prosperity?


Another year, another birthday… and it happens to be a “milestone year” chronologically that I don’t want to think about because; I believe I actually think 30 years younger! (And perhaps my good genes give me a tad younger countenance than most people.)    Anyway…last year was the “Crayola Box of Colors,” the year before that was the “Pioneer Woman of the Wild West” and the year before that “Simplicity spells happiness in gift giving.”  So…do I want to change it up to demonstrate to readers that I have “grown?” I have, so there’s no need to make up profound stuff for the sake of “It’s your birthday.” No pressure, I have no one to please, but myself.  That, in fact, is a tall order because I always have had very high expectations of myself, perhaps as a way to compensate for my physical disability (which has nothing to do with my talents and abilities, which took my brain a LONG time to learn!)

My Loves, My Passions, My Frustrations and What’s/Who’s truly important in this life:

I still love the writing… and someday when my time, my money, timing, and talent of friends allows, there will be a book (in progress). For now, I am expanding my horizons with delving into other audiences besides the usual social media!  What I have learned- whether it is on a sticky note, a word document or a classy compilation with fine editing, the written words are the most important thing, as well as the endless combinations and ability to write about what others do not! Perhaps that is a gift – the road less travelled …

Under that category, falls my innovation, my unique, customized  Victim Impact Writing Service which offers a crime victim, who is vulnerable, and traumatized an opportunity to take some of the burden off of their shoulders, to try to walk in their shoes “better than the average bear”, knowing the system from several points of view, my ability  to relate to people no matter what walk of life from years of professional practice in many endeavors, and to translate their feelings and life forced upon them into “new normalcy” with dignity and balance ….to remove the focus on the perpetrator, hopefully to achieve the maximum sentence or continued incarceration.  And…. the good news is that officials in California may consider incorporating this service into their victim compensation funding in some manner! How cool is that?

The Radio, The Radio, The Radio:  

It all began with an offer from Susan Murphy–Milano and Delilah Jones… nearly three years ago with an offer about which I was terrified, but felt I could not refuse! What? ‘A live radio show, weekly, for an hour with no commercials and a “blank canvas?” Are you kidding me? No!   The concept, conceived on a cruise ship with PI, Denny Griffin, and then we were off and sailing!

This venture has  been a tremendous vehicle to accomplish much in terms of zeroing in on the aftermath of crime (again, which no one else focuses on), creating an awareness and educating others to issues not discussed, providing another avenue for writing blogs with embedded podcasts and… most of all making people connections which are long-lasting!

Over time, radio listening habits have changed in the industry which is a real mystery to PR professionals and all radio hosts ….but we at Shattered Lives Radio have consistently kept up the quality. ‘The downside- the human element in having to chase the bookings to get confirmations etc.  However, the “brass ring” is that when we do decide to retire this venture, all of the shows are archived for repeated listening, presenting an impressive historical timeline of human events and a wonderful aftermath of crime library.

A New Home for the Future- 

Unless you have a chronic disability affected by changes in weather, this will seem like Greek to you! However, as a person with spastic cerebral palsy, my body, which I frequently push to the limits, feels as stiff as a board in cold temperatures, compromising my mobility and my usual vast amounts of energy. I knew it would come to this…a major life decision to move to a warm climate. My search began about six years ago…and although I thought my heart was set on the location and friends in San Diego, it was not to be for a few reasons. Rather, I built my network and friends and colleague to the Carolinas and another major cultural shift….. Back and forth back and forth for several years.  I have no one “to assist or grow old with,” so my choices are my own, for good or for bad. However with living minimally, carefully and careful planning, I have found a location in Myrtle Beach that offers comfort and serenity…and the potential for further income. So… take the risk and do it!  It has been very stressful dealing with the differences between the States of Connecticut and South Carolina. However, I am always up for the challenges in order to pave the way for retirement in the future. I will never be a “lounger”, but will enjoy more of life’s offerings beyond the treadmill of work in the future, I promise!

My Frustrations –

I could be lavish in my expectations and say I want “xyz legislation” or changes in policies, programming,  or homicide survivors, the missing, victims of intimate partner violence, human trafficking and on and on… to be accomplished by next year at this time because that is my goal.  BUT, the biggest lesson of all for advocates to learn is that they (we) cannot save the world no matter how hard they (we) try.  Instead, it is a matter of degree!

The pursuit for justice and equality for all will always be illusive.  We cannot stop crime, or grief, or bring the deceased back to life. We can, in our own way, do what we can to assist others and be satisfied.  It is vital to know your limits and stick to them.   As I age, I have learned much from others combined with my own trials.  The following truisms may sound cliché, but they are good barometers just the same. (Keep in mind that I am not the model for all of these truisms….still a work in progress.) Being a survivor of crime sometimes brings emotion and lack of objectivity Having friends who can provide the extra objectivity when needed is invaluable. No one knows it all… no matter how many degrees you hold or experiences you have.   With each passing year, and over 30 years of survivorship, I think, “I’ve seen it all.” But truly, I am always learning and that is the best reward in life!

Try to always be part of a solution versus “flaming the fire of the problem”; Always scale your expectations of others – people, systems, events, for you never know what has occurred before… and keep in mind always that your drive to achieve, your priorities and timelines often don’t match others. It’s truly a miracle that anything gets accomplished in the world of criminal justice!  Setting realistic goals and seeking to respectfully collaborate with others, making them shine, (sometimes at your own expense), will often make things happen quicker.

Know when to push, know when to pull others in, know when to set your boundaries, know when to introduce your “out of the box” idea, know when to be a catalyst, not necessarily in the middle of the change. Give others credit always!  Be positive …and if you can’t be positive, be hopeful that things will turn around.   It is a delicate balance between giving crime victims the information that they need in small doses and yet shield them from the realities they may face in the uncertain world of the judicial process. Perseverance is my middle name. But,   patience is a virtue that I rarely have. It is a necessity in life. I don’t mind others reminding me of this.  I say, “slow and steady” may win the race…but not always!  I would much rather humanize and sensitize the process versus re-create the wheel.

Caring, Burnout and Compassion Fatigue:

I have been there in my professional life – This is a “pitfall” into which all of us can fall if we don’t take care.  If you feel numb or de-sensitized to an issue you used to care so much about, you have not suddenly grown into a meanie – you have evolved. There is ALWAYS something that ignites your fire. You just have to identify it, switch gears and use your energy for that endeavor! I have done this many times!

 Finally, What is Prosperity?

Although I have never been a materialistic or a person of wealth, over the past several years I have seen the stark poverty of Imperial Valley California, and many who struggle in other states – including Connecticut, defined as one of the wealthiest states in the country, and the Carolinas.   What do they have in common? For many, they are happy despite their lack of means for they live within their means and try to create a life that is satisfying to them. They re-define what a good life is beyond material goods.  I have learned much for they are just as giving as this writer, always there to volunteer and help others.  They are good people at their core.  I choose to surround myself by a variety of good people, making new friends, those I can learn from, be intellectually stimulated by, and have an appreciation for new things that I have not yet discovered, while paying it forward in my own ways! That is my personal goal for the coming year!  Turning a milestone year may not be so bad after all!

Ladyjustice …another year older…another year with more curiosity, hopeful for good change wherever we can find it!





“WHY DON’T THEY JUST LEAVE? (Asked the legislator, the police, the neighbor, the passive observer etc…)

The Sabel (Cabbage) Palmetto Tree of South Carolina – 


They are remarkably hardy, resistant to fire, floods, coastal conditions, cold, high winds and drought. Sabal palmettos are very cold-hardy and able to survive relatively short periods of temperatures as low as 7 °F –(13 °C)  and occasionally much lower. Maintenance of the Cabbage Palm tree is very easy and very adaptable. This palm is known to tolerate drought, standing water and brackish water. Even though this palm is drought-tolerant, it thrives on regular light watering and regular feeding. It is highly tolerant of salt winds, but not saltwater flooding.

Under such hardy palms swaying in the breeze, lives a state, the State of South Carolina under siege with the highest homicide rate against women in the country, for the third time in ten years!   Many of these victims have come through a personal siege of their own, of which intimate partner violence is a very real component.  They have had to be hardy, adaptable and tolerate extremes…just like the mighty Sabel palm. Who is there to offer a safety net?  Enter Elmire Raven, M.A. (pronounced El-meer), Executive Director of My Sister’s House in North Charleston, South Carolina!

The primary reasons given by victims for remaining or returning to their abusive relationships generally fall within a few categories.   According to Raven, a seasoned professional who has lived and worked in the trenches with the victims of intimate partner violence for 25 years, the heart of the matter can be distilled to the following justifications. (I commented regarding each category below.)   Keep in mind, that generalities can be dangerous, as every person; every case has its complexities. However, these truths continue to bind victims to their abusers just the same.

  • Love – is blind- When we’re in it, we see what we want to see…
  • Paternity – is a biological fact of life, but it has noting to do with morality;
  • Potential Homelessness – keeps us down and out and nowhere to rest our weary mind;
  • No Transportation– No wheels or anyone to provide those wheels forces us to remain a “prisoner of our current circumstances;”
  • No Financial Resources– If a woman has no money to sustain her plan of escape; it cannot proceed, as basic financial resources and a way to continue a cash flow is vital to independence.

Why is it that legislators, police, neighbors and others believe that it is a simple matter of “just leaving?”   The truth is, they do not understand the dynamics, the clever manipulations and keen observations of the abuser and the power they have over the victim; what information, threats they use to “keep the woman in line.” In the mind of the victim, the perpetrator’s threats are  worse than her current situation.  And so, frequently, she is resigned to “go along to get along,” taking the abuse, injuries and terror in stride, devoid of dignity, living a surreal numbing existence.

One tool in the “Domestic Violence toolbox” being circulated nationally in honor of the years of effort by the late Susan Murphy Milano, is the prevention tool known as the EAA -Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit which is a component of her revolutionary Document the Abuse program.

My Sister's House, Elmire Raven, Shattered Lives RadioAlthough South Carolina has consistently been in the “top ten” of intimate partner homicides, the tri-county area which My Sister’s House serves has recently seen a decrease in the numbers within their area. The most significant reason is the unity of organizations, the pooling of resources, and working together for the common goal, helping victims.  They have also taken on the added responsibility of providing temporary resources for survivors of human trafficking, a growing population with unique requirements, and different from those of domestic violence.

Shattered Lives Radio had the pleasure of examining the issues surrounding intimate partner violence in South Carolina and universally.

Join us for the interview with Elmire Raven. Below are selected written highlights of the show.

 Listen to Shattered Lives Radio

  • Introduction to our guest
  • The evolution of domestic violence –IPV programs in the South and what they offer now
  • Ranking of Number one in homicides against women- Why?
  • Guns, legislation and what a perpetrator is charged with….OR NOT!
  • The Key- Community support and involvement
  • Discussion of housing, transportation  and the trips to court
  • No tools in order to leave…..
  • The victim – Making a decision; What’s involved? 35% -5 to 7 times…..
  • Do they ever turn people away?
  • A discussion of “to report or not to report”
  • Opportunities for cutting edge collaborations with Human Trafficking and HIV initiatives:
  • http://www.healingspecies.org/programs
  • http://www.communitywelcomehouse.org/bright-horizons/
  • Human Trafficking victims – A very complex issue!
  • Building a new facility in the future!
  • Donation & Contact Information: www.mysistershouse.org
  • Administrative Line: 843-747-4069;
  • 24 Hour Hotline:   843-744-3242  In -State
  • 1-800-273 –HOPE  Nationwide-24/7

Questions for the Listening Audience:

  • What’s the significance of these numbers in the discussion– 36, 85?
  • In Elmire’s opinion, what is the biggest influence on the number of homicides in South Carolina?
  • Criminal Domestic Violence Coordinating Council – What’s it all about?
  • Is the faith-based community part of  the answer?  Why-Why-not?
  • What are the components of their volunteer program?
  • What is the main reason why women return to their abusers?
  • How is enabling a factor and reasons for returning to the shelter?
  • How to we sort out “getting the perpetrator in trouble” versus stopping the abuse?
  • What is the average stay for residents at My Sister’s House?
  • Is there a central place in Southeastern South Carolina for those who are trafficked?
  • What can be done in rural areas?
  • What influences  came to play in Elmire’s success with My Sister’s House?
  • What was Elmire’s parting comment re debunking the greatest myth?

The comments expressed on this website or on the broadcasts of Shattered Lives do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of the hosts, producers, or other guests.


“HUG FEST” (Reflections of the 9th Annual CUE Center Conference for the Missing)

CUE Center National Conference


Photo by  Cynthia Hayden Guinn

People talk about the major milestones in life that leave lasting impressions – the birth of a child, marriage, the death of a loved one, transitions of achievement such as graduations, religious rites etc.   However, the average person will never know the extent of the life changing experience noted at the Community United Effort (CUE) Center for the Missing Conference until you are a participant and active observer.

The recent 9th Annual Conference held at the Courtyard Marriott Carolina Beach Hotel was a sight to behold on so many levels.  Ladyjustice was treated to this incredible event for a consecutive year along with 2-300 others…

Familiar faces, southern jargon, a tireless network of volunteers at the ready, a meeting of the minds for information exchange,  the crossing of hearts and many, many, many HUGS throughout the four days – essentially a non-stop HUG FEST!

Upon arrival, LJ was asked at the registration desk when she would be presenting….which was very flattering and a bit amusing, as almost without exception presenters “get only one chance at bat.” Changing of the guard and the experts is healthy and keeps things fresh…

The pressure and responsibility was off for this crime fighter….  A year had passed with a much larger “resume” of radio shows and catalog of diverse blogs… a greater expanse of social media exposure  and Voila…. more credibility.

On the surface, the CUE Center Conference possesses the usual ingredients – a registration process, various gear and books for purchase, exhibit tables, an agenda filled with activity, entertainment,  Southern style food, endless donated gift baskets ad raffle opportunities,  an impressive lineup of speakers and many dedicated volunteers to address your every need. BUT, BUT, BUT, the most amazing aspect for this writer was the opportunity to observe the new connections made between people, between agencies and organizations,  between states, between “newbies” and veterans of the conference… AND the appreciation for what the CUE Center consists of at its core.

It’s as if a few hundred light bulbs were perpetually popping all over the place to Ladyjustice’s delight! Not only that, but two very special events enhanced the overall experience.

As a memorial tribute to friend, colleague, mentor, homicide survivor, victim advocate and intimate partner homicide expert, Susan Murphy Milano, heart shaped lanterns took to the skies…. From the water’s edge and hotel balconies, one witnessed a long line of illumination floating to greet Susan in heaven. Working in teams of two, participants released lights of hope and love against the backdrop of crashing surf….such a soulful reminder of SMM’s presence that will forever live in our hearts. Monica Caison, Founder of the CUE Center also created a special passages award, presented by Delilah Jones on behalf of our beloved Susan Murphy Milano.

Secondly, the Candlelight Vigil at Riverfront Park was a tapestry of emotion.  Uplifting song, a little levity delivered by the MC, interspersed with the sobering fact that we were there to honor the missing and perhaps presumed dead, the beautiful yet shocking wall of victims, inspirational words and prayers by religious leaders… the heart wrenching stories of surviving family members, award presentations to wonderful volunteers, the finale ritual of lighting candles were contrasted by the bitter cold air and ONE THOUSAND HUGS AND TEARS…

Reflections of Selected Presenters and CUE Members…. (Just a Few Highlights) 

“Inspirational, raw, spoken from the heart with great pride and frequent tears shed.” Such is an accurate description of Marilyn Gambrell- a pioneer for “disposable children” of incarcerated family members;

“Effervescent, high energy, caring, very creatively visual, medically based and “a little preachy for your own good.” Such is the essence of Dr. Dalal Akoury with her incomparable style of conveying information;

“Tell it like it is, wounded, but far from defeated, caring and legally precise…” Michelle Cruz readily admits her hard knocks, using her personal experience to the best advantage to present and future victims of crime;

“A friendly, approachable, down home story teller, motherly, keen observer and investigator with a huge network of colleagues…” Sheryl McCollum uses her common sense and her instincts to accomplish amazing things, taking another look where others have not been as successful;

“A snappy dresser, legal eagle commentator who gets to the heart of the matter in the courtroom and in the spotlight of television and radio.”  Holly Hughes is hard hitting and can match wits with anyone, is a staunch advocate for crime victims and law enforcement as well;

“Such a gentleman, dedicated and skilled rescuer and sonar technician” (as well as coffee delivery man)

“Loving, “huggy” dedicated, law enforcement and missing persons advocate, animal rights activist with a heart of gold.”  Yup… that’s Connie Braddock;

“A petit ‘tiger in your tank,’ loving mother, searcher/rescuer and a “find a way around every obstacle” kind of person.”  Kelly Osborn is the epitome of fearless perseverance;

“Offering help, kindness, spiritual support when it really matters and many, many photos….    Lisa Valentino is the consummate friend and volunteer, a virtual fixture around “the CUE water cooler;”

“Feisty to the nth degree,  takes no crap from anyone, gifted and compassionate friend to all people involved in missing persons.“ Yes indeed, that’s our Monica!

We highly encourage all readers to become familiar with all of these movers and shakers for the missing.  Do it today…Do it tomorrow… Just do it!

Website:  http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/