Ashley Withrow, MSSA, LISW-S, is a member of the Cleveland Clinic’s police department and has served the community as a victim advocate since February 2014. In that role, Withrow, supports anyone connected to the Clinic who has experienced violence, providing information and referrals in addition to emotional support.
Healthcare organizations are just beginning to appreciate the number and variety of violent interactions that can occur within their institutions and to the people they serve. From gang-related shootings in the emergency department, to fights among family members, abusive interactions among clinicians and staff members, injuries to nurses caring for patients with dementia, patients or employees who report incidents of domestic violence, and children who have suffered abuse, violent behavior is common. Withrow responds to all of these incidents and more. Her position offers a unique opportunity to help victims simultaneous to their medical treatment and employees within their work setting. Susan Carr recently talked with Withrow to learn more about her work.
Carr: What is the scope of your role as victim advocate at Cleveland Clinic?
Withrow: My role is to provide emotional support and crisis intervention to victims of crime, including patients, visitors, and employees of the Cleveland Clinic. When someone becomes a crime victim, they may need to interact with many different individuals and systems—for example, reporting to law enforcement or seeking medical attention. If the victim chooses to pursue criminal charges, he or she may have to share their story with prosecutors, judges, or members of a jury. Many people find the process overwhelming and confusing. My role is to support them emotionally and help them engage effectively with the systems. I do this by offering education, resources, and referrals.
Carr: Are you primarily providing support services for people who are engaged in the criminal justice system?
Withrow: While my primary responsibility is to educate victims about their rights and make sure those rights are upheld within the criminal justice system, victims are typically impacted by the crime in a variety of other aspects of life. I tell them what to expect as they go through the criminal justice system and provide a realistic understanding of what that system might look like. Most people haven’t been through that before and don’t know what the process looks like. It’s definitely not like what they see on television and in the movies!
In order to meet the other varying needs that arise due to the victimization or trauma, I’m familiar with our community resources and counseling and support group options. Programs such as crime victim compensation or victim information and notification are available to crime victims. Connecting people with those kinds of programs or helping them apply to a compensation program is another part of my job.