Report: California crime victims have trouble accessing needed services

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Two years ago, David Guizar's older brother, Gilbert, died at a wedding.

He got into an altercation while trying to stop a wedding crasher from entering the festivities. Guizar says a young stranger pulled a gun and shot his brother. He died just a few hours after the siblings had hung out at their mother’s house.

“I was in disbelief, not really sure what happened,” Guizar said.

Decades ago, when another brother – Oscar – was murdered, the family collapsed, Guizar said. They didn’t know how to mourn and heal.​ Guizar said he eventually turned to drugs and alcohol and was in and out of jail. He eventually got sober and later a job with a community service agency.

This time, when he heard about his older brother's death, options flashed into his head.

“When I hung up the phone, a lot of things came into my head, being sad, being mad,” Guizar said. “Taking a drink, revenge. And I had to make a quick decision.”

He decided to seek out services for himself and his family, and managed to secure money to pay for psychiatric counseling. He says it’s helped, a lot. But his mother has had a harder time utilizing the services.

“There’s limitations, there’s barriers,” Guizar said. “You know, my mother is handicapped, she’s stuck in the house, she doesn’t want to come out, she doesn’t want to participate. And I’ve yet to find someone who’s willing to go to her and help her.”

That’s not unusual, according to a new report from the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at UC-Berkeley.

“Many victims of violence, including repeat victims of some of the most extreme violence that does have some of the most severe reverberating social and financial consequences, never access trauma recovery services,” says Heather Warnken, legal policy associate at the institute at UC-Berkeley and the report's author.

Researchers convened focus groups made up of individuals touched by violent crime for the report. Many victims and witnesses said they found assistance programs to be burdensome to access.

The primary barriers mentioned by crime survivors were not having services that could come to the home or were located in their community. Also, the requirement to cooperate with law enforcement – which many programs mandate – was also an impediment.

Statistics to back up the findings have been hard to obtain.

A 2013 survey conducted by David Binder Research on behalf of Californians for Safety and Justice – the same group that funded Monday’s report — found 82 percent of crime victims who responded had trouble accessing free or low-cost mental health counseling.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office says 16,000 people accessed services through its crime victim program last year.

Monday’s report calls on the legislature and law enforcement to focus on how to make it easier for crime victims to access these services in the coming years.

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