COVID-19 hasn’t reduced Felita Luna’s caseload.
As a community victim liaison for the state Department of Corrections, she works with crime victims. Although she’s now doing most of her job via teleconferencing, she’s still handling hundreds of cases.
A large portion of the cases, Luna said, involve victims of domestic violence.
“A big part of what we do is safety planning with victims,” Luna, 43, said. “Sometimes I work with people, and they are just dismayed with the criminal justice system. They’ve already gone through the wringer.”
Luna, whose office is based in Lacey, lives in Pierce County. Her job with the Department of Corrections covers a region including Clark, Lewis, Grays Harbor, Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, Skamania and Pacific counties. Clark County, she said, produces a large number of referrals.
“As long as people are harming other people, there will be a need,” she said.
The Columbian caught up with Luna to learn more about her job.
Tell me about yourself.
I was actually what they call a military brat. My father was in the Air Force, so we traveled a bit. We were stationed in places like Germany and Washington, D.C. I finished high school in Fresno, Calif., and attended California State University, Fresno. That’s where I met my ex-husband; he was doing ROTC (reserve officer training.) After college we got married at Fort Lewis. That was my first and only station. Even though we’re divorced, it’s amicable and we’re co-parenting. Our kids are 21 and 16.
What exactly is a community victim liaison?
I say victim advocate. I assist victims of crime whose high-risk offenders are being released from prison. Sometimes it’s a relative or ex-boyfriend or husband. Lots of times they have questions. Most importantly they want to feel safe. When (their assailants) are sentenced to prison a lot of folks don’t know that they still have access. It’s an opportunity to let folks know we’re here. People think the offenders go to prison and that there’s no other avenue for assistance, but there is.
What sorts of crime?
All kinds of crime. Property crime. Sexual assault. Domestic violence. Interpersonal violence. I could be helping somebody whose house was robbed. They may be terrified. They may have cooperated with the prosecution and they may fear retaliation. It can go as far as someone who was sexually assaulted who doesn’t want that offender released back into the area. We cover everything, but our caseloads are primarily domestic violence and sexual assault. But again, we help with all crime.
I realize you can’t be specific, but can you describe any of the cases you’re working on now?
There’s so many. I have a case right now where he was released from prison and they’re co-parenting. I think she thought things were going to be fine but realized quickly that they were not. She doesn’t have proof, but the other night, she thought she heard footsteps outside of her house. The crime was pretty brutal. He broke into her home. He broke her jaw. He’s back out and she thought everything would be fine — he served the time. But we stay in communication, so I know what’s going on. I’m working with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to make sure. We have things like GPS we can put on him to track his movements.
How has your job been impacted by COVID-19?
Well, we have been telecommuting. I go into the office as needed, which is not that often. But we’re still available for victims. If you call me, you’re going to get me on the phone — not a recording. You’re going to talk to a real person. That was even before the pandemic. It’s hard for people — for all of us. Can you imagine someone in crisis and all of this on top? Not being able to see people face-to-face? We do our meetings. We’re pretty creative. We’re using Zoom, Skype and teleconference.
What is the process someone goes through to get to you?
Sometimes prosecutors will refer them to us. Clark County is great about that. We definitely network in our communities. We network with system-based advocates and community advocates. Even before the pandemic we asked for referrals and resources. We have to know what’s out there and what’s available if we’re going to be assisting people who have been affected by crime. The Department of Corrections has a notification program. Sometimes they’re not referred. When the release date for the inmates comes up they’ll call the prison or headquarters and they’ll get referred to us that way as well.
How exactly are you helping people?
Oftentimes I’ll get phone calls and it’s just giving (the victims) information about the offender who’s in prison. Is he remorseful? Those types of questions. Because they want to know. Where is he releasing? Does he have supervision? And things like that. Lots of questions.
You used the word “he.” Are a lot of the people coming to you women?
I use that generically because most of the cases that we have are men victimizing women, but they are certainly interchangeable.
What could be changed to help these victims?
I just wish domestic was taken more seriously by the criminal justice system. We hear so much about the domestic violence homicides, and murder-suicides. We hear about this way too much, you know? Sex offenders, we take that seriously as a community. No one wants a sex offender living near them. I just wish domestic violence was viewed as seriously as that. It can result in a loss of life. I know there’s talk of having a domestic violence registry. I hope sometime in my career we see that. There’s so many views of domestic violence. It’s a private matter, don’t get involved. But no one is going to be able to help until people know about it.