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Volunteerism In Close Protection

Protection From Abuse Steven DanaI recently had the pleasure to address the attendees of the 2016 Close Protection Conference in Las Vegas. The conference was organized and hosted by the International Protective Security Board (IPSB). Founding member Charles “Chuck” Randolph graciously invited me to speak at the conference, and lead a discussion about “Volunteerism in Close Protection.” I have serious reservations about close protection “volunteerism,” and I shared my concerns with Chuck. With Chuck’s skilled assistance, I illuminated those reservations which I am pleased to more fully share with the ISDA readership.

I am the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of PROTECTION FROM ABUSE Security Services. PROTECTION FROM ABUSE is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation providing free protective services to victims of abuse nationally. The organization’s target population is victims of intimate partner violence (IPV), human trafficking, and sexual assault. Although our organization is charitable, we do not engage in, or encourage close protection “volunteerism.” We pay market rate wages to our security contractors when we provide close protection services to a client.

Close protection “volunteerism” usually occurs within the intimate partner violence (IPV) arena. The term “intimate partner violence” describes physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.[1] Close protection volunteerism in this arena typically consists of providing secure escort to and from court, and other limited services. Such escorts are usually coordinated through local women’s shelters or other related organizations. Although these charitable efforts are admirable, they are not without obvious, and not-so-obvious risk to the security practitioner.

An IPV close protection detail may appear routine to the uninitiated. In fact, I have heard of seasoned security professionals encouraging new practitioners to volunteer at local women’s shelters as a means to break into the business. I hope to illustrate why this is a potentially dangerous and misguided idea. A victim of violent crime – particularly abuse, is not a typical protectee. Additionally, the IPV close protection detail is neither routine nor low risk.

Let us consider a secure escort of an IPV victim to and from court. There exists a person-of-interest (POI) constituting a specific threat. Although your knowledge of a specific POI is a tactical advantage, the IPV landscape is beset with distinctive logistical and tactical challenges. For starters, the courthouse is also your POI’s destination, which makes it impossible to completely avoid the threat. At a minimum, your protectee will share a courtroom or anteroom with the abuser. Attacks on IPV victims within or around courthouses and justice complexes are known to occur. You will be unarmed inside, and most likely unarmed in the immediate vicinity of the justice complex. The POI or an associate may attempt to follow you. A successful undetected pursuit by the POI or an associate may expose a previously safe and unknown location. Additionally, a POI in this landscape may pose any of the following risks:

  • Access to firearms
  • History of Violence
  • Mental Illness (sometimes suicidal)
  • Former / Active Military
  • Former / Active Law Enforcement
  • Extreme and Irrational Jealousy
  • Illegal Drug Use
  • Alcohol Abuse

It is therefore axiomatic that if an IPV victim requires close personal protection, the risk is not low. I am quite fond of the maxim, “right agent for the right detail.” The inexperienced practitioner is plainly not the “right agent” for this detail. In fact, even more seasoned practitioners may not be the right agent.

The former Federal Protective Service employee who shows up to murder his wife at his children’s school will not be dissuaded by your mere presence.[2] Lethal attacks on IPV victims are not uncommon. Furthermore, social proximity to a female IPV protectee (if you are male) can trigger a dangerous abuser to specifically target the security practitioner, or instigate future violence against the protectee.

The following IPV related statistics further illustrate the inherent risks:

  • According to one study, approximately 1600 women were murdered by their intimate partner in 2013.[3] Note: As shocking as that number is, the number of actual IPV related homicides is believed to be much higher. Although each State tracks major crimes, some States do not record the cause of a homicide, such as IPV, at the granular level. As such, IPV related homicides are believed to be under-reported.
  • According to other studies, 19% of domestic violence involves the use of a weapon, and in intimate partner homicides 20% of victims were not the intimate partners themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders.[4]
  • From 2010 to 2014, U.S. Law Enforcement line of duty deaths were studied, and a Domestic Dispute call was more lethal than theft, man with gun, shots fired, burglary, robbery, and officer needs assistance by far.[5]

Threat profile notwithstanding, victims of abuse are uniquely distinct from the typical executive, high net worth person, or celebrity protectee. Serving victims of abuse will often require skilled navigation of the following social, medical, and legal complexities:

  • LGBTQ populations
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Substance Abuse
  • Mental Health Illnesses
  • Disabilities
  • Children & Youth
  • Homelessness
  • Immigrant populations
  • Refugee populations
  • Confidentiality

Each of the above issues represents a potential minefield if navigated incorrectly. The skilled management of these and other issues distinct to victims of abuse are where the security continuum intersects with the victim advocacy continuum. Victims of abuse crimes are among our most vulnerable and traumatized populations, and often pose complex challenges to providing needed assistance, including security. And, if you provide security services to a victim of abuse, you are necessarily situated upon both continuums.

Victim advocates are professionals trained to support victims of crime, including IPV. Advocates typically offer victims information, emotional support, assistance locating resources, and help with paperwork. They may also staff crisis hotlines, run support groups, or provide counseling. Victim advocates are also called victim service providers, victim/witness coordinators, or victim/witness specialists.[6]

The victim advocate requires excellent communication skills and training for general and specific advocacy, problem-solving, conflict management, negotiation, crisis intervention, and documentation. Although many of the former competencies are generally shared by talented security professionals, general and specific advocacy training is not. In sum, the victim of abuse is an altogether unique and atypical class of protectee.

A respected colleague recently said to me, and I paraphrase, “I don’t do advocacy. I simply take the referral from a victim advocate, and I provide security.” Unfortunately, his view is not an uncommon misconception. However, the invented partition between security and advocacy when serving victims of abuse is illusory. Below, we examine just one of the numerous instances where the security and advocacy continuums become hopelessly entangled.

A referral from a victim advocate at a women’s shelter is received. A competent professional is obligated to perform a threat assessment at a minimum. An assessment necessarily requires an interview with the victim. In addition to the social, medical, and legal complexities you may face, an IPV victim’s recent history may include acts of violence, mental abuse, financial abuse, child abuse, and sometimes forced sex. Unsurprisingly, the interview itself will likely cause some distress to the victim, and may even trigger acute symptoms of PTSD.

The moment you engage with a victim of abuse for the purposes of providing services, you are unavoidably situated upon the advocacy continuum. And, if you are going to provide services – volunteer or otherwise, you need to be trained to work upon that continuum proficiently. In this landscape especially, your competence navigating a victim’s emotional security and special needs is as important as your ability to provide close protection security.

I concede much of the victim advocacy curriculum is superfluous to the security practitioner. However, the failure to properly manage critical elements of the advocacy continuum can have dire consequences. Our experience has repeatedly validated the need for some victim advocacy training. Accordingly, we are developing a compulsory Victim Security Advocate program for our security contractors. The program will provide the security practitioner with the minimum training necessary to competently provide security services to victims of abuse.

My final caution against close protection volunteerism is the absence of any Good Samaritan type legal protections. The close protection volunteer accepts considerable criminal and civil exposures without recompense should anything go wrong. And, as I have exhaustively illustrated, much can “go wrong” along both continuums. Although such acts of charity are admirable, there is a more efficient vehicle to deliver charitable services – the nonprofit organization (NPO).

The NPO model enjoys numerous competitive advantages over the for-profit. The latter is organized to produce profit for its owners and shareholders. This brute fact limits the for-profit’s charitable output. NPOs are not organized to produce profit. The NPO enjoys access to government and private grants, loans, and public support through tax deductible donations. By working with and supporting an NPO like PROTECTION FROM ABUSE, more people in need are served.

I obviously believe charitable works are necessary for our society. Neither my talk in Las Vegas nor this commentary is intended to discourage charity. My intent is to illuminate the security and victim advocacy continuums and strongly caution that services be provided competently across both. I think we all agree it would be imprudent for a victim advocate to provide close protection services to a high-risk IPV victim. Equally, a security practitioner with no victim advocacy training is a poor candidate to serve victims of abuse.

It is estimated at least one third of all women will suffer abuse from an intimate partner in their lifetime. These are our daughters, sisters, mothers, girlfriends, and wives who are emotionally and physically abused, and murdered with alarming frequency. And, the damaging effects of abuse are not limited to the victim. Children who grow up in abusive households are more likely to become abusers or victims themselves, and the cycle repeats itself. I close with an invitation to all good men and women reading this to join us. Together we will stand with the victim, and against abuse. If you are interested in becoming a PROTECTION FROM ABUSE security contractor, or if you are interested in supporting our mission in other ways, please contact me directly.