Episode 12: Christopher Bromson, Crime Victims Treatment Center
This week on You Matter!, Christopher Bromson (at left) from the Crime Victims Treatment Center (CVTC) speaks with Karen and Sabah about CVTC's programs and how community members can access their services.
Christopher Bromson is the Executive Director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center (CVTC) in New York City. CVTC is New York State’s first and most comprehensive rape crisis program, and over the past 42 years has remained at the vanguard of victim services. Christopher began his work in the field in 2008 in Dakar, Senegal at a shelter that assisted victims of child trafficking with familial reunification. Upon his return, he realized that a career in corporate communications (the path he was on) had lost its appeal, and became a state-certified rape crisis and domestic violence counselor with CVTC, supporting survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence in New York City emergency rooms. In 2009 he was hired to coordinate CVTC’s volunteer program, and has been with the organization since. Christopher is the co-chair of the Legislative Committee of the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims, a position that grants him the opportunity to advocate for a diverse array of victim-centered policy on a city, state and national level. He serves as President of the Advisory Council to the New York State Office of Victim Services, the primary funder of victim service programs in New York, and fights to ensure equal access to services for all victims of crime. Christopher has consulted with Peace Corps Volunteers in West Africa to assist with the development of an intimate partner and sexual violence screening tools to be used in health care settings. He is a graduate of Baruch College of the City University of New York.
Intro Voices [00:00:05] Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Intro Voices [00:00:31] This is “You Matter”, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman [00:00:38] Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter. A podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your co-host, Karen Ortman Assistant Vise, President of field operations at the Department of Public Safety and a retired law enforcement professional.
Sabah Fatima [00:01:00] And I am Sabah Fatima, a premed graduate student here at NYU College of Global Public Health. If any information presented today is triggering or disturbing. Please feel free to contact the wellness exchange at 2 1 2 4 4 3 9 9 9 9.
Karen Ortman [00:01:14] Today we introduce Christopher Bromson, executive director at the Crime Victims Treatment Center, a not for profit organization committed to helping people heal from violent crime. Christopher, thank you so much for joining us.
Sabah Fatima [00:01:28] Thank you.
Karen Ortman [00:01:29] Please share with our listeners the CVTC's Mission, that's the acronym for Crime Victims Treatment Center, its mission and a bit of its history as well, if you will.
Christopher Bromson [00:01:39] Absolutely. And Karen and Sabah, thank you so much for having me today. I'm very happy to talk about this with you and to make sure that everybody at NYU knows that we exist and that we're here to help. CVTC, the Crime Victims Treatment Center, was established in 1977 and we were the first rape crisis program to exist in New York State and have kind of led the way in developing the systems and policies and responses to sexual assault survivors and victims of any other crime in New York state. So the history of the program is really interesting and unique, and I think it sets us apart a little bit. We were formed in response to a sexual assault that took place on Columbia University's campus in the summer of 1976. So there was a serial rapist that was victimizing the Morningside Heights community at that time. And the attacks culminated with this event on Columbia's campus. So the survivor was taken to St. Luke's emergency department, where she was treated for her physical injuries, which were significant but kind of easy to fix. And then nobody really knew what to do. So she was transferred to the psychiatric emergency department.
[00:02:48] She was having a traumatic crisis response, as we are all very familiar with these days, but they weren't at the time. And she was diagnosed with paranoia. And when she was discharged from the hospital, she dropped out of Columbia. And so because this case got so much media attention and because of the nature of the Morningside Heights community, which is very active and tight knit, people came to the emergency room and said, ‘what are you doing? You cannot treat a sexual assault survivor and you cannot treat a member of our community this way. It's really horrific, horrific to think that somebody experienced this egregious and horrific, life threatening situation and then just kind of drifted off without any support or resources.
Karen Ortman [00:03:28] And no one addressed the sexual assault.
Christopher Bromson [00:03:28] No, no.
Christopher Bromson [00:03:32] They gave her bandaids and they told her she'd be fine and she wasn't. Yeah. So our founder, Susan Scenarios, was an emergency department psychiatric social worker at the time. And she met with the community and trained a group of 10 women from Morningside Heights to be the first rape crisis advocates in the state. So they worked together. They met in the hospital lobby over the course of weekends and weeknights and kind of learned with each other how to best support survivors of sexual assault who came to the emergency room. And so over the past 42 years, we have grown by leaps and bounds. And really expanded into all of the areas that we feel we can be most helpful for survivors. So we still- about 30 percent of our clients have experienced sexual assault as adults- but we work with survivors of intimate partner violence, adults who were sexually abused as children, victims of community violence and trafficking, and survivors of homicide. Anybody who has experienced some sort of physical violence or trauma that was committed by another person.
Karen Ortman [00:04:33] So it's not exclusively sexual assault?
Christopher Bromson [00:04:36] No, no. So our services are available to anybody who's been hurt by another person. And there are no requirements to access our services. Right. We don't require a report to law enforcement. You don't have to go to the hospital. You don't have to do anything to be eligible for our services other than make the phone call.
Karen Ortman [00:04:53] So are you affiliated with specific hospitals or is it any hospital?
Christopher Bromson [00:04:57] Sure. So we partner with four hospital emergency departments in New York City. And when I say that, what I mean is that if you go to one of our partner hospitals, which are Mt. Sinai St. Luke's, Mt. Sinai West Lenox Health, Greenwich Village and Brookdale University Medical Center in Brooklyn, between 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. or anytime on a weekend or holiday because you've been sexually assaulted or experienced intimate partner violence, one of our volunteers will be there with you. So we train about 120 community members each fall, the 40 hour state certified training to train people to be rape crisis and domestic violence crisis counselors in those emergency rooms. So the way that we look at it, right, is that the sooner healing can start for a survivor of sexual assault or intimate partner violence or frankly, any other crime, the better. So if a survivor goes to a hospital, which is one of the most important things that a survivor can do after experiencing sexual assault for reasons which we can talk about. Right. The sooner that person is met with somebody who says this wasn't your fault. And I believe what you're telling me that's how healing starts, right? And so if that happens immediately in the emergency room after the first disclosure of the assault, right? That puts somebody on a much more robust and holistic and supportive path for healing. Yeah.
Karen Ortman [00:06:15] So the four hospitals that you mentioned, do they all have specially trained personnel to administer the sexual assault forensic examiner?
Christopher Bromson [00:06:24] Yeah, they do. So in addition. Yeah. Yep. In addition to the crisis counselors that would be there, we also manage the sexual assault forensic examiner programs that all of those hospitals. So we train doctors, nurses, physicians assistants, nurse midwives to perform the sexual assault forensic exam and to provide compassionate medical care to a survivor of sexual assault.
Sabah Fatima [00:06:46] Right.
Karen Ortman [00:06:47] What about therapy for victims who seek your services? What kind of therapy do you offer?
Christopher Bromson [00:06:53] Sure. So that's kind of the bread and butter of our organization. That's the bulk of our work is providing individual trauma focused therapy to survivors of any type of violence. So whether a survivor comes through the hospital emergency room, if that happens, we outreach within the next 24 to 48 hours to check in and make sure they know that we're there and that we're ready to help if they should choose to engage.
Karen Ortman [00:07:16] I think it's just so valuable to point out that you are responsive to any victim regardless of the crime perpetrated against them. That is so important. And I until I researched your organization, I had not heard of you before. And that's why I am so happy to have you sitting in here today and sharing with our listeners the fact that you exist, because, you know, I didn't know you existed. I am going to assume many people don't know.
Christopher Bromson [00:07:45] I think you're right.
Karen Ortman [00:07:47] So I'm I'm thrilled to the extent that we can get your name out there, that we're. We're going to do that.
Christopher Bromson [00:07:53] Thanks so much. Yeah. We serve about 13 to 14 hundred survivors of crime each year in our office, which is a very big number. But yeah, it's a small number in comparison to the amount of people who are hurt. Right? An absolute benefit from what we offer.
Sabah Fatima [00:08:10] Are any of your services free?
Christopher Bromson [00:08:12] All of our services are free. Yeah. So we don't charge for anything. We don't take insurance. We don't bail anybody. Right. Everything we do is for free. And so that means that we prioritize people who wouldn't otherwise be able to pay for the services we have. And we have a really wonderful network of referrals to make sure that anybody who comes through our doors is going to be connected to the most appropriate place to help them heal.
Karen Ortman [00:08:36] Is any of your work done in-house or do you refer people out?
Christopher Bromson [00:08:41] So everything we do is in-house. There are certain individuals who may need a higher level of care, for instance, than we're able to provide in weekly sessions of individual therapy. The sessions we offer typically 45 minutes a week for as long as a survivor needs to heal. Most people are with us from about six months to two years.Yeah. We let people I mean, we really hope that people are able to process the full extent of the trauma that brought them to us.
Karen Ortman [00:09:08] Where are you located?
Christopher Bromson [00:09:10] We have our main offices at 40 Exchange Place, which is a block south of Wall Street, right around the corner from the Stock Exchange. It's a lovely, lovely office. It's incredibly like warm and beautiful and welcoming. We have an office up in Morningside Heights at St. Luke's Hospital on 114th and Amsterdam. And we will soon have offices in Brooklyn Oak Brook Medical Center. Yeah.
Sabah Fatima [00:09:34] Can you walk our listeners through a typical phone call to CVTC that may be requesting help?
Christopher Bromson [00:09:41] Sure. So a typical phone call to CVTC, and the phone number is 212-523-4728. It should happen between normal business hours, we answer the phone from 9:00 to 5:00 every day, Monday through Friday. And if we don't answer the phone, we ask that somebody leave us a message and let us know that it's safe for us to call back, because that's not always the case.
Karen Ortman [00:10:05] Very important first question.
Christopher Bromson [00:10:07] Yeah. So typically when somebody calls, our wonderful, wonderful office manager, Veronica, will answer the phone. She is an incredibly lovely and supportive person to talk to. She will take a little bit of information. So, we require anybody seeking services from us to make a phone call. Right. And have that conversation with Veronica. So Veronica will ask some, you know, typical demographic information about address and how to be contacted and making sure that it's safe for us to reach out and how the survivor would prefer us to do that. And then a little bit about what we can be helpful with. So anybody who's calling should expect to share a very, very brief summary of why they're seeking services from us. And it's enough to say “I experienced a sexual traumatic episode” or “I was sexually assaulted” or “My partner hurt me”.
Karen Ortman [00:10:54] So it's very basic. So that, you know, you're not re-victimizing somebody by having them repeat their story over and over and over.
Christopher Bromson [00:11:00] Right, and we need to know a little bit, but not very much over the phone, of course.
Karen Ortman [00:11:04] That's very helpful.
Christopher Bromson [00:11:05] Yeah. And so the typical trajectory is that after that phone call, Veronica will schedule the person looking for services with what we call an intake appointment, which is a 45 minute appointment with one of our therapists. And we kind of do a deeper dive into what is bringing in the person there. And the goal of the intake is to make sure that we're the best place to help. And so if we are, we make sure that the availability of the client matches the availability of one of our therapists. And if we're not for whatever reason and typically, like I said, that the reason would be that somebody needs a higher level of care than we're able to provide or if we are really swamped, which we do, though a lot of people don't know we exist, we often are kind of full. And so evening appointments are often challenging or things like that. We have a strong network of private therapists we refer to and make sure that the insurance matches if that's a thing or we make sure there's an appropriate referral.
Sabah Fatima [00:11:57] How soon can someone get an appointment?
Christopher Bromson [00:11:59] It varies. Right. Anywhere from three weeks to a month, sometimes two months. It kind of ebbs and flows throughout the year.
Karen Ortman [00:12:07] So what if somebody needs attention sooner than that? Is that a possibility?
Christopher Bromson [00:12:12] Yeah. We have loose policies, right? Everybody goes through intake. Everybody goes. But we treat everybody like an individual. And so every case is evaluated on a case by case situation. And we do everything we can to meet the needs of somebody, especially if they're in crisis. And so just to mention, if somebody has been sexually assaulted within the past six months, they have a different process. They don't go through the typical intake because we treat that as an acute crisis. Somebody who has experienced a sexual assault within the past six months is still very much in that crisis. And so they meet with our sexual assault program coordinator and and have a different kind of quick engagement.
Karen Ortman [00:12:50] Is that as compared to a delayed disclosure where something happened maybe 10 years ago?
Christopher Bromson [00:12:55] Right. Right. And somebody who was sexually assaulted or abused as a child 10 years ago, right, goes through the intake because it takes a little bit of a deeper conversation to make sure that we’re the right fit. Yeah.
Karen Ortman [00:13:06] Can you explain to our listeners how you work with other advocacy agencies within the city? How do you work with law enforcement or can you just kind of paint a picture for a listener out there who might be thinking about contacting you?
Christopher Bromson [00:13:24] So we work with all sorts of different city agencies and partner advocacy organizations, law enforcement, criminal justice, hospitals. We want to make sure that we have partnerships with everybody a survivor might interact with so that we can support a survivor through whatever experience they're having. So we work really closely with NYPD, the Special Victims Division, and the Manhattan and Brooklyn district attorney's offices to make sure that our clients are supported when they go through those processes. Many of the clients we work with choose to make a report to law enforcement, and if they do, we are there with them either physically, right. In less cases, we have legal advocates who can go with a survivor to help make a report or we're able to kind of do advocacy on the survivors behalf. Right. Making sure that the detective is treating the survivor with respect. And if there are any questions or challenges, we're able to bring that to NYPD leadership to to check in and make sure that there is accountability and that people are treated the way that they should be. And the same with the district attorney's offices. And we meet with both of those agencies on a quarterly basis just to make sure, you know, that everything is going well and that survivors are supported as best possible.
Karen Ortman [00:14:36] And you have a pretty good working relationship, from what I understand, with your local precincts and advocacy groups.
Christopher Bromson [00:14:43] We do. We work really closely with the special victims division at NYPD. And in fact, for the past four years, I think we've had four special victims detectives in each of our annual volunteer rape crisis and domestic violence advocate trainings. So that's been a really wonderful experience and allows the detectives to kind of understand what the role of an advocate is. Right. And it allows the advocate to kind of demystify the police, right, their fears around working with the police, and it gives faces to names and gives them somebody to call if they have a question on both sides.
Karen Ortman [00:15:14] Which makes it so much easier.
Christopher Bromson [00:15:15] It is. And it really has increased the partnership in the emergency room for survivors who make reports from the E.D.
Karen Ortman [00:15:21] That's what it's all about, really.
Christopher Bromson [00:15:23] Yeah.
Karen Ortman [00:15:24] Can you tell our listeners how big your organization is, just in terms of, you know, numbers of of counselors? What does it look like on the inside?
Christopher Bromson [00:15:36] Yeah, so on the inside, when you walk into our office, there's a lovely waiting room. And Veronica sits at the front with a warm smile on her face.
Karen Ortman [00:15:43] We have to meet Veronica!
Christopher Bromson [00:15:44] You’ve got to meet Veronica, you know, she really should have come here. And she's a lot more fun than I am.
Sabah Fatima [00:15:48] I can’t wait to meet her!
Christopher Bromson [00:15:49] Yeah, she's wonderful. And then you go around the corner and there is a long hall with 20 offices in it, each one decorated to the taste and preference of the therapist that occupies it. So we have 18 licensed clinical social workers and mental health counselors who have extensive, extensive training in working with survivors who have experienced trauma. The majority, I think all of our clinical staff have undergone really intensive training with a clinical institute that specializes in treating survivors of trauma. So we have a really wonderful staff that is so dedicated to the work they do. I think it would be hard to find a staff that's more dedicated and deeply, authentically compassionate and empathetic.
Karen Ortman [00:16:33] You love your job.
Christopher Bromson [00:16:34] I love my job.
Karen Ortman [00:16:36] Yes, we can tell.
Christopher Bromson [00:16:37] Yeah, it’s a wonderful place to work, it’s a wonderful place to be a client. You can tell when people like what they do.
Sabah Fatima [00:16:46] Absolutely.
Christopher Bromson [00:16:48] Indeed. So we have 18 clinicians who, you know, maintain case loads of 20 to 25 clients at a time. The work is intense. Right. And so we really want to make sure that our clinical staff is as supported as the people they are supporting when they do the work, because that, too, makes a really strong clinician. So like I said, we work with about 1300 victims of crime per year in our office. So those are people engaged in individual therapy. We also run about 18 different specialized, specialized support groups for different survivors of crime. So, for example, we have, you know, a three session PTSD workshop that explains how trauma affects the brain and some coping skills in a very low level introduction to the work. So you can.
Karen Ortman [00:17:31] So who is invited to those sessions?
Christopher Bromson [00:17:35] All of our groups have a little bit of a different criteria. Right. So that PTSD workshop is open to clients who are kind of, typically, it's helpful in the beginning of engagement. Similarly, we have a DBT kind of coping skills group that helps people who are really in an acute state of crisis and having trouble kind of managing the symptoms.
Karen Ortman [00:17:53] What was the acronym, sorry?
Christopher Bromson [00:17:54] DBT, It's dialectical behavioral therapy that we've kind of altered to be a trauma focused model for our clients. So that's helpful in the beginning to give people some really concrete skills to kind of manage the symptoms as they enter the trauma focused therapy, which sometimes can, you know, elevate people symptomology. And when you start to unpack all this stuff, especially for survivors who haven't thought about this or addressed it or processed it in many years. Right. It can become difficult in the beginning. It takes an incredible amount of courage to come through our doors.
Karen Ortman [00:18:26] So these specialized programs are there for members who are already seeking the services of a therapist in your organization.
Christopher Bromson [00:18:34] Some, not all. So we have a sexual assault group for adults, for men and women. We separate those groups. We have domestic violence groups. So some of our groups, the deeper 12 week processing groups where each survivor tells their story and is supported by the other group members. That's a more rigorous interview process. We require that people participating in that group have had six months of therapy working on the trauma and are currently engaged in therapy throughout the course of the group. So many of those people are engaged in clinical services at our organization, but we also take referrals from outside therapists and outside organizations and things. So each group is a little bit different, yeah.
Karen Ortman [00:19:16] Right. Important work.
Christopher Bromson [00:19:18] Yeah, thank you.
Sabah Fatima [00:19:20] Is there any additional information that you'd like to share with our listeners regarding CVTC?
Christopher Bromson [00:19:26] Yeah, I think that if you have questions or want to even learn more or think about engaging in this work. You know, having an opportunity to process a traumatic experience is really, really important. And I think calling a place called the Crime Victims Treatment Center can feel really intense. It can feel like, well, was this a crime? Am I a victim, I’ve never thought of myself as a victim. There's a lot that comes with that. And I would encourage anybody who thinks they can benefit from trauma focused therapy. You know, everybody deserves a space to heal and everybody deserves a place to process what they went through. And so I would encourage anybody who's interested to call.
Karen Ortman [00:20:06] Call and the number again is…?
Christopher Bromson [00:20:10] 212-523-4728.
Karen Ortman [00:20:12] And your Web site is?
Christopher Bromson [00:20:13] CVCT, like Crime Victims Treatment Center, NYC.org.
Sabah Fatima [00:20:20] Oh, thank you so much, Christopher. I think you really are helping the society in breaking down the barriers in helping others find a comfortable space, so thank you, and thank you for joining us on today's episode of You Matter.
Christopher Bromson [00:20:42] It's been a pleasure.
Karen Ortman [00:20:43] Thank you, Christopher. Great information. I can't wait for our listeners to hear all about it. Thank you for the work that you do. If any information presented today was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the wellness exchange at 212-443-9999. You can also get in touch with NYU’s Department of Public Safety and their victim services unit by calling 212-998-2222.
Sabah Fatima [00:21:13] For more podcasts like these, you could find us by searching for you matter on Apple podcasts or Google Play.