When the latest version of VINE went live in South Carolina late 2020, SC VINE Program Manager Sherry Rhodes could already see how improvements and refinements to the service would provide significant benefits to survivors of crime in the state. Sherry had been working in the South Carolina Department of Corrections for more than a decade when she transitioned to a role in victim services in 2012. From the beginning, Sherry could see firsthand how VINE can change someone’s life – allowing a survivor of sexual assault to see for herself that her offender was still in prison and giving her a deeper sense of empowerment and agency in her life.
With the newest version of VINE, victim advocates and victims can benefit from a more intuitive, easy-to-use interface, along with expanded access to critical resources through the service provider directory. Sherry Rhodes discussed those enhancements, her strong relationships with numerous members of the Appriss team, and how her team found creative ways to test VINE’s voice-driven telephone capabilities due to the “distinctive accents” of many South Carolinians.
How would you describe what VINE brings to victims and survivors in South Carolina?
Sherry Rhodes: VINE provides great value to the victims and survivors of South Carolina. It's a wonderful resource to provide information, and of course, notification. This enhanced version of VINE has really changed the game for South Carolina because it offers a unified Service Provider Directory. A lot of services in our state are disjointed, and many areas of our state are fairly rural and lacking in resources, so this helps unify those resources and helps folks who have no idea what to do or where to go to get information. This version of VINE really helps in that way.
Another great feature of the newest version is that when you're interacting with the phone during a notification, you can use your voice to control the flow of the call. We were testing it at my office, and tried to break the system because, as you know, South Carolinians have distinctive accents. We imitated some of those accents to try and literally break the system, and it was very difficult to do. We tried British accents, we tried anything we could think of – I actually won an award for best British accent!
Our purpose in doing that was to simulate the experience many people in South Carolina would have with the system, and I think that feature has been of great value to South Carolina, as well.
How would you describe your relationship with the Appriss team?
|Sherry Rhodes, second from left, with the 2016 VINE Advisory Committee.|
SR: I think it’s a real partnership and collaboration. I have a great relationship with everyone I’ve come in contact with – Karen Adams, Joyce Karrfalt, Jonathan Waunch, Lalla O’Bryan. When I find a problem or something goes wrong, I'm not shy about getting on the phone to ask for assistance, and it usually comes very quickly. I have only the highest things to say about the whole Appriss team. I have had a very good experience with them. Everybody is very responsive to South Carolina's needs, and I think it's a real partnership and a friendship.
What have you heard from both kind of survivors and victim advocates about the value of VINE?
SR: It is such a helpful and needed resource. I am a part of several different organizations, and one of the things I've learned is how much peace of mind it gives someone to get an update on their offender themselves, rather than picking up the phone and calling the Department of Corrections – a very intimidating thing for a survivor. Early in my time working in victim services, there was a lady who used to call every day to make sure the man who had sexually assaulted her was still sitting in one of our prisons. Thanks to VINE, I was able to show her how to go online and find that information for herself. Before that, she didn't even feel safe enough to go to work. That has always stuck with me – the fear that victim had that he was waiting just outside her door to re-victimize her. So, VINE gave her empowerment and peace of mind to know exactly where he was. It was life changing for her. As far as advocates go, they really like having the resource right there on their phone. Just having that reliability of the notification and information that we all work hard to maintain is of immense value to them and helps them to do their jobs in assisting victims.
What advice would you give to a new VINE Program Manager?
SR: Definitely don't be afraid to ask for help. There's a wealth of knowledge among other program managers around the country. I have certainly engaged with as many as I could during my time as a VINE program manager. Don't be afraid to reach out to other program managers and ask questions about Appriss, your Appriss Customer Relationship Manager, or others. That's what they're there for. If you have questions, don't be afraid to ask. Be engaged in the process. Know how your interfaces work. Know who the people are in the counties. Get to know your county IT, your sheriffs, any personnel that have anything to do with the VINE system. Get to know your advocates around the state. It’s very important for a program manager to be involved in the community and involved in their state. VINE has a lot of knowledge and a lot of resources to offer, and people need to know about it. So, I would recommend that program managers leverage their position and get involved in what's going on in their state.
You can learn more about SC-VINE at their website.