Strategy: Community-Based Victim Assistance
Strategy Community-based victim assistance programs operated in partnership with policing agencies effectively combine support for victims with education aimed . . .
Community-based victim assistance programs operated in partnership with policing agencies effectively combine support for victims with education aimed at preventing additional victimization.
Crime Problem Addressed
In the NIJ-sponsored study Understanding and Preventing Violence, researcher Jeffrey Roth notes that 2.9 million Americans were victims of serious but nonfatal violence in 1990. Roth cites National Victimization Survey statistics indicating that 3.1 million assaults occurred that same year. Though daunting, these statistics don't include many cases of domestic violence. And, as Roth notes, "no statistics fully capture the devastating effects of violence on local communities--their economies, neighborhoods, and quality of life." This strategy aims to increase community support for victims of crime.
Victims of crime need a variety of support systems to help them deal with the physical, emotional, financial, and legal consequences of their victimization. Services offered by community-based programs include help coping with the trauma of violent victimization, help filing victim compensation claims and insurance forms, help accessing long-term rehabilitation treatment, hospital visitation, self-protection education to help prevent revictimization, advocacy and liaison with the police regarding filing a complaint and making a statement, crisis intervention and support groups for victims, and guidance through court proceedings. Community-based groups often train police officers to deal with victims and be able to refer them to the array of supportive services available throughout the community.
Community volunteers active in crime prevention, hospital and other health professionals, police officers, emergency services personnel, and former victims can combine forces to help victims by establishing a network of services for victims.
Distribution of resource directories throughout the community and at agencies that serve victims, as well as public education campaigns that advertise service providers, can remedy low awareness of local government and community-based resources that assist victims.
Signs of Success
Since 1981 Philadelphia's community-based program Northwest Victims Services (NVS) has worked in behalf of crime victims in four police districts, serving four hundred thousand of the city's residents. NVS strives to meet victims' emotional, social, and financial needs while serving as a community resource that increases safety and reduces fear among residents. A primary purpose of NVS is to increase cooperation among community groups and city agencies. On average, NVS annually assists 1,800 victims, 75 percent of whom are victims of violent crime. Paid staff and volunteers provide crisis counseling and referrals, support victims through court proceedings, help meet victims' medical and financial needs, help victims fill out compensation and insurance claims, and advise victims on ways to prevent crime.
Dozens of local residents have helped train police to work with victims, established block watches in their neighborhoods, and created a network of organizations that assist victims. Other programs involve hospital visits and, in cooperation with police, education offered through the Crimes Against the Elderly and Retired Unit.
Applying the Strategy
Fairfax County, Virginia's police department established the Victim Witness Assistance Program, which offers counseling, aid to witnesses, confidential twenty-four-hour assistance, crisis intervention, and support groups. Free of charge, the Fairfax Peer Survivors Group offers families of homicide victims services that help them recover from emotional trauma. The group encourages such families to investigate policies and laws that support victims, educates them about crime prevention, helps them network with other victims and support services, and publishes a quarterly newsletter. Police and victims have also campaigned for state laws to assist victims.