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Strategy: Victim Assistance Services

Strategy Community-based victim assistance services help relieve stress and other consequences of crime, reduce vulnerability to repeated victimization, and . . .


Community-based victim assistance services help relieve stress and other consequences of crime, reduce vulnerability to repeated victimization, and unite community support for crime prevention.

Crime Problem Addressed

This strategy is designed to reduce recurrence of all types of crime. Victim assistance can help prevent the same individual from being a victim again, help friends and family members from falling victim to the same type of crime, mitigate the financial and emotional impact of crime, and help rally the community to action against crime.

Key Components

The key components of this strategy include the following:

  • a community group or law enforcement agency unit trained to support and assist victims
  • victim assistance services, such as counseling, reporting, filing compensation or insurance claims, advocating with landlords and creditors, and advising on legal issues
  • a forum for channeling emotional energy into community crime prevention activities, if the victim wishes to do so
  • a public information plan to raise community awareness of services and how to access them.

Key Partnerships

Victim assistance comes from a variety of sources, such as the police, faith communities, teachers, psychologists, and doctors. Sponsors of this program should establish a partnership with the media to help spread the word about community support for victims and to remind the community how they can help reduce crime.

Potential Obstacles

One challenge is to reassure the victims and their friends and colleagues that it is normal for a crime victim to experience many different emotions, thoughts, and feelings. For example, numbness, fear, anger, a desire for revenge, and wanting to hide from others are all common responses. Another challenge is to relieve tension and channel the energy of those who wish to address the causes of crime and help prevent it. Workers who spend considerable time with victims need to be careful not over-invest themselves, to avoid "burn out." Training helps prepare volunteers for situations and emotions they will encounter.

Signs of Success

This strategy is working in the Ida B. Wells Public Housing Development of the Chicago Housing Authority. The Chicago Housing Authority was selected for a training and technical assistance project of the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA). NOVA trained existing victim assistance staff and volunteers in public housing to meet the needs of survivors of homicide victims, victims of child violence, and victims of sexual assault. NOVA trained dozens of professionals and lay people to provide victim assistance. After this contract was completed and judged successful, the Chicago Housing Authority continued to contract with NOVA for additional training and technical assistance.

At the Ida B. Wells Development in October, 1994, two 11-year-olds pushed a 5-year-old child from a fourteenth-story window, while his brother, age 8, struggled to stop them. Many people saw this act of terrible violence or its immediate aftermath. There was widespread grieving in the immediate area. The victim assistance program provided both individual and group crisis intervention services, helping them to handle the intense grief and sense of despair that they felt. Many residents reported that they were helped by this assistance.

NOVA is prepared to send Community Crisis Response Teams to help such groups anywhere in the United States within twenty-four hours of a request. The team members are volunteers trained to deal with the trauma and paralysis that is felt by communities, as well as by the individuals directly involved. The community requesting such a crisis response team is asked to pay for the travel expenses and lodging of the team; however, that money is not required. The teams help with community healing and channeling energy into constructive victim support and crime prevention action.

Applying the Strategy

In Oakland, California, an organization called Caught in the Crossfire sends young counselors into Highland Hospital to try to persuade teenage gunshot victims to avoid further violence. Each month, that one hospital treats ten teens wounded by violence. The program is run by Youth Alive, a nonprofit group committed to stopping youth violence. Trauma doctors say they help keep some gunshot victims, even a few involved in violence, from engaging in conduct that will increase their likelihood of returning to the hospital with new wounds.

From 350 Tested Strategies to Prevent Crime: A Resource for Municipal Agencies and Community Groups

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