Coordinating and Conducting Victim Impact Panels
Suzanne Neuhaus, Jill Weston  -  2010/5/26
I co-facilitate DUI Victim Impact Panels. From the evaluations I've seen, participants just don't like statistics. How important do you think they are to a program? Any suggestions for making them more relevant and dynamic?
1.  Suzanne Neuhaus
 In my experience, statistics alone have little impact. I encourage you to make them human. For example, use an exercise which illustrates a given statistic. If you have a room of 100 attendees, have a bracelet placed randomly on a participant, consistent with the crime clock, illustrating a drunk driving injury or death, continue throughout the session, randomly selecting participants. At some point, have those impacted stand and reflect how that might effect their life or the lives of the loved ones.
What preparation is done with victims? What, if any, de-briefing is done with victims? Is de-briefing done only the first time a victim participates or is it done after each presentation?
1.  Jill Weston
 Speaker preparation is a critical consideration. There is an excellne guideline in the OVC Listen and Learn Curriculum...see link below. The guideline was developed from numerous national programs and sites. Perhaps most critical is for a facilitator to understand the speaker's needs and for the speaker to understand what the agency expects or needs from the speaker. While victims/survivors will all have different needs, there are general guidelines that will assist and protect speakers. Debriefing is recommended each and every time, however the content, intensity and duration will vary based on the needs of the speaker. It is important to be aware of individual speaker needs each and every time regardless of how often they have presented. Anniversary dates, size of audience, current health issues or simply whatever else is on their To Do list may affect their need for certain levels of debriefing. Debriefing is also a way to thank and acknowledge their contribution, in addition to ensuring their well being.
2.  Pat Lupson
 As a victim that goes in institutions and participates in Victim Impact programs, debriefing is very helpful. I have spoken ins dozens of facilities and each is different and each offender presents a different challenge to me. I would suggest that taking a few minutes afterword to talk about the experience with the victim and let them share their feelings will go a long way in having that victim return. Remember, Victim Impact programs are all about the victim.
In your experience, have you had any problems regarding cooperation and respect from offenders during the panels? If so, how do you overcome those?
1.  Sheri Sikes
 In my experience, it depends largely on the audience type and on how well the offenders have been prepared beforehand. With more prep classes, they are so much more aware of victim issues and ready to accept accountability and be respectful, prior to being faced w actual victimssurvivors. The audiences who are difficult are the ones who have not been well prepared or thought about impact of crime. I try to set a tone of acceptance of the person during my panels, but if an offender is disrespectful and tries to turn the evening's focus onto himherself, I stop them and redirect the discussion; at times have had to be harsher than I would like in order to maintain control of the Q & A session.
2.  Bob Filipovich
 I've experienced parolees getting off topic and whining about their particular case, but the main problem I've seen is lack of engagement resulting from (?) their reluctance to speak openly in front of peers, VIP speakers, and pre-release staff. Their cooperation is akin to numbnessslow thinking.
3.  Suzanne Neuhaus
 In my experience, the best way for me to ensure cooperation and respect from offenders during panel presentations is to prepare them for the speaker. I let them know who is coming and why, I share my expectations of their behavior during the presentation, and I give them a way to excuse themselves, if necessary, so as not to create an unsafe or uncomfortable situation for anyone. Further, I assure them that we will have an opportunity to debrief the presentation, wherein I will address any additional questions or concerns that they may have.
4.  Pat Lupson
 In all my presentations since 1997 I have received total respect from the offenders - all in all it is very positive.
Is there a federal mandate on how to conduct a victim impact panel? If not, what resource is available for my state?
1.  Suzanne Neuhaus
 To our knowledge, there are no existing federal or state mandates on how to conduct victim impact panel presentations. That said, there are guidelines on speaker recruitment, selection and screening, preparation, safety, debriefing and acknowledgment available that may be useful in developing a program for your site (OVC Listen and Learn, Facilitator's Guide). The guidelines include a broad compilation of materials used in programs and agencies from throughout the country where victim impact panels and presenters are used in an effort to help participants understand the impact of harm caused as a result of the criminal choices and behavior made by those responsible. In addition, there is interest from the field that speaker preparation include training and on-going support.
What costs are involved with running a Victim Impact Panel?
1.  Sheri Sikes
 In TX, we began the program w grant funding from a VOCA grant, then with a OVAG grant for a few yrs. After that our agency picked up the program costs. We do not reimburse victim panelsts, but usually invite speakers to participate in their area; we do not call upon panelists asking them to drive long distances unless they have indicated a preference for that. It has been primarily considered a victim service, not an offender service, although of course the offenders benefit as well. We began the program w 3 staff, then up to 5, now we have 2 staff members.
2.  Sally Hilander
 Montana DOC has a small budget for reimbursing speakers for mileage and meals. Contract facilities pay them a $50 stipend. Administrative costs associated with the VIPs are considered a cost of the offender victim impact curriculum, so is not budgeted as a victim program cost.
3.  Jill Weston
 Administrative costs-Ideally a staff person is assigned to coordinate panels including finding speakers, speaker preparation and follow up, coordinating the site. In addition it takes staff time to track and monitor participant involvement, report to probation or courts and coordinate particpant payments. Speaker reimbursement acknowledgement-Speakers often travel some distance and take time off from work which is an out of pocket expense. Many programs offer a small stipend, gas card or a recognition lunch or dinner. *Unfortunately, most programs do not have a budget for running Victim Impact Panels.
What is the most important purpose victim impact panels should aim for?
1.  Suzanne Neuhaus
 Most importantly, the purpose of the victim impact panel is to raise awareness and change offender thinking and behavior to do no further harm and be prodictive law-abiding citizens. Further, panels provide an opportunity for victims to have their voice heard and the impact of the harm done not forgotten.
I am a presenter at VIP in my state. I am wondering if you have a general outline that you work from?
1.  Jill Weston
 As a panelist, there are general issues that are covered including but not limited to: an overview of the crime; the short and long term impact or effects on both the victim/survivor, families, friends and community; specific areas of harm including physical, emotional, mental, financial, spiritual and social and how ones daily liferituals have changed. Many panelists also speak to what they want from the offender and the system i.e. what would accountability look like; how an offender might honor their loved one by doing no further violence or harm, what a restitution payment signifies. While it is critical for panelists to present in a manner, style or outline that is best for them, it is also helpful to acknowledge any limitations of the participants. Presenting in a fairly structured, organized manner helps most participants get the message. This doesn't mean a presentation has to be scripted, stilted or without emotion. Just try to present in a way that participants are able to follow the speaker to fully absorb the harm done. Be open to your outline changing based on your thoughts and feelings that day.
Is it reasonable to think a VIP can be managed with a part-time coordinator if only one VIP was held each month?
1.  Jill Weston
 A once a month VIP could be managed with a part time coordinator once the program is implemented. Setting up the program may involve full time coordinaton. Successful VIP programs almost always relate their success to good working relationships. Many times a VIP can happen quickly when a speaker has been well-prepared and well taken care of. A short phone call to a speaker to establish time and place may suffice. When a site has been used repeatedly and one knows that the room will be set up correctly, there is little orchestration needed. Once template letterspackets are set up, personalizing the letters will go quickly. The part-time coordinator will just need good cooperation from others involved, including administrators, IT (computer support), accounting office etc.
I help to facilitate a Victim Sensitivity class for juvenile offenders. Do you have any specific advice for speakers working with juvenile audiences?
1.  Suzanne Neuhaus
 I encourage you to work with your speakers on some of the common characteristics/behaviors of juvenile audiences. For example, they have lots of questions, many of which may seem off the wall or even rude. It is important to be mindful of where they may be coming from (i.e., what their perception is) when considering responses to their questions. In addition, it is not uncommon for young audiences to giggle or smile when they are uncomfortable--that doesn't necessarily communicate that they think something is funny. Also, juveniles are, by nature, self-focused. They may not be comfortable revealing anything of a personal nature and may feel singled out by virtue of the content or demeanor of the speaker, even when that is not so. Repetitive behaviors can be seen as rude or distracting, when contrarily they may be a way to help juveniles keep focused (i.e., note taking, doodling, rocking, fiddling, etc.). Juvenile audiences do not respond well to being made wrong--they think they know everything! Consequently, asking questions of them and empowering them to make good choices are often the best way to connect to them.
What is the optimum length of time for a Victim Impact Panel? Does anyone do multiple panels for the same set of offenders & is that more effective than a one time only panel?
1.  Suzanne Neuhaus
 Most Victim Impact Panels are scheduled in increments of 90 to 120 minutes, depending on the size of the panel and the needs of the participants. Most often, panelists are given 15-20 minutes to speak, followed by a like amount of time for questions and answers. Remember, providing an opportunity for questions can be vital to changing participant thinking and behavior. We often host multiple panels andor speakers at different times for the same group and find that to be tremendously effective. Doing so provides the opportunity to absorb the content and discern the impact of the presentation, as well as to consider the broad and varying ways in which crime and violence impact the lives of those harmed.
Our County DV/SA Task Force is looking to create a VIP for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Are there any other states or areas in the nation that mandate that offenders of sexual or violent crimes against household members attend one of these VIPs specific to dv/sa?
1.  Jill Weston
 I am not aware of any states that mandate attendance given the nature of the crime. There are existing VIP prgorams for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors. The states or areas that mandate VIPs are generally for drunkimpaired driving.
2.  tony switzer
 no local mandate to do so, but we at shelter are piloting effort to take dv survivors to BIPPs. we are approaching this with restorative justice framework--looking for mutual benefits to survivors and offenders. we do structured prep and debrief with both and ask offenders to write letters to panel after the presentation.
i am piloting a project of taking panels of domestic violence survivors to speak to BIPP groups--domestic violence perps. does anyone do this specifically or what is experience of others taking victims of crime to speak to perps of that crime. note--we screen so that a woman's batterer is not in audience
1.  Jill Weston
 There are varying opinions and research on domestic violence and batterers' panels in the field. There are many complicating issues because of the interpersonal relationship between offender and victimsurvivor. There are also varying clinical opinions on how to treat batterers. Some may argue that simply sitting in a room and hearing a panel member speak is not enough to motivate, educate or support an offender changing their behavior. Others will argue that offenders observing a panel will experience additional power and control issues. A 7 year old program in Washington State has very specific criteria for offender participants including ability to access guilt and empathy. In addition the panel is a part of the offender's overall treatment. As you stated, most critical is that the woman's batterer is not in the room. In a differing treatment setting, the victimsurvivor may be in the room by design. I would encourage that you work closely with existing national programs and local mental health practioner.
2.  Sheri Sikes
 Hi Tony! We have spoken before, but I wanted to let you know that I believe Dallas Co CSCD does that. Call Cindy Brignon (can give you her # later) and she can fill you in on the details.
i am pilotign a project of taking panels of domestic violence survivors to speak to BIPP groups--dom violence offender rehab groups. does anyone else do this specific thing? what is experience of matching victims of violent crimes panel with perps of the same crime? i would appreciate do's and don'ts from anyone
What is the make up of most of the panels? Who are the presenters?
1.  Suzanne Neuhaus
 That depends. Some panels are developed specific to a particular type of crime (i.e., Mothers Against Drunk Driving hosts panels of crime victims, survivors, first responders, etc., of drunk driving crashes), while others vary, as is often the case in programs that work with offenders responsible for different types of crimes. The presenters can be crime victims, survivors, their families and friends, law enforcement officers and first responders, victim service providers, medical personnel and coroners...the opportunities are endless. Consideration ought to be given to the overall panel in an effort to create balance, safety and comfort among the panelists.
2.  Sheri Sikes
 I do vips statewide in TX, and for many differing audiences of offenders (adults, juveniles, specific targeted crime such as sex offenders, etc.) The type of audience will determine who I get to be a panelist. the victim panelists are screened by my program initially, and then if they wish, available to call upon them in the future for vips. I usually try to schedule several victims of different types of crime in any given panel, so the offenders can hear about impact of different crimes. Feel free to email me for more info and I would also be happy to discuss it w you telephonically.
Are there books-fiction, articles, memoirs, etc.-that have been particularly effective in preparing parolees for a VIP --or to use as followup afterwards?
1.  Suzanne Neuhaus
 My apologies for posting this so late! Some time ago, I prepared the following reading list. I believe it may be helpful in preparing offenders for hearing the impact of crime on others, as well as encouraging deeper discernment of the choices they have made and the power they have to transform their lives for the better.BIBLIOGRAPHY A Child Called It: One Childs Courage to Survive. D. Pelzer.;A Grief Like No Other: Surviving the Violent Death of Someone You Love. K. OHara.; A Human Being Died That Night. P. Gobodo-Madikizela.;Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy. D. Kraybill, S. Nolt, & D. Weaver-Zercher.; Beautiful Child. T. Hayden.; Because I Am Jackie Millar. J. Millar.; Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love. R. Karen.; Betrayed as Boys. R. B. Gartner.; Beyond Sympathy. J. Harris Lord.; Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow and the Limits of Forgiveness. A. Krog.; Ditch That Jerk: Dealing With Men Who Control and Hurt Women. P. Jayne.; Ellie: A Story of Profound Loss and Abuse. D. Rose.; Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process to Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope. R. Enright.; From Hate Crimes to Human Rights: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard. M. Swigonski, R. Sakina Mama, & K. Ward.; Ghosts form the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence. R. Karr-Morse, M. S. Wiley, T. B. Brazelton.; Ghost Girl. T. Hayden.; Homicide Survivors: Misunderstood Grievers. J. Bucholz.; I Cant Get Over It: A Handbook for Trauma Survivors. A. Matsakis.; It Could Happen to Anyone: Why Battered Women Stay. A. LaViolette & O. Barnett.; No Future without Forgiveness. D. Tutu.; No Time for Goodbyes. J. Harris Lord.; Surviving the Silence: Black Womens Stories of Rape.; The Little Book of Restorative Justice. H. Zehr.;The Little Book of Restorative Justice for People in Prison. B. Toews.; They Cage the Animals at Night. J. M. Burch.; Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence. J. Herman.; Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences. P. Levine and A. Frederick.; When Bad Things Happen to Good People. H. Kushner.; Whose Face Is in the Mirror? The Story of One Womans Journey from the Nightmare of Domestic Violence to True Healing. D. Schwartz.
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