Serving Victims' Literacy Needs
Literacy is vital to ensuring equal access to justice. The Adult Education and Family Literacy Act defines literacy as an individual's ability to read, write, and speak in English and to compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function in everyday life.22 If victims do any of the following when you are assisting them, they may need literacy-related help:23
- Ask you to review materials aloud.
- Hesitate or refuse to fill out important forms.
- Say they have forgotten their glasses.
- Glance at a written sheet and then change the subject.
The social stigma of rape weighs on many victims' shoulders, making it difficult for them to come forward, disclose, press charges, and get the help they need. Victims with low-literacy skills often struggle with a double stigma—that of sexual assault and illiteracy—that can compound their shame, self-blame, and isolation, making it difficult for them to reach out for help.24
To meet victims at their point of need25
- Provide victims with more choices. Ask victims if they prefer to read materials, watch them on video, hear them on tape, or have you review them orally.
- Offer assistance. Ask victims if they would like help in completing written materials such as intake forms, compensation forms, consent forms, and so forth.
- Show respect. Frame your questions as follows when someone needs assistance with a form or handout: "These forms can be really confusing for a lot of people. I have a hard time with them myself. Would it help if I summarized the content and we walked through it together?" This approach conveys respect and validates what victims might be feeling.
- Use graphics, photos, and pictures. Printed materials for adults should include age-appropriate images. Realistic pictures with appropriate backgrounds and details can help convey your concept/message.
- Reduce the number of documents victims must read. Instead of requiring victims to read forms, brochures, and instructional sheets, integrate visual and audio materials into your response. Consider, for example, developing videos to explain the forensic medical exam process or the criminal justice process, provide audiotapes on victims' rights, or create a computer simulation that illustrates the levels of confidentiality among SART agencies and the range of followup services available.
- Write at a fifth grade level. Write forms and handouts in plain languageat a fifth grade reading level. Additionally, it is helpful to offer alternative methods for sharing information, such as a video showing someone filling out the requested form and/or assistance with reading and comprehending printed materials.
- Be culturally sensitive. Victims may need multiple services. Translated materials for limited English proficient victims may not help victims with low literacy skills. Address translation and literacy needs simultaneously.
- Take more time. Slow down so that victims can understand each part of the proceeding.
- Repeat important information. Most people who cannot use printed material must rely on memory. Repeating important information can help increase and reinforce knowledge and understanding.
Reaching Individuals Along All Literacy Levels Informs Pennsylvania's crisis advocates, counselors, and prevention educators about the connection between literacy and sexual violence and how they can appropriately respond. Can be easily adapted for SART interagency responses.