This section includes
What Is Victim Justice?: A Checklist
No intervention that takes power away from survivors can possibly foster their recovery, no matter how much it appears to be in their best interest.1 Justice is achieved when all stakeholders are satisfied with the process and the outcome is fair to all participants.2 The following recommendations may help shape or improve your victim-centered policies and practices.3
Simplify the service provision process.
Recruit and retain diverse staff and volunteers who represent the ethnic diversity within the community.
Provide the same quality of service to victims regardless of gender, race, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, or sexual orientation.
Assist victims in obtaining orders of protection and no contact as needed and enforce them vigilantly.
Educate victims regarding strategies for avoiding revictimization, without blame.
Encourage the media to respect victims' rights to privacy when they cover crimes.
Determine what service providers victims would prefer to see for crisis intervention.
Offer services at no cost or on a sliding scale so that all victims can access them regardless of their ability to pay.
Ensure that crime victims have a full range of emergency and ongoing support options available to them by partnering with service organizations and business communities.
Promote cross training among multidisciplinary agencies.
Provide options for short- and long-term counseling.
Develop protocols and interagency agreements for service delivery. Options should include medical care, clothing, food, temporary housing, care for dependants, transportation, counseling, employment leave, and physically accessible facilities and services.
Develop a process for obtaining ongoing feedback and evaluation from victims.
Respond to feedback from clients and other partner agencies.
Ensure that victims know what to expect as their cases are investigated and what will happen if and when their cases are brought to trial.
Provide a range of information on bail, pleas, and release from custody.
Send victims information about sentencing provisions and the appellate process if defendants are convicted.
Inform victims about procedures for obtaining and enforcing orders of protection and no-contact orders, as appropriate.
Encourage victims to become involved in the criminal justice process, if and when they choose that option, but respect the right of victims to not participate in court processes or support services.
Reduce or eliminate barriers to participation. Victim involvement can help restore a sense of control and enhance faith in the justice system.
Encourage victims to use only those supports and services they feel will be beneficial.
Provide advance notice of events so victims can arrange to be present, if and when they choose to participate. Address constraints in victims' schedules.
Create a technology system to link service providers together so that they can share resources.
Arrange for childcare and assist with employer issues, when appropriate.
Designate a single service provider to work with victims throughout their recovery to ensure they do not "fall through the cracks" in a network of services.4
Accompany victims to court, help them prepare their impact statements, and refer them to other sources of adjudication and post-adjudication support.
Ensure that victims are fully aware of their options. Many are interested in having offenders understand how the crime has affected them, so consider strategies for meeting this need.
Maximize the use of victim compensation benefits.
Notify victims whenever defendants are released from prison, pretrial detention, or community supervision.
Notify victims of changes resulting from the appellate processes.
Assist victims with safety planning and ongoing counseling, as needed.
Provide opportunities for victims to describe what happened to them and to express what impact the crime has had on their lives. Voicing experiences can help victims heal.
Facilitate opportunities for victims to give impact statements through trial, sentencing, probation, and parole proceedings.
Be aware that crime victims can be highly effective advocates for other victims.
Include victims on state compensation boards and victim impact panels, which can help them to heal while also making a significant contribution to other victims.
Consider the victims' perspectives when drafting or changing statutes, revising policies and procedures, or developing action plans.
Encourage victims to provide advice to policymakers, planners, evaluators, and funders. By doing so, victims can help the justice system and communities become more effective in addressing their needs and honoring their rights.
Develop relationships with ethnic and cultural populations within the community and offer them leadership opportunities.
Develop a list of local and state organizations and service providers for diverse populations.
Invite faith leaders to participate in response teams.
Develop training programs for staff to enhance their understanding of diversity and diverse cultures.
Solicit suggestions on how to make individuals with disabilities aware of accessible services.5
Ensure that the courtroom and offices are physically accessible to all victims, especially those who may use wheelchairs or walkers or who have limited stamina for walking.
The following terms can help you develop a common language and context for a victim-centered response to sexual violence:
Acculturation: Adapting or borrowing traits from another culture. It includes merging of traditions as a result of prolonged contact. It should be noted that individuals from culturally diverse groups may desire varying degrees of acculturation into the dominant culture.6
Bicultural: The ability to understand and function effectively in two cultural environments.
Bilingual: The ability to speak effectively in two languages.
Cultural accessibility: Providing services that welcome members of specific cultures. Making services culturally accessible requires SARTs to value diversity, assess services for their application to specific populations, institutionalize culturally specific service delivery, and commit to ongoing training and collaboration with culturally specific organizations.
Cultural competence: An ongoing awareness, sensitivity, regard, and effective response to diverse populations. It requires developing cultural knowledge, resources, and agency flexibility to better meet the needs of underserved populations.
Culture: A system of shared beliefs, values, and customs that members of a society or group use to shape and influence their perceptions and behavior.7 Culture is "an integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, languages, practices, beliefs, values, customs, courtesies, rituals, manners of interacting, and roles; relationships and expected behaviors of a racial, ethnic, religious, or social group; and the ability to transmit the above to succeeding generations."8
Disability: According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals are considered to have a disability if they (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) have a record of such impairments; or (3) are regarded as having physical or mental conditions that limit the ability to perform a major life activity such as walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, thinking, or working.
Diversity: The differences or unique characteristics among individuals and within communities. Diversity includes differences of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, marital status, religious beliefs, political beliefs, and status in society.
Ethnicity: A large group of people classified according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.
Holistic: A comprehensive approach that recognizes and addresses multiple components of victims' lives. A holistic SART response considers how the medical and legal choices of victims can directly affect their healing process. SARTs that consider a range of health care and legal options and address victims' physical, mental, and spiritual needs simultaneously provide holistic care.
Interpreter: An individual trained and certified in facilitating oral, written, or manual communication between two or more people who speak different languages.
Linguistic competence: The capacity to communicate effectively and convey information in a manner that is easily understood by diverse populations.
Multilingual: The ability to speak effectively in two or more languages.
Race: A tribe, people, or nation. The concept of race as used by the U.S. Census Bureau reflects self-identification by people according to the race or races with which they most closely identify.
Underserved: A group of people identified through statistics, strategic planning, or other systematic processes as having a need for and not presently receiving adequate information, services, or support.
Trauma- and Healing-Related Terms
Acute stress disorder: Symptoms include flashbacks, a weakened immune system, fatigue, anxiety, hypersensitivity, generalized fear, and depression. The symptoms last from a minimum of 2 days to a maximum of 4 weeks following a traumatic event.
Affect: A pattern of observable behaviors that express victims' emotions. Common examples of affect are sadness, elation, and anger. Affect is different from mood (which refers to a more sustained emotional state).
Anniversary reaction: An emotional response on the anniversary of a traumatic event. In some cases, victims may not consciously recall why they are feeling differently on that date. A common anniversary reaction is temporary depression.
Autonomic arousal: A physical response that bypasses the thinking process and can include an elevated heart rate, dilation of pupils, perspiring, and other fear responses. Victims may reexperience autonomic arousal when remembering their sexual assaults.
Counterintuitive behavior:9 Behaviors of sexual assault victims that conflict with the behavior the public expects. Without further explanation, these behaviors can translate into reasons to doubt victims' accounts of their sexual assaults.
Flashbacks: A type of spontaneous recall common to victims in the aftermath of trauma.
Flight or fight response: An automatic response following a perceived threat to survival. The response is activated in the part of the brain that regulates metabolic and autonomic function and prepares muscles to act.
Flooding: Flooding is the process of becoming overwhelmed by intrusive emotions, sensory experiences, or an intense reliving of a traumatic event.Healing: The process of recovering from an act of violence or trauma.
Hypervigilance: This symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder may include an exaggerated startle response and/or unusual sensitivity to sounds and sights in the environment.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD):10 A psychiatric disorder that can occur following sexual assault or other trauma and marked by clear biological changes and psychological symptoms. Victims who suffer from PTSD often relive the traumatic experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged from others. The symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life. For example, PTSD is often linked to depression, substance abuse, memory and cognition difficulties, and other problems of physical and mental health.
Rape trauma syndrome (RTS): A spectrum of symptoms victims may experience after a sexual assault. Victims may feel the effects of RTS immediately after the assault or even weeks or months later. RTS has recently been replaced by the term "counterintuitive behavior."
Startle reaction: A symptom of both posttraumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder in which an individual reacts strongly to new and unexpected stimuli in the environment. An example of a startle reaction would be jumping out of a chair when hearing a door slam.
Trigger: An event, object, person, and so forth that sets a series of thoughts in motion or reminds a victim of some aspect of his or her sexual assault. The person may be unaware of what is triggering the memory.
Vicarious trauma: The experiences of service providers who become overly empathic after listening to accounts of abuse or sexual violence by victims. Symptoms of vicarious trauma are similar to those experienced by individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder and include numbing, hypervigilance, sleep difficulties, and intrusive thoughts of traumas described by victims.
1 California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 1999, Support for Survivors: Training for Sexual Assault Counselors, Sacramento, CA: California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 129.
2 International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2000, What Do Victims Want? Effective Strategies to Achieve Justice for Victims of Crime, 1999 IACP Summit on Victims of Crime, Alexandria, VA: International Association of Chiefs of Police, 7–6.
3 Ibid., 9 and 24.
4 Jane Sigmon and Christine Edmunds, 2002, "Victimization of Individuals with Disabilities," National Victim Assistance Academy Textbook, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime.
6 National Center for Cultural Competence, 2004, Bridging the Cultural Divide in Health Care Settings: The Essential Role of Cultural Broker Programs, Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development, Georgetown University Medical Center, National Center for Cultural Competence, VII–VIII.
7 Glossary of terms in the State Sexual Assault Plan, Paving the Way to a Better Tomorrow, The Plan for 2003-2008, a project of the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
8 T. Goode, S. Sockalingam, S. Bronheim, M. Brown, and W. Jones, 2000, A Planner's Guide: Infusing Principles, Content and Themes Related to Cultural and Linguistic Competence into Meetings and Conferences, Washington, DC: National Center for Cultural Competence, 1.
9 Jennifer Long, "Explaining Counterintuitive Victim Behavior in Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Cases," The Voice 1(4).