OVC Provider Forum Transcript

Ethical Practices in Victim Services
Melissa Hook  -  2008/3/12
When program rules contain language that prohibits issuing compensation for victims who are guilty of illegal activity that contibuted to the crime, how do you determine if an activity actually was contributory, i.e. a curfew violation. Also, how do you address situations when law enforcement suspects illegal activity or contributory misconduct but the suspicion or it's basis is not documented?
1.  Melissa Hook
 As an advocate, your ethical responsibility is to ensure that the victims right to compensation are respected. You also have the ethical responsibility of respecting your state guidelines for compensation and of conducting a professional relationship with the compensation specialist that makes the determination of eligibility. One ethical challenge is prioritizing the ethic of primary responsibility to the victim or putting the victim first when an illegal activity, such as a curfew violation, may prevent the victim from receiving compensation. However, an illegal activity such as a curfew violation is very different from a criminal activity where individual is shot in the act of physically assaulting and robbing someone. Best option: Advocate for systems change. Work closely with the compensation board to clearly define what constitutes criminal activity that negates eligibility for compensation and address gray areas in the eligibility guidelines. Without documentation from law enforcement that cites criminal activity, there are no grounds to deny a victim the right to compensation if the nature of the victimization falls within the guidelines. If victims involved in violent crimes are receiving compensation because law enforcement is unclear about their reporting process, this is a procedural issue that the compensation specialists must address with law enforcement. For an advocate in the course of serving a victim that receives compensation to be aware of criminal activity that contributed to the victimization, a personal ethical challenge does develop. Putting the victim first, confidentiality and knowing your legal responsibilities are at least three ethical standards that come into play. Best option: Speak with a supervisor or when working alone, speak with a knowledgeable and trusted colleague in the field to clarify the best ethical and legal response.An ethical decision-making model for victim services to assist you in thinking through an ethical challenge can be found in Ethics in Victim Services on page 71.
What are the guidelines for setting up 1. Fatality Review Boards, 2. Court Watch Programs, 3. Vicarious Trauma Support Groups 4. Multidisciplinary Staffings of Cases
1.  Melissa Hook
 It would be helpful to me in responding if you could elaborate on your question.
Good Afternoon Melissa, Is there a "best way" to instill ethical concerns in practitioners, and in my case... Criminal Justice majors who eventually will work with victims? Thanks, Prof. Kevin Woods kevin.woods@becker.edu
1.  Melissa Hook
 In my experience teaching ethics, the interest develops when practitioners talk to each other about the challenges that they face. For students, I think that a foundation training in the relevant ethics is the first step and then the opportunity for them to discuss case scenarios and to interact with experienced professionals would be the most beneficial. It also takes a dry topic and brings it alive.
I teach a course called Victims in Society. I'd like to know more about the Filmmaker's Forum. Would it be something that would help my students understand service delivery to victims? If so, is it possible to get a copy? Thank you.
1.  Melissa Hook
 The Filmmaker's Forum is a web-based information site at the New York Women in Film website. www.nywift.org There are many downloadable resources there that would be useful to students.
Hi, Ms. Hook: Our nonprofit organization, which serves child victims of sexual and physical abuse and child witnesses to violence, has been told by a number of PR/Communications professionals that in order to raise the visibility of our organization (largely for fundraising purposes), we need to "give a face" to the issue. Yet, we are strongly committed to safeguarding the confidentiality of our clients. What are some ethical ways we can tell our organization's story and effectively increase awareness about our work and the issue of child abuse in ways that resonate with the public, without compromising the privacy or dignity of our clients?
1.  Melissa Hook
 This is a huge challenge particularly in small communities where anecdotal stories can be misconstrued. For example,someone may read a child abuse anecdote and then interprets whom it may apply to. For fundraising purposes, prevalence of cases and generic descriptions of cases are helpful. There are also some well done short films on child abuse that tell stories. Statistics, if they are high in your community can have significant impact. Otherwise, work on anecdotal stories that are creative but nothing to do with your local community.
Do you have a sample "Code of Ethics" that would help our program develop our own?
1.  Melissa Hook
 The National Victim Assistance Consortium Standards can be found at www.valor-national.org; NOVA's ethical standards at www.nova.org; many state rape crisis and domestic coalitions have standards posted on their web sites. The NAVAA website also has standards posted under state resources. www.navaa.org
Are you aware of any online trainings regarding ethics in victim services?
1.  Yvonne McGinnis
 To assist Ms. Hook and to answer Mark's question, the website to OVC training is https://www.ovcttac.gov/vatonline/index.cfm
2.  Melissa Hook
 VAT online has a very good online training on ethics in victim services. I don't have the website address here but I belive that it can be obtained through OVC TTAC. I will post it after the session.
We conduct victim offender dialogues and tell the parties that our preparation discussions with them are confidential. Is it a breach of confidentiality to discuss the case with others trained to participate in the program, i.e., facilitators?
1.  Melissa Hook
 It would be a breach if you do not inform the victims in the dialogue that it is necessary to share information with the facilitator in order to do the work of facilitating. Ensuring that the facilitator also has the ethical responsibility to maintain confidentiality should address the issue.
What is best practice when dealing with victim's who are unable to give informed, verbal and/or written consent for victim services who have been an obvious victim of a crime? E.G. an unconscious female who is brought to the ED as a result of a physical assault and suspected sexual assault. Do you collect forensic evidence?
1.  Melissa Hook
 I agree with you from the point of view of putting the victim first, and I would want to make sure that what could be done that is not an invasive medical procedure is completed. I consulted practitioners that conduct the rape exam for insight and they were very clear about anything that would be considered an invasive procedure. I am glad you introduced this question because it is an ethical dilemma and one in which there is no consensus on the answer. Worthy of further discussion.
2.  Rosa
 I see your point. Some have suggested that because there is limited opportunity to collect the best evidence,it is OK to complete a partial exam (all except invasive procedures like the genital exam), and store the kit until the patient can sign consent for it's release to LE or dies from the injuries. If we are truly the patients advocate, we can not risk having them miss the opportunity to prosecute because they were beat to unconsciousness!Any suggestions?
3.  Melissa Hook
 I have additional information that I can provide with regard to medical procedures and victims that are unable to give informed consent. It would not be ethcial to perform a rape exam on an unconscious woman who is an obvious victim of sexual assault. The rape exam is treated like any other medical procedure that cannot be administered without consent unless it is life threatening not to do so. (which would not be the case with a rape exam.) There is some discussion in the field about the ethics of conducting the exam on an individual in a long-term or permanent coma. Generally speaking, unless the victim has issued an advanced directive that allows a family member or friend to make medical decisions in the case that the victim is unable to do so, the rape exam should not be conducted. With regard to the ability of individuals with developmental disabilities to give informed consent, they should be assessed for degree of disability. Unless the disability is so severe that custody has been assigned to a caretaker, the victim with the disability should make the decision on the informed consent.
4.  Melissa Hook
 I will have to do research on this and reply at a later time. I will speak to a rape crisis center and a SANE nurse to learn about protocol. Without a protocol in place, I think that the ethical challenge is daunting. With individuals with developmental disabilties there are other elements to the decision-making process. Or someone who does not speak the language. Many issues at play here. So. I will get back to you later.
From a ethical and practical viewpoint. Do you see victim services fitting into the mission of probation/community corrections ,i.e public safety, rehabilitation of youth...?
1.  Melissa Hook
 Victim services within the agencies mentioned are critical. One of the important things that we have learned is that ethical priorities in victim services are to varying degrees subject to the job descriptions. Relationship building and problem solving with agencies and community-based organizations on shared ethical standards helps clarify how we can best work together in a collaborative way to serve victims. No doubt, ethical dilemmas occur as a result of competing prioroties.
What can be done to reduce the likelihood of dual relationships occurring in smaller communities?
1.  Melissa Hook
 Both small rural communities and marginalized communities in populated areas have to find ways to address dual relationships. In these communities there are a shortage of advocates and people do prior relationships with each other. Awareness of the harm caused to the victim in a dual relationship is the first step in avoiding the harm or reducing it. If you work in a rural area, you know that dual relationships are going to be unavoidable in some instances. Being proactive, thinking through the likelihood of potential harm, exercising good judgment and when it will be impossible to serve a victim without a harmful dual relationship developing, identify back up or work with a trusted colleague outside your area that can advise and assist.
Do you have suggestions for resolving ethical codes coming into conflict among intra-agency service providers or allied professionals?
1.  Melissa Hook
 It requires the development of dialogue based on the recognition that agencies and organizations have at times conflicting ethical priorities. The ethical decision-making model in Ethics in Victim Services can form the basis for discussion. I would also recommend the Denver Victim Services 2000 model for conflict-resolution. http://www.victimservicesnetwork.org/ - When working with allied professionals, it is necessary to recognize and respect their ethical standards and be able to communicate those of victim services.
What are the most common breaches of ethics unintentionally made by victim advocates?
1.  Melissa Hook
 Some common ethical violations are: not respecting confidentiality by taking files home and working on them; discussing compeling cases with friends or collegaues that are not need to know; giving legal advice when the advocate is not a lawyer; being directive and advising victims rather than presenting them with options; and becoming the best friend of the victim served and allowing the relationship to cross over in the advocate's and the victim's private life.
I do Teen Dating Violence Workshops for Tribal Communities. Is there anything from the Filmmakers' Forum that could be of use to my workshops?
1.  Julienne Cross
 Silent Messages is a video that Mark Mathews, Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs, introduced to us at a recent conference in Tuscon. The Tribal Youth produced this film and directly depicts the issues of dual DV and substance abuse. You can find this video at http://www.hudsonpro.com/silent_message
2.  Melissa Hook
 It would not be the first place that I would look.
Who are the officials responsible for determining what is considered to be ethical practices? Is there an ethical review panel/board in place?
1.  Bob Eccleston
 One suggestion I have heard before that I strongly agree with is to use the standards established by the National Association of Social Workers as a foundation. This works for me. http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/default.asp
2.  Melissa Hook
 Each state that has ethical standards appears to have developed a means of training advocates and holding advocates accountable. I would look at Ohio that has had a state system in place for several years.
Victims may lead alternative lifestyles but are still "victims" nonetheless. When applying for funds to reimburse for victim services (in particular sexual assault victims)is it appropriate to include information regarding partners that you collaborate with to enhance your services. e.g. a SANE program that refers victims to an organization that provides services to prostitutes, if they are identified as having a current or past history of this lifestyle? They may/may not have been actively participating in this when they were assaulted and have not been charged or convicted of that crime. Should this influence the decision to provide funding to help serve this underground population? These services help them get out of this field.
1.  Melissa Hook
 If the goal is to put the victim first and the victim is not involved in criminal activity at the time of the victimization, it is ethical to provide the best, most useful referral possible to meet the needs of that victim.
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