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About This E-PublicationAcknowledgmentsMessage From the DirectorAbout the AuthorsRelated Links
The Need for Collaboration
Victim Needs From a Faith-Based Perspective
Elements of Collaboration
Introductory Training
A Survey of Faith Leaders
Regional Workshops
Evaluation of Regional Workshops
Peaceful Communities Committee
Lessons Learned
Issues Unique to Faith-Based Victim Assistance
Supplementary Materials
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Faith Based Victim Assistance Organizations

Elements of Collaboration

The VS 2000 initiative set out to address the lack of specialized training in victim assistance among clergy through a pilot project in Chittenden County, where more than one-fourth of all Vermont residents live.10 The project included—

Introductory Training

A 3-hour workshop titled "How Can I Be of Service? The Faith Community in Support of Victims of Crime" covered the basics of crime-related psychological trauma, including the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The workshop also explored the relationships that community members have with faith leaders, provided an overview of power dynamics in domestic violence relationships, and listed specific things that clergy can do to support parishioners.

In addition, the training shed light on some of the responses that faith communities may expect from survivors of crime. In some cases, victims of crime may avoid anything that reminds them of their victimization—a behavior that is often referred to as second-order conditioning. In this instance, a traumatic victimization elicits physical and emotional reactions in a victim that may generalize to other neutral stimuli that become linked in the victim's mind with the traumatic event. It could be a sound or a smell or even a person unconnected to the trauma. Consequently, a victim who initially sought support from a faith leader or pastoral counselor may later reject further contact with that person because he or she has become inextricably tied to the victimization.

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A Survey of Faith Leaders

As part of the original VS 2000 needs assessment, program staff and the Vermont Ecumenical Council (VEC) developed a survey (sent to the VEC mailing list) that identified the needs of faith leaders and assessed their level of knowledge about assisting crime victims. VS 2000 staff compiled the results of 68 completed surveys and compared the responses with those from a separate public awareness survey conducted among 605 randomly selected Vermont residents to assess general knowledge of crime victims' rights. Five of the seven questions on both surveys revealed that the general public had a greater awareness of victims' rights than did the faith community.

Notable survey findings included—

  • Seventy-five percent of faith leaders said that they received minimal or no training in domestic violence.
  • Three percent of faith leaders said they obtained their knowledge of domestic violence through self-study.
  • Seventy-seven percent of respondents believed that some parishioners in their congregations had been abused.
  • Seventy-five percent of respondents stated that they were not currently working with battered victim services or batterers' intervention programs, but 88 percent indicated they would like to have some involvement. Many respondents cited time pressures, lack of available training, and other commitments as obstacles to involvement.

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Regional Workshops

Based on the initial assessment results, VS 2000 staff offered a series of 4-hour regional workshops cosponsored by the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services and VEC.

At each training site, representatives from the local domestic violence program provided information on local resources and encouraged clergy to collaborate with other programs and make referrals. Topics included understanding the subjective experience of victims; traumatic grief; the relationship dynamics implicated in domestic violence; information on victims' rights and local resources; how to make medical, mental health, and social service referrals for victims; and specific skills in working with victims. (A compendium of training topics and resources is available from the Training Department of the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services.)

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Evaluation of Regional Workshops

Thirty-four clergy members attended the initial round of trainings, which were well received. Participants identified the workshops on domestic violence dynamics, including the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships, as the most useful part of the training. They felt that having providers from local shelters and victim assistance programs as presenters was extremely helpful.

Several followup trainings were conducted at annual meetings and individual churches. The most positive result of the faith community training initiative—the result that marked its institutionalization—was the establishment of the Peaceful Communities Committee in January 2000.

In the evaluation process, training organizers also realized their assumption that clergy would naturally want information and training about victimization was shortsighted. In subsequent conversations with faith leaders, it became clear that only those faith leaders who have come face to face with a congregant in crisis truly understand the importance of providing assistance—and the need for training. As a result, organizers identified such individuals as key members of advisory groups because they can effectively motivate other faith leaders to participate.

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Peaceful Communities Committee

The Peaceful Communities Committee's goal was to bring together clergy, victims, victim advocates, and corrections officials to explore issues of justice for both victims of crime and offenders. At their initial meeting, committee members agreed on the need for training—both brief and extensive—for pastors and church leaders about the needs of, and services available to, victims, their families, and their communities. They recommended several specific roles for clergy in aiding crime victims, including helping victims to stay safe when offenders reenter the community or when the offender is not arrested or arraigned.

Over the past 3 years, the Peaceful Communities Committee—which includes representatives from VEC, the Vermont Department of Corrections, and the Victim/Survivor of Crime Council—developed a restorative justice resource directory that lists volunteer opportunities for clergy and others. The committee plans to conduct a statewide series of study circles on offender reentry and community safety in collaboration with the Study Circle Center in Connecticut, including a "Training of Trainers" on study circle facilitation. The committee also works with Vermont's seven community justice centers to share resources and involve faith leaders in developing programs and offering assistance to reparative panels. (Read more about the Peaceful Communities Committee and other initiatives.)

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