| Rural Victim Assistance
A Victim/Witness Guide for Rural Prosecutors
About This DocumentRural Victim Assistance: A Victim/Witness Guide for Rural Prosecutors is designed to help prosecutors, victim advocates, and policymakers understand the state of victim/witness assistance in rural communities, including staffing limitations, the roles and responsibilities of advocates, and the challenges that rural prosecutors' offices face in providing assistance to crime victims and effectively prosecuting the perpetrators of crime. It provides an overview of these challenges along with tips and strategies for overcoming them based on a survey of rural prosecutors' offices conducted by the American Prosecutors Research Institute (APRI).1 APRI identified five promising practices that have helped rural prosecutors' offices overcome their challenges. These promising practices, along with an extensive list of resources, are also discussed in the guide.
The Rural Victim Assistance guide is a publication from the American Prosecutors Research Institute (APRI) that focuses on the challenges of providing victim assistance in rural areas. The guide is designed to help prosecutors and victim assistance specialists develop ideas for providing better services to victims in their area. We are especially thankful to the many prosecutors and victim/witness coordinators across the country who provided us with their knowledge and expertise, particularly staff in the "promising practices" jurisdictions. Their efforts have rendered a comprehensive publication for rural prosecutors' offices.
In addition, we sincerely appreciate the guidance of APRI's Rural Victim Assistance Advisory Group:
Jeanette Adkins, Victim/Witness Director, Greene County, Ohio, Prosecutor's Office
The Rural Victim Assistance guide was developed with support from the Office for Victims of Crime at the U.S. Department of Justice. We want to express our gratitude to OVC and our grant monitors, Michelle Weston and Joye Frost, for their support of this project.Finally, we'd like to recognize the contributions of the following APRI staff:
Elaine Nugent, Director, Office of Research & Evaluation
PAUL A. LOGLI
ROGER C. FLOREN, II
THOMAS J. CHARRON
OVC ResourcesWeb sites and online services
OVC's Web ForumForum for victim advocates, prosecutors, and other professionals to exchange promising practices.
Training and Technical Assistance CenterWeb site for OVC center that provides technical assistance and training resources to victim service providers and allied professionals.
Calendar of EventsWeb site integrating information on conferences, trainings, and other victim assistance-related events.
Directory of Crime Victim ServicesElectronic directory for finding crime victim services.
OVC Resource CenterInformation clearinghouse for emerging crime victim issues.
Grants.govSite for finding funding resources from OVC.
Publications and Other Products From OVC
Victim Services in Rural Law Enforcement
Resources by Topic
OVC also offers several more publications, online resources, and listings for more information on the subject. To learn more, browse through OVC's Topical Resources on
Rural Victim Assistance
Despite downward trends in violent and property crimes in the past several years, the number of rural Americans who are victimized by crime remains troubling. In rural communities in 2001, 21 of every 1,000 people ages 12 and older were victims of violent crimes. Cities with populations of less than 10,000 experienced a nearly 12-percent increase in homicides between 2000 and 2001, while cities with populations of 250,000 or more experienced a slight decline of 0.3 percent during the same period (Rennison 2002).
Compare the victimization statistics with staffing in rural prosecutors' offices and it is clear that the number of victims who need assistance or services far exceeds the staff available to these prosecutors. In 2001, prosecutors' offices in jurisdictions with populations of less than 250,000 employed on average three attorneys and one victim/witness advocate (DeFrances 2001). Jurisdictions with populations of less than 10,000, in contrast, often had a part-time prosecutor's office, with a median staff size of only twoan attorney and a support person. Thus, in a jurisdiction of 10,000 people, a prosecutor's office might see 210 victims of violent crime per year, yet have only limited staff available to protect these victims' rights, meet their needs, and prosecute their cases.
Rural areas face significant economic, geographic, and manpower barriers that make it difficult to create, strengthen, or expand victim assistance services. Although they are often equated with open space, tranquility, a strong sense of community, and strong family values, rural communities suffer many of the same negative dynamics that urban communities suffer and, in some cases, more intensely. Single-parent households are on the rise, as are births to unmarried and teenage mothers; the average level of education tends to be lower among rural residents than among urban residents; rural youth are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to return to school or to obtain a GED; and rural poverty rates are higher than urban poverty rates (National Center on Rural Justice and Crime Prevention (NCRJCP) 2002).
In addition to these dynamics, rural communities have not experienced the same economic growth that urban and suburban areas have had in the past decade. In fact, rural communities have historically experienced low rates of economic growth and high rates of unemployment and underemployment (Weisheit and Wells 1998). All of these dynamics can lead to increasing crime in rural communities.
In urban areas, some of these conditions can be addressed through an array of programs and services designed to attend to the needs of at-risk populations. But many rural communities lack available community-based or publicly funded service programs. Rural communities are less likely than urban or suburban communities to have childcare programs, public transportation, or shelters for homeless people or abuse victims (NCRJCP 2002). These and other service limitations have enormous impact on crime victims.
In the past 30 years, there has been a growing awareness among criminal justice practitioners and prosecutors, in particular, of crime victims' needs. Efforts to aid crime victims have resulted in the legislation of victims' rights both locally and nationally. All 50 states have enacted legislation to address victims' rights, and 32 states also have enacted constitutional amendments that address the rights of victims and witnesses. These legislative changes outline the specific rights that the criminal justice system must afford victims and witnesses. Although these specific rights vary by state, they are based on the following principles:
In most rural areas, the efforts of victim/witness advocates and the needs of victims and witnesses seeking their services are hampered by the geography of a jurisdiction, the availability of funding, the resources in the community, and the driving force of office priorities. For the rural prosecutor, lower crime rates and smaller populations mean less state and federal funding for prosecution and for local service providers. In 1997, for example, Illinois spent more than $261 million in state and federal funds on victim services. Most of the funding went to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to address child abuse and neglect. Of the remaining $35 million, $9 million was dispersed under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and $5 million was dispersed under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Victim service programs in 26 urban counties received $7.3 million in VOCA funds, while 76 rural counties split less than $1 million. Similarly, less than 10 percent of VAWA funds went to rural programs (Sifferd 1998).
The limited funds allocated to victim service programs in rural jurisdictions have a significant impact on the advocates' ability to meet even the most basic rights of victims and witnesses. According to a 1999 survey conducted on nearly 1,300 prosecutor-based victim/witness programs throughout the United States, APRI found that the larger a prosecutor's jurisdiction and office, the more likely the office was to provide an extensive range of services for victims of crime. In fact, a significant percentage of small offices reported that they were unable to assist victims with the most basic services, most notably informing victims of their rights (22 percent); notifying them of court proceedings (24 percent); furnishing victims with referrals to community services (24 percent); helping victims with their victim impact statements (29 percent); and providing restitution (30 percent) (APRI 2002). Clearly, changes need to be made in rural America to better enable victim/witness providers to serve crime victims.
The prosecutor's office is responsible for ensuring that victims' and witnesses' rights are upheld and protected throughout the court process. Yet this duty may be severely hampered in rural prosecutors' offices, whichunlike prosecutors' offices in large urban jurisdictionsare far less likely to have staff that are specifically designated to work directly with victims of crime. In fact, an APRI survey, discussed in more detail later in this section, found that urban prosecutors' offices spent nearly 20 percent more time on direct victim assistance than rural offices did.
In rural prosecutors' offices, victim services are provided by staff members who also carry other responsibilities. In one rural Illinois State's Attorney's Office, for example, the person who handles victim services works with as many as 500 victims a month, notifying them of defendants' appearances before a judge. This individual also has other duties, such as demanding payment on all bad check cases, helping attorneys prepare cases for jury trials, and obtaining defendants' criminal histories (Sifferd 1998).
This scenario is common among rural prosecutors' offices, where prosecutors must make maximum use of each staff person. As such, roles and responsibilities in many of these offices transcend job titlesclerical staff provide victim/witness assistance, attorneys do clerical work, and victim/witness advocates help investigate and prepare cases. In fact, APRI's survey found that 56 percent of support staff in rural offices perform some victim/witness assistance tasks, while 48 percent of the advocates perform general support functions unrelated to victim/witness assistance.
A comprehensive review by APRI (2002) of the daily activities of victim advocates reveals that those in rural offices spend 69 percent of their time on activities that relate specifically to processing cases and assisting victims. They spend 31 percent of their time on activities that do not relate to cases, such as office management, law enforcement coordination, general clerical activities, and community outreach.3 By comparison, advocates in urban offices reported spending nearly 89 percent of their time on activities that relate specifically to processing cases and assisting victimsnearly 20 percent more time than their rural counterparts spent providing victim assistance.
Among the case-related activities that rural victim/witness advocates perform, they spend the greatest percentage of their time (18 percent) on administrative activities associated with victim assistance efforts, such as updating mailing addresses and telephone numbers, scheduling interviews for attorneys to meet with victims and witnesses, and discussing cases with attorneys. Telephone contact with victims accounted for 12 percent of the advocates' time, while providing written notification and face-to-face services each accounted for slightly more than 8 percent of their time. Less than 4 percent of advocates' time was spent on followup activities with victims after cases had been adjudicated.
Advocates in rural prosecutors' offices also spend time in court with victims and witnesses (nearly 20 percent of their total work time). They spend substantially less time in court, however, than their urban counterparts who spend more than a third of their time handling in-court activities. In the rural jurisdictions, the largest percentage of time is spent in trials (7 percent), followed by pretrial hearings and motions (5 percent) and grand jury proceedings (3 percent) in states that have grand juries. This difference between rural and urban advocates' time in court is the result of fewer resources in rural offices and the limited staff available to accompany a victim to court.
On average, victim/witness advocates spend approximately a quarter of their time on misdemeanor cases. Although many cases of domestic violence are classified as misdemeanors, these cases are often complex. They require victim/witness staff to maintain frequent contact with the victim and often to provide additional services, such as assisting the victim with protection orders, transportation, childcare, and court accompaniment. Following misdemeanors closely are rape and sexual offenses (16 percent), miscellaneous felonies (14 percent), and criminal homicides (12 percent). Two additional case types involve a significant amount of victim/witness staff time: Aggravated assault and juvenile cases each take up approximately 10 percent of victim/witness staff time. The remaining categoriesrobbery, burglary, larceny/theft, felony drug crimes, and economic crimesaverage from 1 to 4 percent of victim/witness staff time.
Note: The percentages shown do not total 100 percent because they represent an average percentage of total work time across all offices.
Source: American Prosecutors Research Institute. 2002. How Many Cases Should a Prosecutor Handle? Results of the National Workload Assessment Project. Alexandria, VA: American Prosecutors Research Institute.
Advocates in rural jurisdictions also spend more time conducting non-case-related activities than their counterparts in urban jurisdictions. These activities include general clerical tasks such as photocopying, answering phones, maintaining attorneys' schedules, helping to manage the office, conducting outreach activities, and coordinating with law enforcement. On average, rural advocates spend as much as 20 percent of their total work time on general office management and clerical activities compared with 10 percent in urban offices. This difference clearly demonstrates the varied nature of rural advocates' roles and responsibilities. In particular, it means that they must be "generalists" in the office, necessarily spending less time on victim/witness assistance.
A Week in the Life of the Rural Victim Advocate
Regardless of their exact duties, no week is ever "typical" for rural advocates; their roles and responsibilities change depending on the caseload and the needs of the prosecutor. Many rural jurisdictions hold court sessions on a part-time basis or alternate days among satellite courts. It is rare for rural advocates to be in court all day and all week. It is more likely that they will spend much of their time on non-case-related activities.
To truly convey the many roles and responsibilities of the rural advocate, APRI compiled a hypothetical week in the life of the victim service provider.
A Week in the Life of the Rural Victim Advocate
As this schedule illustrates, the lack of staffing and resources are challenges that force rural providers of victim assistance to multitask, work longer hours, and take on various roles within their offices. These factors represent only two of the challenges to providing assistance to rural crime victims.
The suggestions offered in this section can help rural victim service providers overcome the obstacles encountered as they try to maintain a successful victim assistance program. Many factors can influence the ability of a prosecutor's office to help victims of crime. Services can be aided or compromised by a jurisdiction's geography and demographics, its state law defining victims' rights and the provision of services, funding availability, community resources, and office priorities.
In spite of many challenges, most prosecutor-based victim assistance programs in rural jurisdictions that were surveyed feel that their efforts are successful. Their success is defined by doing the best they can with the resources they have. With the support of the chief prosecutorwho in many of these jurisdictions was the force behind the creation of the victim service positionssmall victories are achieved every day, and many victims receive the services they need.
"Promising Practices in Rural Prosecutors' Offices" further explores the innovative strategies that rural offices and jurisdictions have incorporated throughout the country.
Although victims in rural areas need the same services as victims in urban areas, rural service providers must reach a population that is usually dispersed over large geographic areas. This distance between the victim and advocate is a barrier for a number of reasons:
Nearly every office that participated in the APRI survey reported that geographic isolation impeded staff members' ability to provide services. Many offices also reported that too many victims were not aware of their services and, therefore, did not take advantage of them:
"Due to being a mostly rural jurisdiction, isolation is our biggest obstacle. In most parts of the county, it takes law enforcement 20 to 30 minutes to respond, so most people don't even bother to call."Overcoming Geographic Isolation
Although the problems caused by geographic isolation in rural communities have no easy solutions, the gap between service provider and victim can be bridged with cooperative relationships and outreach.
Examples of cooperative relationships include
Outreach activities may include
To be successful, any victim assistance program must have access to external resources. In rural areas with far fewer community resources, however, advocates have trouble finding shelters in or near rural areas and locating safe and secure locations for counseling groups and for meeting with victims and witnesses. Although large urban areas have their pick of service providers such as law enforcement offices, large medical facilities, prosecutor-based programs, and domestic violence and sexual assault programs, many rural communities are bereft of valuable and necessary service providers (Sifferd 1998).
Of the rural prosecutors' offices surveyed, more than 54 percent responded that they did not have adequate community resources for victim referrals. Of the 46 percent who reported that their communities did have adequate resources, many listed services that actually were in neighboring jurisdictions and far from the victims' homes. This is a problem when victims are unwilling to travel because of monetary concerns or simply from distrust of and unfamiliarity with the larger community. Many survey respondents voiced their concerns about the lack of community resources locally and how this lack affects their ability to provide services to crime victims:
"When we need the use of a support group, there is nowhere to send the victims who are having problems. It is the victims that face the challenges, which then affects our cases. [There is] inadequate public transportation, an inadequate number of childcare resources, and lengthy response time to rural calls by law enforcement."
The following table lists the number of community services available by type, as reported by rural offices.Percentage of Resources in Rural Jurisdictions by Number of Existing Programs
Overcoming Lack of Community Resources
Several jurisdictions have identified possible strategies for overcoming a lack of community resources, including
Perhaps the most frustrating (and most frequently cited) challenge for rural victim/witness programs is the lack of internal resources and how this lack affects all aspects of the program, most notably
Rural jurisdictions historically have faced even stricter budget limitations than their urban counterparts. According to the American Prosecutors Research Institute's (APRI's) 2001 survey of prosecutors' offices nationwide, the average budget of a small office was $706,000, and for part-time offices it was only $148,000significantly less than the average budget for all offices, which was $2 million (DeFrances 2001). Only 9.5 percent of part-time offices and 15 percent of small offices included any social services in their budget, compared with 31 percent of medium and 39 percent of large offices. The budgets of most small and part-time offices are consumed mostly by salary and general operating expenses, whereas those of medium to large offices include expert services, investigator services, DNA testing, child support enforcement, interpreter services, and social services as part of their standard operating expenses.
Responses to a recent national survey conducted by the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) on the state of domestic violence service provision affirmed that advocates in rural areas were in critical need of services and support for battered women (Soler 2000, FVPF 2000).
Most of the rural jurisdictions that APRI surveyed similarly voiced their concerns about the staffing levels and lack of resources in their victim/witness offices:
"The biggest challenges that this jurisdiction faces revolve around financial resources and the isolation of the rural community from the large metropolitan area. State and federal funding has diminished over the past few years, yet crime in the county has increased."
Overcoming Lack of Internal Resources
Following are resources and timesaving tips that some jurisdictions have used to mitigate the problems caused by a dearth of resources. Although many differences exist between rural and urban jurisdictions, looking to strategies that urban offices have incorporated successfully may help rural offices identify solutions that that they can tailor to the size and needs of their jurisdictions.
Volunteers and Interns
Approximately one-third of prosecutors' offices nationally use volunteers and interns to extend the services they provide to victims. Although most of these offices use only a handful of volunteers, most of these unpaid workers donate their skills consistently and over a long period (APRI 2002). A significant portion of the surveyed areas reported that having volunteers assist in the office, whether their duties are administrative or directly related to victim advocacy, provides countless benefits, the most prominent of which is freeing victim advocates for the more victim-related aspects of their jobs.
Most jurisdictions with extensive programs have comprehensive written policies and procedures for recruiting, training, and supervising volunteers (APRI 2002). Most often, volunteers provide support to victims and help victim/witness advocates in their duties. Services that volunteers perform for a prosecutor's office range from administrative tasks like typing and filing to more substantive duties such as transporting victims to or accompanying them into court, supervising victims' children during meetings or court proceedings, and intervening during crises (APRI 2002). Interns typically are recruited from nearby graduate and undergraduate institutions. The students donate their services in exchange for course credit. The most important component of training volunteers and interns is to instill in them a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
Several victim/witness programs that have successfully implemented a volunteer component are highlighted in "Promising Practices in Rural Prosecutors' Offices."
Approximately 60 percent of survey respondents have victim assistance positions that are supported by grant funds, which do not last indefinitely. In addition, the staff in many rural jurisdictions may not have the time or grant-writing skills they need to acquire this funding. Prosecutors' offices of all sizes have used colleges, other government agencies, private organizations, citizens, and even the staffs of mayors' offices or county commissioners to help them write grant applications. In some states, the prosecutors' association will help the prosecutors' offices develop grant proposals. Appendix A contains a comprehensive list of agencies that historically have helped fund victim-based programs. It includes national victim-related organizations, crime victim compensation programs, and public policy-related associations.
Two of the organizations most noted for helping to fund rural providers are the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC).
OVW provides financial assistance to rural areas through its Rural Violence and Child Victimization Enforcement Grants. These grants are designed to enhance the services available to rural victims and children by involving the community in developing a coordinated response to domestic violence, dating violence, and child abuse. A state is considered rural if it has a population of 52 persons or fewer per square mile or if the largest county has fewer than 150,000 people. In rural states, eligible applicants are state and local governments and public and private entities. Non-rural states may apply on behalf of rural jurisdictions in their states. Eligible applicants also include tribal governments in rural and non-rural states. Deadlines, qualifications, and applications can be found through OVW's Web site.
OVC uses its Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funds to support crime victim compensation programs and to fund grants to agencies that serve victims of crime. Dollars are deposited each year into the Crime Victims Fund from offenders convicted of federal crimes. Fund dollars have also been used to carry out program evaluations, conduct special workshops, support victims' rights compliance efforts, develop training curricula, disseminate promising practices, and deliver technical assistance. Information on obtaining VOCA grants can be found on the OVC Web site.
Even so, seeking out nontraditional benefactors is a necessity for the rural prosecutor. Several jurisdictions surveyed spoke of the need for their local prosecutor to "go to bat" with the county board or to request funding from nontraditional sponsors, such as large corporations, to expand their victim/witness program. Lack of resources can be overcome only when a program's staffing and funding needs are made clear to the community. Other local victim-based services or faith-based organizations also have helped several jurisdictions.
In addition, in-kind donations of furniture, meeting space, and computers can help the prosecutorial offices deliver services to victims without depleting their scarce budgets.
Advocate Training, Education, and Professionalism
It is essential for victim service providers to receive comprehensive and up-to-date training. But factors such as a lack of educational resources, being unaware of potential sources, or even indifference to the importance of training often result in providers not receiving this valuable element of their professional development. According to a 1994 survey conducted by the National Institute of Justice on more than 300 victim assistance programs nationwide, nearly half of the programs reported that they had provided neither preservice nor inservice training to their paid staff or volunteers (Tomz and McGillis 1997). The situation is worse in rural areas, where service providers must factor in isolation from, and large distances to, training resources as well. In fact, most of the jurisdictions surveyed by APRI indicated that their advocates learned on the job. In spite of the obstacles, sources of training and technical assistance for advocates do exist. Additional training about victims' rights is equally important for the law enforcement community.
Victim Advocacy Training and Technical Assistance
Additional training for victim advocates can improve a program's services and make its advocates more productive by teaching them about laws, procedures, and victim/witness issues. With the lack of funding, staffing, and time, however, most advocates in rural areas are unable to attend state, regional, or national trainings, which are usually held in metropolitan areas or out of state. By establishing a cooperative relationship with neighboring law enforcement agencies, the rural victim service provider may be able to attend trainings held in nearby jurisdictions. These organizations also may offer distance learning options, which would reduce cost, travel, and out-of-office time.
National training centers and organizations dedicated to serving victim needs also may provide advocates with the resources they need to effectively serve victims. Below are some examples of helpful links, programs, and projects. Appendix A provides a full list of victim-related organizations and their contact information.
Educating the Law Enforcement Community
Additional training about victims' rights is equally important for law enforcement officers and attorneys. Because police officers are most often the first to respond to crime scenes, they are the first to come in contact with victims and witnesses. As such, their treatment of the victim may influence whether or not that individual chooses to cooperate with law enforcement for the remainder of the legal process.
The literature on victims' issues and on domestic violence in particular attests to the problems that can occur when police officers or attorneys are not educated about or are insensitive to the needs of victims (Websdale 1998). One study found that many rural law enforcement officers were reluctant to intervene in domestic situations or other family affairs (Websdale 1998). For the victim/witness community, problems arise if law enforcement agencies adopt a territorial attitude toward advocates or volunteers and consequently withhold valuable information from them or fail to involve them in the court process.
Education and training are essential to addressing these types of issues. Significant education efforts have changed law enforcement officers' attitudes toward domestic violence, for instance, from thinking of it as a "family affair" to treating it as a crime (Grama 2000). Officers, attorneys, and judges should be required to attend mandatory victim-related trainings and/or to seek out resources on victims' rights, assistance, restitution, and compensation, and on techniques for interviewing victims and witnesses. With proper training, these officials also will be better prepared to help victims navigate through the appropriate channels of the criminal justice processin turn, saving valuable time for the victim advocate.
Needs of Specific Populations
Although rural jurisdictions share some common characteristics such as large geographic territories, small populations, and limited community resources, they may differ greatly by region and across or within counties (Weisheit et al. 1994). Underrepresented groups or populations with specific needs and characteristics may present unique challenges for rural providers. Some examples of specific populations and the additional challenges they raise are presented below.
Educating the community on the special factors surrounding rural victims of crime in specific populations is key to addressing these issues. Reaching out to churches and other faith organizations, schools, hospitals, and local centers or stores can bring attention to the unique situations of victims in specific populations.
In addition, a wealth of information and strategies for helping immigrant or migrant women to survive abuse can be gleaned from national organizations such as those mentioned in the section on victim advocacy training and technical assistance and listed in appendix A.5 The National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women offers an expansive network of information, technical assistance, and training to advocates, social workers, and other criminal justice-related providers who work with battered immigrant and/or trafficked women. The network is chaired by three major organizations: the Family Violence Prevention Fund, the National Organization of Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. Each provides trainings and technical assistance on different aspects of the fight to end abuse against immigrant women. Details on the network, and contact information for all organizations involved with it, can be found on the Futures Without Violence Web site.
The Rural Leadership Project Manual,6 a product of the collaborative efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women and the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF), discusses how to create and sustain an immigrant leadership project. According to Monica Arenas, program assistant at FVPF, "The manual is based on the assumption that immigrant women are their own best advocates and are best able to assist other battered immigrants. They can gain the trust of immigrant communities better than an outsider, and they know what the problems they face are and how to develop solutions." This capacity is especially critical given that many immigrant farmworker communities are migratory and cannot develop sustained relationships with formal criminal justice and victim service agencies.
A number of rural prosecutors' offices have developed promising practices for meeting the needs of crime victims in their communities. Many of these efforts have focused on overcoming the lack of internal and community-based resources through volunteer and statewide programs, and by using technology to help deliver services. Still others have implemented innovative strategies for reaching the community and its potential victims. All have found that victims who receive increased services are more likely to cooperate with the prosecutor's office as it brings their cases to trial. Six promising practices are showcased in this report.7
Volunteer Victim Advocates: Cochise County, Arizona
Cochise County, Arizona, has a volunteer program that provides services ranging from crisis intervention to court accompaniment. The office has approximately 60 volunteers, some of whom have been with the program since it began 15 years ago. The average volunteer stays for several years, with new volunteers recruited through newspaper and radio advertisements, and by word of mouth. Today, the program's budget is more than five times what it was only a decade ago.
The County Attorney's Office places a heavy emphasis on preparing its volunteers for the challenges they may face. All volunteers must complete a 40-hour crisis intervention training program provided by the prosecutor's office, funded through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and various state and local grants, and conducted in each of the county's five geographic areas, as needed. Volunteers who want to accompany victims to court must complete additional training that includes shadowing an experienced advocate.
Volunteers also receive monthly trainings on topics that range from domestic violence to CPR. For the past 10 years, one supporterthe Arizona Prosecuting Attorney's Advisory Councilhas spent approximately $8,000 to $10,000 per year on transportation, meals, and conference fees to send 25 volunteers to the annual statewide victim conference.
Volunteers Always On Call
Each of the five areas in the county has two volunteers on call at all times. These volunteers respond to crime scenes along with law enforcement officials to offer whatever support and information the victims need. This may require that volunteers go beyond their normal duties. When volunteers are asked to take domestic violence or child sexual abuse victims to a shelter or other safe location, for instance, they may have to drive the victim across the county, about 100 miles. In homicide cases, volunteers may make death notifications, help with funeral arrangements, or even clean the crime scene.
In addition to training volunteers, program staff also teach police officers about victims' rights and the roles and responsibilities of the volunteers and how they can help both police and victims. Although some members of the law enforcement community initially felt threatened by the volunteers, responding officers are increasingly asking for their assistance.
Cooperation From Victims
The heightened level of cooperation from victims also illustrates the success of the program. This is due, in part, to the increased attention victims receive from the volunteers, which includes greater followup. Before the volunteer program was implemented, court accompaniment was available to victims only in extreme cases. Now it is available to victims in any misdemeanor or felony case, and help is always available for requesting orders of protection.
The Cochise County program has extensive paperwork to completeorganizing, filing, and recordkeepingto keep track of so many volunteers and to document statistics for grant requirements. For this reason, the director of the Cochise County program recommends that any jurisdiction starting a similar program build in time for these administrative duties from the beginning.
Collegiate Advocates: Cass County, Michigan
The victim/witness program in Cass County, Michigan's Prosecuting Attorney's Office uses college interns who are mostly pre-law and criminal justice majors. After seeing ads about the program at area colleges, students contact the prosecutor's office, where a staff member evaluates each student's potential for handling the work. Then, the elected prosecutor provides training for interns and the victim/witness staff, which includes general information about victims' issues and the court process.
The training also emphasizes the dynamics of domestic violence. Once on the job, interns contact victims in ongoing domestic violence cases every 2 weeks to assure them that the prosecutor's office is concerned about them. First, they make sure that victims have experienced no further incidents of domestic violence. Then they provide support and make referrals as needed.
Advantages of the Intern Program
The intern component of the Cass County program has proved advantageous for several reasons. For prosecutors with limited budgets, one of the great benefits is that interns are usually paid for their services with college credits, which in themselves can be a great incentive for students. For the prosecutor, this may help alleviate the problem of having interns for only a short time.
The Cass County Prosecuting Attorney also wants to coordinate with a local nursing school. Such a partnership would give the prosecutor's office additional support for victims and help the students fine-tune the skills they will need to help people in crisis.
Advocates Riding the "Circuit": The Ohio Victim Witness Association
The Ohio Victim Witness Association (OVWA) is a nonprofit organization that began in the late 1970s to give victim advocates a venue for discussing nonconfidential case information, resources, trainings, ideas, and other helpful information. Two years ago, it created a traveling victim advocate program to deliver services statewide. OVWA used a VOCA grant to hire a program leader and partnered with police and other law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and victim service providers, and several other state and local agencies to expand its services.
Through its Advocates Riding the "Circuit" program OVWA provides victims with services where and when they need them. The program may assist with high-profile cases, cases that have numerous victims and witnesses, or cases that need more resources than a local office has. For example, cases involving accusations against a high-profile individual or a member of the criminal justice community may require the appointment of special prosecutors or police. OVWA can provide a neutral advocate in these situations. If a jurisdiction has a case in which its personnel have no experience, such as a child's death, OVWA can send an advocate who has the necessary experience.
Preserving Local Control
Every police agency, prosecutor's office, and court system in the state operates a little differently. OVWA believes that each jurisdiction is the best judge of what it needs so it assists the personnel who are already in a local office; it does not take charge. OVWA's advocates may be most helpful by responding to a crisis, conducting sexual assault interviews, notifying victims and witnesses of deaths and court dates, or explaining how the court system works.
In addition to direct services, OVWA will provide specialized training for police departments and other agencies, when requested, by sending an advocate who has the appropriate expertise, which may include areas such as victim sensitivity, child abuse, domestic violence, or techniques for interviewing juveniles. OVWA also will help jurisdictions develop their own training curriculum.
OVWA uses 31 advocates from offices throughout the stateall of whom have training and experience as direct service providersfor its Advocates Riding the "Circuit" program. Volunteers are taught how to provide death notifications and given general information about statewide victim compensation. They also are trained in OVWA protocol.
Since receiving VOCA funding, OVWA has increased the number of crime victims it serves throughout Ohio and offered them more comprehensive services. Thanks to its partnerships with police agencies, victims can receive services from OVWA before the prosecutor's office files charges. Services are available even in areas where the prosecutor's office does not have a victim advocate.
A key component of the Advocates Riding the "Circuit" program has been its partnerships with state agencies. States that are thinking about implementing a similar program should form as many partnerships as possible with both state and local agencies.
High-Tech Advocacy: The CyberCrisisTM Anonymous Messaging System
The Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA) in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, uses the CyberCrisisTM Anonymous Messaging System to give rural crime victims access to services and information while it also protects their anonymity.
"I didn't know where to turn in order to get help until . . . I read the article [about CyberCrisisTM] in the [local paper]. Thank God for this. It's surely nice to think someone cares." (PCAR Pinnacle newsletter, winter 2003)
A full-time outreach coordinator receives the incoming questions through the CyberCrisisTM system, seeks answers from NOVA's counseling and legal staff, and sends the victim a response. The goal, explains the Internet coordinator, is to link victims with victim service providers in their own area.
Using the online service is simple:
Implemented in 2002 with an advertising campaign funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the system received 133 messages in its first year, from local victims and from victims as far away as Germany, Japan, and New Zealand. In 2003, the system received 108 messages, averaging about 10 a month.
Although CyberCrisisTM is primarily a referral and resource system, NOVA's long-term goal is to provide counseling and advocacy to victims with its own Internet outreach staff. Information about implementing an anonymous messaging system is available at the CyberCrisisTM site.
Other forms of technology also can be effective avenues for communicating with victims, such as relaying questions and responses by e-mail or an automated phone system. In addition, a recorded message line can give victims and witnesses 24-hour access to directions, case status, and other information.
Agencies that want to use the Internet to provide victim services should consider the safety issues that victims of domestic violence face. Even though CyberCrisisTM keeps the victim's identity, questions, and answers confidential, an abuser may still find out that the victim visited the site (through a pop-up URL, for example), which could trigger further abuse.
Information about Internet safety for victims is available at the University of Minnesota's Violence Against Women Online Resources site. Additional information on Internet safety is available on the American Bar Association's Web site. Agencies that use Web-based services should include warnings similar to the ones provided on these pages.The "Styling" Advocate: The Hairdresser Project of Southeastern Connecticut
In 1999, the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut introduced its Hairdresser Project to raise awareness about domestic violence and encourage people to report suspected abuse. The concept is simple: teach hairstylists to detect the signs of domestic abuse and what to do when they see them.
As one hair salon owner in the southeastern Connecticut town of New London observed, "I have seen it pass through my station. I have at times suggested the women's center. At one point, I've offered my home." (Interviewed by The Day newspaper, July 14, 1999)
Frequent Contact Yields Information
Because they may see their clients on a weekly or monthly basis, hairstylists are in a unique position to recognize women who are living in abusive situations. In addition, clients often view their hairstylists as safe, approachable, and trustworthy confidantes, so they may share personal information with them that they may not tell others. Even if a client does not disclose any personal information, stylists can watch for the signs of abuse when they see their clients for their routine weekly or monthly hair appointment.
As an information specialist and advocate at the Denver-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has seen, "[The salon is] a safe place for them to talk. That may be the only time they're allowed out to talk to other people. I've talked to so many women who were so isolated from their friends and family." (Interviewed by The Day newspaper, July 14, 1999)Training Increases Awareness
Once the center gained the support of area hairstylists and secured a local grant, advocates trained stylists on the legal definitions of sexual abuse and domestic violence; the dynamics of abuse and its emotional, physical, and subtle signs; the steps they should take to approach a suspected victim; and finally, how to report suspected abuse. The center also used the media to raise awareness, and advocates followed up with the hairstylists they trained to get feedback on what the stylists found to be effective and what training needed to be improved. One of the most beneficial tools, said the stylists, was a card bearing nothing but the Women's Center hotline number; it is handy, useful, and, most important, discreet.Other "Natural Helpers" To Be Tapped
The Hairdresser Project is a perfect example of the benefits programs can gain from tapping into nontraditional community resources. The idea behind the projectthat is, to involve the community in the fight against domestic violencecan be particularly relevant to rural areas, where community members such as hairstylists, store owners, or dentists and physicians may be the only individuals that victims see on a regular basis. The Hairdresser Project has been so successful, in fact, that the center plans to reach out to other "natural helpers" in the community who may be able to aid in the fight against domestic violence, such as manicurists, bartenders, and taxi drivers. Even veterinary assistants are on the listbecause studies have found a link between domestic violence and animal cruelty.Technology and Advocacy: Web Sites
In jurisdictions in which additional office help is not a viable option, technology can be a useful tool in providing assistance to victims and witnesses. Web sites for prosecutors' offices, for instance, can be effective vehicles for disseminating a wide variety of pertinent information. Below are some examples of the kinds of information that victims may find useful.
Even though prosecutor-based victim/witness programs have gained support for the services they provide, they still face many obstacles to delivering service to victims of crime. For programs that serve low-income, secluded rural areas of the United States, these challenges only intensify. Victims in these areas face the same difficulties as those in larger urban jurisdictions, but the programs designed to help them overcome their trauma and loss must do so with fewer resources and fewer advocates.
Funds for training volunteers and interns can be limited. General trainings for crisis intervention, understanding the court process, or victims' rights and issues, however, can be created with area partnerships. These partnerships may include churches; senior citizen groups; domestic violence shelters; rape crisis centers; schools; hospitals; police, fire, and rescue departments; and others.
All of the successful programs highlighted here have built and relied on partnerships with these and similar organizations to enhance their services. Whether they received people or funding, access to office space or other services, each of the jurisdictions mentioned owes some part of its success to those in other government offices and in the community who were willing to get involved in the effort to better serve victims of crime in rural areas.
To improve these services, the public, prosecutors, and the rest of the criminal justice community must become aware of these challenges and join the fight to overcome them.
This section includes references; a comprehensive list of agencies that historically have helped fund victim-based programs, including national victim-related organizations, crime victim compensation programs, and public policy-related associations; a list of organizations that emphasize rural communities; and contact information for Promising Practices programs.References
American Prosecutors Research Institute. (2002). "How Many Cases Should a Prosecutor Handle? Results of the National Workload Assessment Project." Alexandria, VA: American Prosecutors Research Institute.
Crenshaw, Kimberle W. (1993). "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color." Stanford Law Review 43(6): 1241, 1256.
DeFrances, Carol J. (2001). State Court Prosecutors in Large Districts, 2001 (Special Report). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 191206.
Grama, Joanna L. (2000). "Women Forgotten: Difficulties Faced by Rural Victims of Domestic Violence." American Journal of Family Law (14): 173-189.
Haigh, Susan. "Hairdressers Could Help in the Battle Against Domestic Abuse." The Day (New London, CT), Wednesday, July 14, 1999.
Kimbrough-Melton, Robin. (2001). Community/Neighborhood Resource Centers, Parts 1 & 2 (Fact Sheet). Clemson, SC: National Center on Rural Justice and Crime Prevention.
National Center on Rural Justice and Crime Prevention. Rural Life. Retrieved December 18, 2002, from http://virtual.clemson.edu/groups/ncrj/rural_life.htm.
National Organization for Victim Assistance. Crime Victims and Witness Rights. Retrieved July 7, 2002, from www.trynova.org/crime-victim/rights.
Office for Victims of Crime. (1998). New Directions from the Field: Victim's Rights and Services for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime, NCJ 170600.
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR). (2003). "Center Spotlight: NOVA Bucks County Offers Anonymous Online Assistance," PCAR Pinnacle (Winter 2003).
Rennison, Callie. (2002). Criminal Victimization, 2001: Changes 2000-01 with Trends 1993-2001. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 194610.
Sifferd, Katrina. (1998). "Victim Services Stretched Far in Rural Areas." Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. The Compiler 17(4): 11-14.
Sigmon, Jane Nady; Engelhardt-Greer, Simone; Fogg, Stevyn; Rainville, Chuck; O'Brien, Kevin; Ross, George; and Hook, Melissa. (Forthcoming.) Prosecutor's Guide to Victim/Witness Assistance. Prepared by the American Prosecutors Research Institute for the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime.
Small, Mark A. (2001). The Role of Church and Faith-Based Organizations in Rural Justice and Crime Prevention Efforts (Fact Sheet). Clemson, SC: National Center on Rural Justice and Crime Prevention.
Tomz, Julie E., and McGillis, Daniel. (1997). Serving Crime Victims and Witnesses, 2d ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, NCJ 163174, 16.
Websdale, Neil. (1998). Rural Woman Battering and the Justice System: An Ethnography. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Weisheit, Ralph A., Falcone, David N., and Wells, L. Edward. (1994). Rural Crime and Rural Policing. (Research in Action). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, NCJ 150223.
Weisheit, Ralph A., and Wells, L. Edward. (1998). "Future Issues in Rural Crime." The Compiler 17(4): 8-10, 18.
Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut, Inc. (1999). Hairdressers' Project Guidelines. New London, CT: Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut, Inc.Appendix A. Victim Services Resource Guide
Appendix A includes information about the many agencies and organizations that have been helpful in providing services to crime victims and to advocates who serve these victims. Grants, programs, technical assistance, publications, and general information can be found by accessing their Web sites or calling the appropriate numbers, where provided. You may access most of these resources by going directly to the Office for Victims of Crime's (OVC's) Web site. OVC's "Links to Victim-Serving Organizations" page provides information about federal agencies and resources, national victim-related organizations, criminal and juvenile justice-related and public policy-related associations, state resources, media links, and more. In addition, contact information for associations, committees, and research centers is listed below. (Courtesy of U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime.)
Associations, Committees, and Research Centers
American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging
American Correctional Association, Victims Committee
American Probation and Parole Association
California State University-Fresno, Center for Victim Studies
Concerns of Police Survivors
Crime Victim Study Center
Family Violence Prevention Fund
International Association of Chiefs of Police
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
National Center on Elder Abuse
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
National Center for Victims of Crime
National Children's Alliance
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Crime Prevention Council
National Crime Victim Law Institute
National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center
National District Attorneys Association
National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children, Inc.
National Organization for Victim Assistance
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
National Sheriffs' Association
National Victims Constitutional Amendment Network
Police Executive Research Forum
The Spiritual Dimension in Victim Services
Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center, Inc.
Victims' Assistance Legal Organization (VALOR)
Appendix B. Organizations That Focus on Rural Communities
(Courtesy of the National Center on Rural Justice and Crime Prevention)
National Center for Rural Justice and Crime Prevention
Mark A. Small, J.D., Ph.D.
Center for the Study of Rural America
Center for Rural Affairs
Center for Rural Sociology and Community Analysis
Appendix C. Contact Information for Promising Practices
Contact information for each Promising Practice highlighted in this guide can be found below.
Cochise County, Arizona
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