The guiding values for serving victims and survivors of crime parallel those of many other professions; their uniqueness lies in their application to specific tasks of daily practice. These values have been the subject of discussion forums, conference workshops, training curricula, and professional literature, in both victim assistance and related fields. In our examination of existing literature, we found a particularly fitting description of values to guide the field in Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, published by the American Psychological Association*. We have adapted and supplemented that text, and the resulting interpretation below outlines ideals of practice to guide everyday decisionmaking in serving victims and survivors of crime.
Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity
Victim assistance providers respect the fundamental rights, dignity, and worth of all people. They recognize that survivors are the experts on their own lives and that victim assistance programs serve to expand the survivor’s knowledge of and access to options that facilitate healing, self-sufficiency, and success, with the survivor guiding the decisionmaking process. Victim assistance providers respect the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, informed choice, self-determination, and autonomy; that is, individuals have the right to be free from intrusion, to have information about them protected, and to make their own decisions. Victim assistance providers are also mindful that legal and other obligations may sometimes present challenges or interfere with the ability of some victims to exercise these rights.
Victim assistance providers are aware of cultural, individual, and role differences, including those related to age, race/ethnicity, language/literacy, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, ability/disability, social class, economic status, education, marital status, religious affiliation, immigration status, and HIV status. Victim assistance providers strive for awareness, sensitivity, and effectiveness in responding to diverse populations. They work to identify their own biases, understanding that the expression of these biases can be re-victimizing to survivors. They do not participate in or condone unfair discriminatory practices. Victim assistance providers value justice and fairness in service provision and strive to ensure that services are provided to populations in need. They use flexibility, innovation, and persistence to promote quality services, even when confronted by motivational or practical barriers.
Victim assistance providers maintain high standards of competence, recognizing their own particular capabilities, specializations, and limitations in expertise. They provide services and use techniques only for which they are qualified by education, training, or experience. Victim assistance providers understand that the competencies they need to serve and educate groups of people vary with the particular characteristics of those groups. In those areas in which recognized standards do not yet exist, victim assistance providers use careful judgment and appropriate precautions to protect the welfare of those with whom they work, under the guiding principle of “do no harm.” They provide nonjudgmental assistance with an emphasis on client self-determination, where appropriate. They maintain up-to-date knowledge on the services they render and recognize their need for ongoing structured supervision and professional development to keep them informed of evidence-based practices and changes in the field. Victim assistance providers understand the importance of personal wellness for delivering services and promoting self-care and mutual support in their relationships with colleagues and staff. They make appropriate use of professional, technical, administrative, and community resources.
Victim assistance providers promote integrity in practice, policy development, and community education. In these activities, they are honest, fair, and respectful of others. In describing their qualifications, services, products, fees, research, and teaching, victim assistance providers do not make false, misleading, or deceptive statements. They are honest and objective in fulfilling their commitments and communicating expectations as they relate to justice or service systems. To perform at this level of integrity, victim assistance providers should be aware of their own histories, belief systems, values, needs, and limitations, and of the effect of these on their work. They should clarify for relevant parties the roles they are performing, and function in accord with those roles. Victim assistance providers should avoid improper and potentially harmful dual relationships (e.g., relationships that blend their personal and professional roles).
Victim assistance providers maintain professional standards of conduct, satisfy their own professional roles and obligations, accept appropriate responsibility for their behavior, and adapt their methods to the needs of different populations. Victim assistance providers consult with, refer to, and cooperate with other professionals and institutions to the extent needed to serve the best interests of victims/survivors. Victim assistance providers’ moral standards and conduct are personal matters, except when personal conduct may compromise professional responsibilities or reduce public trust in victim services. They are concerned about the ethical compliance of their colleagues’ professional conduct, both within their own programs and within other programs in the field. As appropriate, they consult with a supervisor to prevent or avoid their own unethical conduct and that of others.
Concern for Others’ Welfare
Victim assistance providers contribute to the welfare of those with whom they interact professionally. They are committed to providing compassion for individuals, and they use empathy and other practical techniques to sincerely understand and address victim/survivor concerns. Victim assistance providers take a whole-person view of the individual in context. They draw on their knowledge of the impact of trauma and victimization as well as community resources to address victim/survivor, family, and community needs. In their professional activities, victim assistance providers weigh the welfare and rights of the victims served, staff, and other affected individuals. When conflict occurs with professional obligations or concerns, victim assistance providers work to resolve these conflicts and to perform their roles responsibly. They are sensitive to real and ascribed differences in power between themselves and others. They abstain from abuse of their position, and they do not exploit or mislead other people during or after professional relationships.
Victim assistance providers are aware of their professional, legal, and social responsibilities to the community in which they work and live. They are committed to social justice and the physical and psychological well-being of all individuals. Victim assistance providers are concerned about and strive to decrease the causes of crime and victimization. They apply and make public their knowledge of victim/survivor issues in order to raise awareness and potentially prevent future crime victimization. Victim assistance providers comply with the law and encourage the development of laws and social policies that support the interests of victims/survivors and the general public.