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Building Victim Assistance Networks With Faith Communities: Lessons Learned by the Vermont Victim Services 2000 Project
About This E-PublicationAcknowledgmentsMessage From the DirectorAbout the AuthorsRelated Links
The Need for Collaboration
Insufficient Training in Victim Issues
VS 2000 Program Structure
and Goals
Case Study: Helping Francine
Victim Needs From a Faith-Based Perspective
Elements of Collaboration
Lessons Learned
Issues Unique to Faith-Based Victim Assistance
Supplementary Materials
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Faith Based Victim Assistance Organizations

The Need for Collaboration

Case Study: Helping Francine

Based on interviews with victims and survivors of victims, the Victim Services 2000 program managers created a composite profile to illustrate the experience of victims who sought support in the faith community, the experience of faith leaders who provide assistance, and the issues affecting that experience.

Francine's Experience

Francine, whose daughter Chris was murdered, recalls what happened after being notified of her daughter's death. "The first person I called was my pastor, Reverend Howard. She was at my house in 5 minutes," she said. "She comforted us, went and picked up my son at school, [and] calmed down my husband. I couldn't have done it without her. She was there to help us begin grieving. She was a rock."

Francine's church community, however, was at a loss as to the appropriate way to respond to the tragedy. "The people in the congregation were horrified, terrified. They didn't know what to do. They were embarrassed—they wanted to run and hide. The church family needs to have a place where they can talk about such issues," she said.

With more training, Francine's pastor would have understood that the congregation was experiencing extreme discomfort over the tragic circumstances and would have been better equipped to address its needs while suggesting how members could be more supportive to Francine and her family.

Reverend Howard's Experience

In retrospect, Francine's pastor realized that although she did what she instinctively felt was right, she made mistakes because of a lack of training in victim assistance procedures. Reverend Howard realized, for example, that she should have asked for help to escort Francine's son rather than leave the family alone while she performed this task herself, but she did not know that she could have asked for the support of a victim advocate trained in death notification. Later, she realized that she did not know how to explain to Francine and her family the stages of recovery from traumatic grief. If Reverend Howard had known more about the services available through her local victim assistance program, her task would have been easier, and Francine and her family would have benefited.

Reverend Howard also was surprised by her own strong feelings. Francine's daughter Chris had been her friend and parishioner as well, and Reverend Howard's own daughter and Chris had attended the same elementary school. As a mother, she empathized with Francine's anguish at the loss of her child to violence. To help Francine's family at a critical time, Francine's pastor had to postpone her need to process her own grief and pain.

Reverend Howard later concluded that her church needed to train other leaders of the congregation, such as deacons, how to provide auxiliary support so that the minister could concentrate on the emotional and spiritual needs of the victim and his or her family. She also was firmly convinced that training in basic victimology, as well as in some of the specifics of victim assistance, would greatly benefit faith leaders and their parishioners.

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