Many victims of crime are underserved or unserved, often because of language barriers, economic limitations, disabilities, or location. Advocates, criminal justice professionals, mental health providers, allied professionals, and others confront unique challenges in ensuring that all victims have access to comprehensive and effective services.
Adults age 50 and older who are victims of domestic violence face unique challenges in attempting to protect themselves and leave their abusers. The DOVES program in Arizona, operated in partnership with a housing community, assists late-life domestic violence victims with emergency, transitional, and interim housing. The program also offers the following services:
- Case management.
- Support groups.
- Job readiness and search activities.
- Help applying for Social Security or other benefits.
Since 2005, the Connecticut Office of Victim Services (OVS) has spearheaded an effort to transition all materials that victims receive to plain English. This initiative ensures that information is communicated at a fourth- or fifth-grade reading level and is clear, respectful, and supportive. Each OVS unit has a letter review committee. The committee supervisor works with the head of the Quality Assurance Unit and subject matter experts to review materials and draft revisions that remove jargon and Latin phrases (e.g., replacing the term “pro se” with “self-represented”). When claimants’ reports revealed that it was difficult to see their loved one’s names on every communication from OVS, victims’ names were removed from the headers of acknowledgment letters. To date, OVS has revised more than 150 letters and forms using plain English and striving for a consistent look and feel.
In Florida, when an offender is set for execution, a DVD, “Witnessing an Execution,” is mailed to victims and family members to watch in the privacy of their own homes, providing the details they need to make an informed decision regarding whether to attend. The video addresses topics such as media, last-minute stays, and the range of possible emotional responses. Family members, who have a statutory right to observe an execution, get tips about wearing wigs and sunglasses to disguise themselves and avoiding media detection of comments in the observation room.
According to the 2010 Census, more than 13 percent of the population of New York has limited English proficiency. Executive Order 26, issued in 2011, required all state agencies to provide services to those with limited English proficiency in the same manner in which an English-proficient person might access services. To enhance communication with victims, claimants, and family members who struggle to speak, read, write, or comprehend English, the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS) conducted a language proficiency survey of all victim assistance programs. The programs reported the capacity to communicate in more than 40 languages. Many programs also have “I Speak” cards available at their locations so victims can identify their preferred language. If no staff at the program speak their language, the program can contact OVS for assistance on behalf of the victim. OVS can access the survey information to determine if there is a trained victim advocate who speaks that language and understands the culture at another New York program. They then can contact that advocate to assist with services, compensation applications, and referrals.
Research from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill School of Social Work found that women are less likely to be revictimized by an abusive spouse or partner when they have completed a program designed to increase their families’ safety, strengthen their self-esteem, and enhance their parenting skills. The study, supported by The Duke Endowment, was one of the first to focus on domestic violence victims who become entangled in the courts or with child protective services. The UNC study evaluated the success of the Mothers Overcoming Violence through Education and Empowerment (MOVE) program. Begun in 2007, MOVE is a collaboration between nonprofits InterAct of Wake County and SAFEchild. Through weekly group meetings, MOVE offers women 13 counseling sessions on safety and parenting. Given that violence in the home can affect a child’s emotional, academic, and social well-being, participants’ children also receive therapeutic group counseling.
In recent years, Vermont has welcomed a growing immigrant and refugee populationmore per capita than any other northern border state. Because many immigrants, refugees, and asylees cannot read in their native language, the New Neighbors Project created a video about victims' rights. The video features leaders from each main cultural group, and was produced in six languages. The videos were broadcast on local television networks and distributed to immigrant and refugee service providers. Vermont also created a Spanish-language novella, using a format popular in Mexico, to educate migrant farm workers about their rights, and translated the Victims Compensation Application into French, Spanish, Bosnian, Somali, and Vietnamese.
The Washington Office of Crime Victims Advocacy (OCVA) developed the Language Bank Program to help grantees meet the language needs of victims seeking advocacy services, including those victims with limited English proficiency. Agencies receiving victim advocacy grants through OCVA or the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services are eligible to apply for awards of $1,000 to $15,000 to cover interpretation costs directly related to advocacy, outreach, therapy, support groups, or other direct advocacy services.