Innovation is the hallmark of the victim services field. The Vision 21 Report emphasized the key role of innovation in ensuring that practitioners are equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Support for cutting-edge programs—such as those that use technological advances and other innovation to foster collaboration and communication—allows victim service organizations to reach greater numbers of victims and help them more effectively. OVC supported a variety of programs in FYs 2013 and 2014 to develop new methods for meeting the emerging challenges that victims face—practices for reaching new victim populations, comprehensive techniques for providing enhanced services, and collaborative initiatives that foster improved responses to victim needs:
- Comprehensive Pro Bono Legal Assistance
- Public/Private Partnerships To Address Human Trafficking
- HALOS Toolkit for Communities To Support Children
- Multidisciplinary Vicarious Trauma Toolkit
- National Sexual Assault TeleNursing Center
- Technological Support for Underserved Victims and U.S. Citizens Abroad
- Mobile Applications for Victim Services
Comprehensive Pro Bono Legal Assistance
In FY 2012, in recognition of the preliminary findings of the Vision 21 initiative, OVC launched the Wraparound Victim Legal Assistance Network Demonstration Project to support six demonstration legal networks in providing comprehensive, wraparound, and holistic pro bono legal services to crime victims in an effort to meet the range of victims’ legal needs. Legal wraparound networks were established in Alaska, Minnesota, California, Illinois, Colorado, and Texas. All of the sites conducted needs assessments and developed implementation plans for providing necessary legal services to crime victims. The networks have partnered with other organizations and government agencies and are providing legal services to crime victims. Additionally, OVC awarded funds to NIJ to conduct a simultaneous evaluation of the effectiveness of these six legal assistance networks.
In FY 2014, OVC awarded nearly $2.5 million in Vision 21 funding to four VOCA Assistance formula grant-administering agencies and a technical assistance provider, the National Crime Victim Law Institute, to expand its support of comprehensive legal assistance services. The four VOCA Assistance agencies are working with other government agencies and local service providers to identify crime victims’ needs and implement comprehensive, wraparound, and holistic pro bono victims’ legal assistance at the state, regional, and local levels.
NCVLI is working with all ten of the legal assistance networks to facilitate information sharing among the networks, provide training on effective legal advocacy, address substantive legal issues, and document best practices.
Public/Private Partnerships To Address Human Trafficking
The Partnership for Freedom, announced by President Obama in September 2012, is a public-private partnership between OVC, other DOJ components and federal agencies, and Humanity United, a foundation that supports efforts to eliminate human trafficking and promote human rights. The Partnership has issued a challenge contest to develop innovative solutions that address human trafficking. The challenge, Reimagine: Opportunity, sought new ideas to improve and expand human trafficking victims’ access to housing, effective social services, and economic empowerment. Of the 169 applications received from 39 states, 2 winners were selected in the spring of 2014: the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Freedom Clinic and the Safe Shelter Collaborative, each of which received 2-year awards.
The MGH Freedom Clinic is establishing a comprehensive primary and preventive health care services model to deliver best-in-class, trauma-informed care to victims of human trafficking. The project will share “lessons learned” with health care providers throughout the country to improve their ability to identify and serve victims of human trafficking. The Safe Shelter Collaborative is using technology to enable victim service providers to locate available and safe shelters for human trafficking survivors. Additionally, through the use of crowdsourcing technology, the project is developing mobile applications that will allow private organizations and individuals to anonymously pay for survivors to stay in hotel rooms if appropriate shelters are not available.
HALOS Toolkit for Communities To Support Children
Founded in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1997, Helping and Lending Outreach Support (HALOS) connects caseworkers from the Charleston County Department of Social Services with faith-based and civic organizations, businesses, and donors. Although caseworkers are critical to keeping children and families safe, they often lack the resources to provide for a variety of additional needs, ranging from clothing to home utilities to summer camp. HALOS’ affiliated community organizations help to locate and provide these resources and opportunities to children and their caretakers.
To foster replication of the HALOS model in communities nationwide, in 2014, OVC released The HALOS Strategy: Community Collaborations for Children toolkit. Providing lessons learned and strategies for founding programs to support foster families and children in alternative placements, the toolkit explains the elements of program development, implementation, and sustainability and provides downloadable materials created by HALOS and partner organizations. The toolkit provides a framework for other communities to plan and successfully implement their own efforts to help children and families in need.
Multidisciplinary Vicarious Trauma Toolkit
Vicarious trauma—also known as secondary trauma, provider fatigue, or compassion fatigue—deeply affects those who work closely with victims of crime. Service providers experiencing this phenomenon may have “exhausted hearts, minds, bodies, and souls from helping survivors through their painful experiences.”6 OVC is funding Northeastern University’s Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice (IUHRP) to develop and test a national-scope training and technical assistance toolkit to support response to vicarious trauma and reduce its effects on victim assistance professionals, law enforcement personnel, firefighters, and emergency medical services providers, who may experience traumatic stress due to large-scale incidents of mass violence or exposure to an accumulation of traumatizing incidents. To develop the toolkit, IUHRP conducted a literature review; surveyed representatives of direct service providers across the Nation; conducted a gap analysis; and identified effective practices and produced a compilation of training and technical resources. The Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (VTT): Support for Victim Assistance Providers, Law Enforcement Officers, Firefighters and Emergency Medical Services Providers was pilot-tested at seven sites throughout the Nation in early 2015, with a full release planned for later in 2015. A dedicated Web site will house the toolkit, which will be accessible at no cost to these organizations, allied professionals, and the public.
National Sexual Assault TeleNursing Center
Sexual assault victims require a trauma-informed approach to ensure that their needs are met. Research also suggests that using Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) or Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFE) to conduct forensic examinations of sexual assault victims contributes to higher prosecution and conviction rates.7 Access to SANE programs and other types of medical forensic expertise may be limited, particularly in remote areas. Telemedicine can provide care from a distance to expand access to treatment.
To facilitate the use of telemedicine to reach underserved victims of sexual assault, OVC, with funding from NIJ, funded the Massachusetts Department of Public Health SANE Program to establish the first telemedicine center to provide remote expert consultations by SANEs to clinicians caring for adult and adolescent sexual assault patients. Massachusetts SANEs will perform telemedicine consultations during sexual assault forensic exams at four pilot sites: Twenty-Nine Palms Naval Hospital, California; Hopi Health Care Center, Arizona; Sutter Lakeside Hospital, in Lakeport, California; and a correctional facility. Once operational, the National TeleNursing Center (NTC) will provide remote clinician-to-clinician assistance to the pilot sites 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
Technological Support for Underserved Victims and U.S. Citizens Abroad
Many victims of crimes never report their victimization to law enforcement, and many victims live in locations where services are not easily available or accessible enough to provide full assistance, especially in remote areas of the United States or locations abroad.
The Vision 21 Report provided several recommendations for closing this gap in delivery of victim services, including the use of technology to improve and increase access. In FY 2014, through Congress’ Vision 21 appropriation, OVC awarded eight grants, totaling more than $3.8 million under the competitive solicitation, Vision 21: Using Technology to Expand National and International Access to Victim Services. The following OVC-funded projects are using innovative uses of technology to provide direct assistance to victims, particularly those who have never been served or for whom services are not easily available, such as U.S. citizens who are victimized abroad:
- OVC funded the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center (AODVC) to expand its services to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who are victims of domestic violence abroad by operating a 24-hour telephone hotline, Web site, live chat, and crisis e-mail service. Through a second grant, AODVC enacted the Sexual Assault Support & Help for Americans Abroad program, which expands international access to sexual assault services for victims living or travelling abroad through its Global Safety Net Program. AODVC is working to expand this program through marketing and rebranding efforts, including conducting awareness and media campaigns, redesigning its Web site, increasing its social media presence, and distributing posters and brochures nationally and internationally.
- OVC funded the National Domestic Violence Hotline to strengthen its capacity to provide services via text messaging and social media to ensure that victims can access live support immediately, and to engage in an awareness campaign to publicize the availability of these expanded digital services.
- OVC funded the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) to design and implement VictimConnect, a national service that will combine a traditional, phone-based hotline with a Web and online chat interface to provide comprehensive victim information, assistance, and referral services. NCVC, in partnership with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), will leverage an advanced technology platform with NCVC’s existing database of more than 14,000 victim service providers.
- OVC funded RAINN to expand the capacity of its National Sexual Assault Online Hotline, which victims can access via online chat or telephone. In addition to increasing its staff to reduce caller wait times, RAINN is improving its infrastructure to route callers who cannot be connected to local resources to RAINN’s 24/7 call center, where staff can provide a variety of crisis intervention services. Through a second grant, RAINN is expanding its services for Spanish-speaking victims by staffing the online hotline at all times with trained bilingual staff who can provide culturally appropriate services, and developing a database for linguistically appropriate in-person referrals and expanding Spanish-language information on its Web site.
- OVC funded the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) to produce mobile applications, or “apps,” for mobile devices that provide guidance to individuals who believe they may have been the victim of identity theft. ITRC has created 1-minute informational videos that will encourage victims to download the apps, which have been beta-tested and are expected to launch by the end of 2015.
Mobile Applications for Victim Services
To receive help in the aftermath of a crime, victims need to know what services are available and how to access them. Rapid developments in technology have led more individuals to use mobile devices than ever before—88 percent of Americans have a cell phone, and 57 percent have a laptop.8 Although some victim service organizations have thoroughly integrated technology into their services, many lack the infrastructure and expertise to use technological innovations effectively. The Vision 21 Report found a need for the field to address critical issues such as victims’ safety, privacy, confidentiality, security, technological advances, and the need for new and improved tools.9 To address these findings, OVC awarded three grants under the competitive solicitation, Vision 21: Victim Services Mobile Application. These projects will enhance public awareness, outreach, and education by developing apps for mobile devices that make resources and services available to victims with smartphones and personal mobile computers, or “tablets.”