How to improve services for crime victims

It’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and communities around the country are holding events to honor and promote the rights of crime victims. As researchers, we know that victim services can be critical to meeting the unique needs of those who have been violated.

Crime victims may not always realize it, but they are entitled to assistance when they begin the process of recovery. As they try to move forward, victims can draw support from a number of services, including safety and crisis intervention, individual advocacy to meet the variety of victims’ needs and case management, emotional support, legal advocacy, child advocacy, and even financial compensation.

But the evidence shows that a majority of crime victims do not receive such assistance. From 1993 to 2009, fewer than 1 in 10 victims of serious violent crime—including rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault—received assistance from a victim services agency. Victims of less serious crimes, including simple assault and property crime, were even less likely to seek services.

Whether a victim reports the crime to police can be a key factor in getting services. From 2000 to 2009, a larger portion of violent crime victims who reported the crime to law enforcement received victim services (14 percent) than did those who did not report the crime (4 percent).

Although many victims don’t access services, the support is out there. In fact, crime victim services have grown exponentially in the past 30 years, with nearly every city in the country now offering some type of assistance, and numerous victim resource centers available by phone and online.

Research on the effectiveness of crime victim services is still in its infancy, but a major new effort sponsored by the federal Office for Victims of Crime is focused on narrowing the divide between research and practice. Bridging the Gap: Integrating Crime Victim Services Research and Practice is an effort led by the National Center for Victims of Crime, in partnership with the Urban Institute and the Justice Research and Statistics Association. This multifaceted project involves a comprehensive review of past efforts to bridge the gap, nationwide surveys of researchers and practitioners, and case studies of the most promising strategies for integrating crime victim services and research.

As researchers, we share a common goal with those who work on the ground in victim services: to help crime victims recover and move on with their lives to the best of their abilities. But we recognize that our approach is more scientific—focusing on which services have the greatest effect for the greatest number. Practitioners emphasize crime victims as unique individuals, and focus on delivery of what they know works best based on years in the field.

Both approaches are valid and critical to progress, but until researchers and practitioners work more cohesively, the gap between victim services and research will continue to limit our nation’s response to crime victims.

With the Bridging the Gap project and other recent efforts like the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships Study, we are moving toward a more unified approach. By joining forces and sharing our collective knowledge, we get closer to the day when every crime victim receives appropriate services to meet their needs, no matter the circumstances.

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