Section 4: Working with Victims of Crime
Crime is pervasive and has an adverse impact on millions of people. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2014:
- 20.7 million people were victimized by violent or property crime.
- 1.3 million people were injured as a result of a violent crime
- 68 percent of victims of serious violence experienced socio-emotional problems as a result of their victimization. 
For more information on Crime Victimization, visit the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Crime statistics, however, can tell only part of the story. Each person who is victimized by crime has to live with the impact that it has on his or her life; physically, emotionally, financially, socially, and
spiritually, all of which may have long-term implications (Figure 2). Furthermore, crime victims are often victimized by a criminal justice system that does not meet their needs. In fact, it is not uncommon for crime victims to feel like they are somehow being blamed for what happened to them and questioned about their behaviors before or after the victimization. They may have had little opportunity to express their feelings about what happened or to share their thoughts about what should happen next.  As a PPO, you may be in a position to hear their concerns and take them into account in your supervision efforts.
Not all victims have the same reaction to a crime, or the same needs. It is important to remember that every crime victim is unique, and there are no reactions that are common to all crime victims. A person’s response can vary depending on many things: the person’s life before the crime occurred, the crime itself, their perceived experience with law enforcement and justice professionals, the person’s level of resiliency, the degree of social support they receive or don’t receive, the outcome of any criminal case, etc. Crime victims can experience immediate, short-term and long-term impacts.
The ecological view of trauma (Figure 3) highlights the various factors that can affect someone’s response to a trauma such as crime.  It identifies three major aspects that influence the crime’s impact on the victim:
"I don’t think a lot of PPOs have the opportunity to fully understand the experience of the victim. The majority of [offenses] are drugs, burglaries, substance abuse. You don’t have the opportunity to really sit with a victim and understand the impact."
- Person: the victim’s attributes, including personal traits, personal history, and the relationship between the victim and individual.
- Event: the when, how, and where of the crime itself. The crime may have happened once or was recurring (when), the perpetrator might have used violence or there may have been multiple perpetrators (how), it could have occurred in public or in the privacy of one’s home (where).
- Environment: the community and support system, including community supervision agencies, surrounding the victim. The community can include the immediate neighborhood or those in another state. For instance, PPO’s may be working with victims living in other jurisdictions, however, that PPO is still part of the victim’s environment. The environment consists of the community’s resources, response, and shared values.
Community supervision agencies fit into the environment, under "quality of community response." Community response refers to how those surrounding the victim react to the crime. It can include loved ones of the victim or those the victim has never met, like people reading about the crime in a newspaper or a probation officer beginning a pre-release investigation. As mentioned previously, victims often feel disillusioned by the criminal justice process. PPOs can hold supervisees accountable and address victims’ concerns by listening to the victim and acknowledging that many factors influence his or her needs.
"When I had a general caseload, and I’m being honest here, a victim would call me, and I didn’t really have empathy about it, until I drove all the way to (a town nearby) to meet with a victim. She was a victim of a sexual assault. This poor girl was sexually assaulted at a very young age and meeting her and then seeing what she went through for the next 10 years until the guy was convicted, that was powerful for me. So, that day, realizing what impact that had on her, my whole view of how victims are treated completely changed. I don’t think that a lot of PPOs have that opportunity to fully understand where that victim is coming from."
- A victim-centered approach is based on the idea that each victim has a different set of needs and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to working with victims. Given the long-lasting impacts of crime, it is important that we consider this approach in community corrections. A victim-centered approach:
- Actively seeks victims’ input and inclusion in the community corrections process.
- Respects and reflects victim autonomy, privacy, and confidentiality.
- Recognizes how victims are impacted, how to identify their most important needs, and how to meet those needs.
- Focuses on their safety and well being as a priority.
- Is trauma-informed and actively works to reduce re-traumatization.
- Is non-judgmental.
- Recognizes that the victim is a stakeholder.
- Guides policy development.
Partnering with victims and victim service providers can promote positive justice system outcomes, help improve community safety, and reduce recidivism rates.
For PPOs, including victim input can come as a result of direct or indirect contact with victims.
"It is important for the victim to feel comfortable communicating with the PPO to help monitor that things are going okay or not. Everything is intensified when the perpetrator is related to the victim! There are cases where contact in some way or another is likely to happen, so the PPO needs to be aware of this."
Be prepared to learn that what victims say they need may not be what you think they need. If a victim contacts you, the most important step is to LISTEN to what they have to say. Asking the victim what they needis important.
There are some global things you can do as a PPO to help victims and reduce harm as they recover from the trauma of the crime. Some of these things are outlined in Figure X, below.
In speaking with victims, try to avoid using generalizations and comparing them to other victims. While crimes may be similar, each victim’s circumstances and their reactions to the crime are unique. Try to keep an open mind and to listen to their stories with empathy. Asking open-ended questions ("What do you need?" "Are you safe?") is always a good place to start. Being non-judgmental and willing to listen goes a long way.
The following figures give some examples of some helpful language to use or to avoid when talking with victims.
HELPFUL THINGS TO SAY TO VICTIMS
THINGS NOT TO SAY TO VICTIMS
Dealing with Disclosures of Trauma and/or Victimization
In your role as a PPO, you will likely encounter disclosures of trauma and victimization from either the victim or the person you are supervising. This can be challenging and leave you with questions of how to respond in a way that minimizes further harm. The following tips, created by Alyssa Benedict for the 2014 APPA National Training Institute, are intended to guide you in effectively responding to disclosures:
There are a number of tools that you may use to enhance your supervision efforts that victims may have questions about. Two of these tools are risk assessments and electronic monitoring
If you are using some form of electronic monitoring as part of your supervision, it is important to clearly explain to the victim the type of monitoring you are using (whether it be Radio Frequency monitoring or GPS monitoring), what factors go into making monitoring decisions, and whether or not the victim can have input into the parameters of what is being monitored. If victims have questions, you can explain the benefits and limitations of the monitoring technologies being used.
Risk/needs assessments are a common tool used to better classify people who have committed crimes, determine an appropriate level of supervision, and inform decisions regarding conditions of supervision, release, sanctions, and revocation. Victims of crime, however, may know very little about them and why and how they are used. If you use risk/needs assessment tools to inform your supervision decisions, it may be helpful to explain what the tools are, the risk factors they measures, and how you use the information in your work.
It is also important to remember that every case is unique, and that supervision strategies and communications with victims will vary and will be specific to each case. Part of understanding a victim’s needs and experiences is understanding the possible impact of various crimes and knowing the national and local resources that you can refer to in order to better meet the needs of victims.
Intimate Partner Violence
Domestic violence,(also known as intimate partner violence (IPV) is common in all communities and crosses age, gender, geography, socioeconomic, ethnic, race, sexual orientation, and religious lines. These cases can pose some of the most challenging situations for supervision. Victims may have elevated safety concerns that you will need to know about, and at the same time, they may be asking for contact or reunification.
Your supervision efforts can be enhanced, by increasing your understanding of the unique dynamics of IPV, the complex needs of victims, and the safety implications of reentry and community supervision. Contact your area’s domestic violence coalition or services program to find out about training opportunities in your area and check out the following resource for a comprehensive manual on community corrections and domestic violence:
Supervision for domestic violence cases needs to center around:
- enhancing victim safety, and
- increasing accountability
Often there will be ongoing direct or indirect contact between the victim and the perpetrator, even when the court or releasing authority has ordered no contact. This is especially true when they have children together.
A victim’s reaction to release and reentry will vary from one victim to the next. They may be fearful of what will happen when their family member returns to the community, and at the same time might be looking forward to having their family back together. It is important to understand that victims of domestic violence often struggle with how to best keep themselves and their loved ones safe and part of their safety planning may include structured reunification efforts.
In IPV cases it is important to:
- Conduct a comprehensive assessment of the case, including reviewing victim impact statements, court records and risk assessment results.
- Enforce special conditions of release such as no-contact orders, no weapons, no drugs, and sometimes enhanced monitoring through GPS or home confinement.
- Participate in victimsafety planning effortswhen appropriate, especially regarding reentry.
Victim Notification in IPV Cases
In cases of IPV, victim notification has to be handled with extra care so victims can make well-informed decisions about their safety. Contacting a victim of IPV needs to be done in a way that does not put a victim at greater risk of harm. The best recommendation is that you should ask the victims what the safest method of notification is and follow his or her lead. If risk to the victim increases, you must attempt to notify the victim of the potential danger.
Telephoning and emailing victims should be approached with care as technology, such as caller ID, may make it impossible to anonymously contact the victim. Even if you block your number, incoming calls may be monitored. Before picking up the phone, consider the safety risks and plan accordingly.
When preparing for reentry and possible family reunification, you may need to interview the victim for a better understanding of past abuse and the likelihood that it could happen again. If this is needed, with the victim’s permission, it is often helpful to have an advocate sit in on the interview.
If both parties want to reunify but there is a no-contact order in place, you will need to explain that reunification is not possible at this time. In addition, you can discuss possible options that exist to request a change in court order and provide information and referral to advocates who could assist with planning efforts.
The good news is that there is help as you do this difficult work. Every jurisdiction has a statewide domestic violence coalition and local agencies that provide services and support to victims of IPV.
Partnering with Agencies
Whenever possible, link victims with community-based domestic violence organizations. Familiarize yourself with the services available in your jurisdiction. Victims may benefit from core services offered by domestic violence organizations. These services include:
- 24-hour crisis lines
- Support groups
- Court and legal advocacy
- Shelter and transitional housing
- Safety planning
- Maintain frequent communication with the victim and solicit their input
- Recommend that the victim develop a safety plan – there are advocacy groups that can assist the victim in this process
- Provide as much information as is legally possible as to the status of the person under supervision, applicable provisions of release, and how the victim can and should respond in the case of a violation
- Contact your area’s domestic violence coalition or services program to find out about training opportunities in your area and to obtain referral materials
In sexual assault cases, it is important to conduct a comprehensive review of the case file prior to supervision or reentry including reviewing input from the victim either through the victim impact statements, court records, risk assessment results, and/or interviewing the victim directly. Sexual assault victims may have concerns about their safety, and specifically, living in the same community as the person who assaulted them. When this is the case, these concerns should be taken into account when decisions are made about where the individual under supervision will be living. If they will be returning to the same community, victims may need support in developing a safety plan or relocating.
You may choose to ask the victim where they are currently living or working in order to prevent or limit as much contact as possible. If you are asking for this information it is essential to ensure that it remains confidential.
Victims may need assistance in:
- Understanding the sex offender registration requirements for your jurisdiction.
- Accessing information about what support services are available.
- Understanding any special conditions of release such as no contact with victims, no contact with minors, attending specialized treatment programs, limiting internet access, and restrictions on where they can live and what will happen if these conditions are not met.
Partnering with Agencies
Victims of sexual assault may benefit from information on support services that are offered by advocacy organizations. Services often include: 24-hour crisis and support lines, support groups, counseling, hospital accompaniment, court accompaniment, and legal advocacy services.
In addition, many communities have coordinated Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs), also known as Multidisciplinary Teams (MDTs), which are interdisciplinary teams consisting of law enforcement, sexual assault forensic examiners (SAFEs), advocates, prosecutors and other allied professionals including community corrections that work together to support a positive criminal justice response to sexual violence. If a SART exists in your area, consider reaching out to join their team or participate in training provided by the program.
Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)
Some individuals on your caseload may have been victims of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, or sexual assault. For some of them this may have happened prior to their justice involvement. For others their victimization may have occurred while they were in custody. This will add complexity to your efforts to supervise them, as they may not have received any services to address their victimization. It is important that you gain at least a general understanding of the neurobiology of trauma so that you can be alert to signs and symptoms, and equally important that you know who/where to refer them to for victim support services. Additionally, you may be the first person they disclose to and therefore you may have an obligation under thePrison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to report this disclosure. For more information on PREA click here.
- Familiarize yourself with the services available in your jurisdiction.
- Consider when working with rape/sexual assault victims that confidentiality is key. Information should be kept in a secure location and not left on a desk in view of the supervisee.
- Link victims with community-based sexual assault organizations.
- Familiarize yourself with your local Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) if one exists.
- Consider, with victim’s agreement, inviting community-based sexual assault organizations to victim safety planning meetings.
Stalking is different from other forms of violence in that it can include behaviors which may appear unthreatening to others, but which incite fear in a victim due to the context in which the behavior occurs. Stalking isn’t always physical; it can be primarily psychological and include control, intimidation, and humiliation.
It’s important to understand the impact of stalking on victims. In a national survey of stalking victims:
- 46 percent of victims were afraid of not knowing what would happen next.
- 1 in 8 employed victims lost time from work, and more than half lost 5 days or more.
- 22 percent of victims changed their day-to-day activities.
Stalking is an obsessive behavior and often not deterred by incarceration. Many jurisdictions have achieved successful results with approaches that include regular contact with victims and reduced caseloads for probation/parole officers undertaking the high-level of supervision necessary for individuals who committed stalking offenses.
Victims may be hesitant to communicate due to fear or anxiety. Using an advocacy group contact or other third party may be necessary. Many victims adjust their schedules and lives as a result of stalking: changing routines, jobs, even identities as a result of their experiences.
- Consider that stalking victims may need a variety of services, including counseling, housing assistance, and mental health services.
- Maintain frequent communication with the victim and solicit victim input.
- Encourage the victim to report anything out of the ordinary, even if it is something they can’t prove or that may seem insignificant to others.
- Maintain strict confidentiality, as the utmost importance for victim safety and peace of mind.
- Recommend that the victim develop a safety plan – there are advocacy groups that can assist the victim in this process.
- Provide as much information as is legally possible as to the status of the person under supervision, applicable provisions of release, and how the victim can and should respond in the case of a violation.
The loss of a loved one through an act of homicide is one of the most traumatic events that can happen to someone. It can deeply impact the emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial wellbeing of surviving friends and family members.These survivors are generally referred to as “co-victims” of the homicide, due to the devastating impact the crime has on their lives.  Homicide is sudden, violent, and often deliberate. It robs the co-victims of any time or opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones. They are often left with questions that can never be answered. What happened to their loved one? Why did this happen? What could they have done to prevent it? Were they in pain? Co-victims experience a complex range of reactions to the homicide, including shock, disbelief, anger, anxiety, depression, and traumatic grief which can intensify over time, especially if they do not get support in working through the grief. For example, parents of murdered children are twice as likely to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than parents of children who die accidentally.  No amount of justice, restitution, compensation, or regret can ever bring the loved one back.
A majority of homicides are committed by someone known to the victim. That means that surviving family members often had a relationship with both the victim and their murderer; this adds even more complexity to their grief. Sometimes, the family member was also threatened, or has a significant fear that the individual might kill them too. It is important to work with co-victims as you would with any other victim of crime. Provide them information, support, and resources, and ensure that their victim rights are enforced.
- Determine the level of involvement that co-victims wish to have during reentry or supervision.
- Include information from victim impact statements submitted by co-victims in presentence investigations, conditions of release/supervision, and safety planning efforts.
- Familiarize yourself with the resources available in your jurisdiction for homicide co-victims.
- If contacted by a co-victim of homicide, you can help by listening, expressing concern, and providing resources if requested.
Victims of human trafficking, both children and adults, often experience physical and psychological harm as a result of trafficking crimes. In addition, it is not uncommon for trafficking victims to have been arrested themselves, often on charges related to prostitution, solicitation, and drugs. You may end up with both traffickers and/or victims of sex trafficking on your supervision caseload. In either case, it is important to note that many victims may be distrustful of anyone who is part of a criminal justice system and may be reluctant to speak with you. 
Victims of human trafficking need a similar level of support as victims of intimate partner violence. They may have comparable hesitation to share information due to continued loyalty towards their trafficker. They may not identify as a victim at all, or may experience difficulty overcoming feelings of shame or self-blame.
Human trafficking victims are often taught to distrust and avoid anyone connected to law enforcement. Overcoming this barrier is important to protecting the victim from further abuse.
- Assure the victim of their safety and the availability of supports and resources.
- Put victims in touch with advocacy groups. This can be the first step towards connecting victims with other survivors.
- Maintain open and non-judgmental communication with the victim, using an advocate or other third party with expert knowledge of trafficking if need be
- Consider that trafficking victims may need many services including mental health services, social services, drug counseling, medical care, and housing assistance.
Hate crimes, also known as bias crimes, are crimes that are motivated, in whole or in part, by hatred against a victim’s actual or perceived race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity, or disability. Because the crime is an attack on the victim’s identity, they may experience a high level of trauma.
Hate crimes impact not only the individual targeted by the crime, but the victim’s community as well, inciting fear, anger, and suspicion.
For victims of a hate crime, understanding that there are resources specific to their identity group can be a major source of support.
- Know local resources for the populations within your community, such as advocacy groups, religious organizations, translators, and other culturally specific service providers.
The FBI’s National Gang Threat Assessment report in 2011 showed there were more than 33,000 active gangs on the streets and in prisons. Gang violence may include other types of crimes such as sexual assault or homicide. Victims of gang violence may be fearful of retaliation or experience ongoing threats or intimidation.
Victims of gang violence can benefit from services including crisis intervention, support groups, and other community services.
- Connect with neighborhood and culturally specific community resources.
- Consider proposing the formation of an anti-gang task force or unit if one does not already exist within your jurisdiction.
Victims of non-violent crimes are often overlooked for services but may still need support. Even when crimes are non-violent, there still may be harm or trauma associated with a crime. Victims of fraud, theft, or other financial crimes may experience depression, loss of trust, and other adverse psychological effects. Additionally, the financial harm caused by the crime may be substantial, leading to an increased need for support in collecting restitution payments.
- Work with victims of financial crime as you would with any other victim of crime.
- Listen to what they need; provide them with information, support, and resources; and ensure that their victims’ rights are enforced.
- Explain the restitution order, where applicable, and how information related to restitution payments should be communicated.
- Connect victims to support services, if needed.
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