Lesson Five: (Continued)
Definitions of the victim can also be quite different.
Many assistance agencies may focus on providing services to current
victims, thereby narrowing their definition of
Dee BigFoot of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center gave the
example of a young white teacher on a Hopi reservation molesting 156 male
children. Now the reservation may have the third generation of victims/abusers
molesting the next generation of victims. Who are the victims? Who should be
served by assistance programs? Often assistance programs may not take into
account the impact of historical victimization of marginalized
This does not inherently mean that programs should simply broaden the scope
of their work so that it is diluted beyond effectiveness. Rather, an
organizations structure and staff should integrate into their
programs an awareness of historical and social contexts.
Language and Communication
Communication is a cornerstone to assisting victims of crime. Without clear
two-way communication, the law enforcement officer, the prosecutor, or the
victim advocate cannot understand the victims needs, and the victim
cannot make use of the wide array of resources available. The first stumbling
block to successful communication is language. Many victim services programs
are hiring multilingual staff members, translating their materials into a
wide variety of languages, and making use of interpreters.
These are important and effective tactics that more and more programs are
employing to bridge the language gap. There are difficulties that still
arise, however, even with the use of these methods. A staff member who
speaks certain languages may become the only person in an agency serving
a particular population. This not only overloads the staff members, but
also it denies his or her colleagues the opportunity of learning to work
with this segment of their community.
Translated materials reach more people, but they do not reach the
illiterate members of that language group. Additionally, it is important
to not only translate material, but to also consider the way in which
services are being presented.
Providers and victims can assume that words and gestures have a set meaning.
In reality, although both parties may speak English, words such as victim,
crime, compensating, community, pain, fear and justice may have very
different implications for different people.
Modes of expression can also differ from culture to culture. In many cultures,
simply the way one is introduced or referred to communicate a level of respect
and regard. While some people might talk very directly about what they feel
or need, others rely on the context and indirect references to express meaning.
In some Native American tribe, for example, story telling and oral history have
Although language is often the most apparent and challenging barrier to
communicating with crime victims, there are many other aspects of communication
that can either impede or facilitate service delivery. In fact, it is estimated
that almost 80% of our communication is done non-verbally. Gestures, body
language, eye contact, smiles, laughter, and needed personal space can all
contribute to misunderstanding or miscommunication. Providers must be aware of
both the messages they may be sending and their interpretations of others
Finally, the cognitively disabled are particularly vulnerable to crime.
Those working with victims do not always have or take the time to ensure
that these victims understand their rights and the process ahead.
Our methods for understanding what someone understands are not
great, says Lisa Nerenberg of the Goldman Institute on the