Meeting the Training Needs of Those Who Meet the Needs of Victims: Assessing Service Providers

Article excerpt

Despite growing awareness of crime victims' needs for support and services, few studies have examined the training needs of those who provide such services. This research presents the results of statewide needs assessment of victims services providers (VSPs) conducted in preparation for designing a state victim assistance training academy. Respondents were asked to indicate their needs for training on various topics pertaining to victims services. Results indicate that extent of formal education and years of experience in the field are the primary determinants of reported needs for training. Respondents with less formal education and less experience in the field, regardless of the nature of their organizational position (client services vs. management), report greater needs for training. Implications for designing training programs for VSPs are discussed.

Keywords: preparation; academy; role; education; counseling

Criminal victimization's impact is multidimensional, including physical (injury, pain, disability), financial (loss of income, possessions, housing; medical bills), and emotional (fear, anxiety, depression, self-blame, insecurity, posttraumatic stress disorder) consequences.1 In recent years, victim advocates have raised awareness that crime victims need help to cope with these frequently long-lasting effects. Although the criminal justice system has traditionally dealt with victims, its principal responsibility is to apprehend and prosecute offenders. As others (Barrett, St. Pierre, & Vaillancourt, 2011; Erez & Belknap, 1998; Stephens & Sinden, 2000) have noted, comforting victims is often relegated to second place, or given no place at all, in the system's response to crime.

The victims movement has attempted to foster a more "victim-centered" response to crime by promoting victims' rights and emphasizing the services they need to make the transition from "victim" to "survivor." As the movement has gained momentum, new approaches, such as hotlines, crisis centers, shelters, victim-witness assistance programs, and sexual assault response teams, have emerged to augment and supplement the system's response to crime. Research on victimization's effects also has contributed to a greater understanding of victims' needs and the development of more evidenced-based approaches. This combination of advocacy and research has led to the realization that everyone who has contact with victims including victims services professionals (victim advocates, victim/ witness assistance staff), allied professionals (i.e., police, prosecutors, corrections professionals, medical and mental health personnel, social workers, substance abuse counselors, clergy) or volunteers needs training in best practices (Blomberg, Waldo, & Bullock, 1989; Danis, 2006; Goodman, Bennett, & Dutton, 1999; Logan, Walker, Stewart, & Allen, 2006; Maier, 2008; Zink, Jacobson, Regan, & Pabst, 2004). Training should include such topics as victims' rights laws, helping victims find material/financial assistance, emotional reactions to victimization, and special victim populations (children, older adults, people with disabilities, immigrants). Service providers also need training in self-care and resilience to cope with vicarious trauma.

In the 1970s, academicians began offering courses and writing textbooks on victimology, and emerging victim assistance organizations began offering training workshops and conferences (Dussich, 2003). The National Organization for Victim Assistance started a program in 1980 to train a broad spectrum of professionals including "prosecutors, nurses, law enforcement officers, social workers, judges, clergy members, mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, and victim service practitioners, paid and volunteer" (National Organization for Victim Assistance, 2010). In 1986, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) established its victim assistance institutes (MADD, 200=). During the early 1990s academicians and victim advocates discussed establishing an academically based national academy for victim assistance professionals (Walker, 2003). …