by Dan Petersen and Thomas Underwood
Copyright 2000 Joint Center on Violence and Victim Studies All rights reserved.
No part of this report may be reproduced or utilized in any form or means without written permission of the copyright owner.
This research was funded by Washburn University, the Shawnee County Medical Society, the Shawnee County Medical Society Alliance, and Target.
Three focus groups were conducted in order to determine practitioner perspective regarding the availability services for crime victims in the Topeka/Shawnee County, Kansas area. One focus group consisted of practitioners from criminal justice, one from practitioners from social services organizations, and another from the advocacy center steering committee. The reports from all three focus groups identify different issues and needs. Some of the differences between practitioners from the criminal justice system and from social services are significant.
Each focus group was run by a Washburn University faculty or staff with expertise in group facilitation. As the facilitator discussed issues with the group, a cohort documented the responses. Three general areas were presented for discussion:
The potential for a victim to get lost in the process of services and criminal justice response was a consistent issue identified. There is no single point of contact to ensure that a victim gets needed services and understands the process, rights, and resources.
There is a lack of resources for special needs victims. The elderly, the disabled, and victims of certain categories face barriers to services. For example, males over age fifteen cannot stay at the Battered Women's shelter and a parent may be unwilling to separate the family.
Substance abuse was identified as a theme that needs to be addressed for victims and offenders. There is a lack of resources for the needs at all levels - outpatient as well as inpatient. This lack may be due to location, space availability, and cost.
Community information and awareness was identified. People do not know how to access existing services and the community needs to be aware of the issues and causes of crime and victimization.
Finally, one of the most significant gaps identified was lack of congruency within an area as well as between agencies. Attitudes range from extreme victim blaming to just as extreme victim defending. Assuming the goal of comprehensive victim services that are effective and responsive to needs, a collaborative "team" effort by practitioners and service organizations is needed. The existing professional environment in this community, however, is not wholly supportive of this effort.
Centralized service delivery was identified in two of these groups. This refers to a physical location that provides comprehensive essential services that is readily available to the public. This would not only improve collaboration but would make the experience for the victim much less stressful. In addition, increased shelter services that are family based also are needed.
Education of practitioners regarding victim issues and organizational resources was identified as a need. This includes cross-training between all agencies. This would also address, at least in part, the divergent philosophies between service providers. It may also lend greater understanding as to how decisions are made by certain agencies, such as the decision to prosecute.
A phone survey of crime victims was conducted to explore victim perceptions of the services actually received. The phone survey was conducted by Washburn students who used a scripted interview. Since crime victimization is a process that is often protracted, there was a need to access victims whose victimization had occurred a different times. Names and phone numbers of crime victims from 1997 through 1999 were provided by the Topeka Police Department, the YWCA Battered Women's Task Force, the SANE/SART program, and CASA. Except for the police department lists, which are public record, the victims were first contacted by the referring agency to advise of the nature of the research and to obtain permission. Most of the names called were obtained from the police department.