As a result of the crime victims’ rights movement, which flourished in the 1980s, and increased attention on the needs of crime victims, organizations throughout the United States now provide a variety of essential services to victims of crime. Idaho is in the unique position of being the only state in the nation that does not provide appropriated funding for victim services, though victims’ rights are enumerated in the state constitution. Our recent study looked at the many challenges that Idaho crime victims and victim service organizations face across the state.
Some of the most commonly used services include victim compensation, victim/witness assistance, advocacy, counseling, shelters, skills training, hotlines and crisis centers. However, research has indicated that differences in locality, funding, sustainability, training and a lack of recognition by the surrounding community are prominent challenges for service providers.
Agencies located in rural communities often face unique challenges in working with crime victims, including reaching clients who may live in isolation and poverty. In addition, lack of funding has often been reported as a major barrier for crime victim service provision.
Art. 1, sec. 22 of the Idaho Constitution, ratified by voters in 1994, guarantees crime victims the right to be treated with fairness, respect, dignity and privacy, to timely disposition of the case, to be present at criminal justice proceedings and other rights. Read more in this Attorney General’s manual. Without proper funding, agencies may be unable to adequately pay employees, which is often linked to high rates of turnover and understaffing. Although most service agencies are required to participate in a certain amount of training, many staff members disclosed that the type of training they have received was inadequate or irrelevant to the prominent issues in their community. Finally, researchers have studied other challenges such as a lack of recognition and support by the community, which makes fundraising, community education, prevention work and volunteer recruitment more difficult.
In an effort to better understand the needs of crime victim service agencies in Idaho, we conducted site visits in diverse locations across the state with four agencies that provide services, including counseling and crisis intervention, to victims of crime. These site visits were ancillary to a separate statewide assessment of crime victims’ needs funded by the Council on Domestic Violence & Victim Assistance.* The site visits included service providers in a rural area, a more metropolitan area, a college town and on a Native American reservation (also rural). The underlying study and this essay are co-authored by Lane Kirkland Gillespie, Amanda Goodson & Juan Lopez.
The site visits generally lasted one to two days and included a tour of the agency and surrounding area, and semi-structured interviews with agency personnel. An abundance of qualitative data was gathered through these interviews and analyzed for common themes, yielding insights that may not have otherwise been obtained via quantitative methods. The agency representatives remain anonymous in the reporting of results to allow for interviewees to be open and honest without the fear of negative consequences for their opinions and in accordance with research protocol approved by the institutional review board. While a number of similarities among the four agencies emerged — chiefly, a lack of adequate funding — there were also several differences in terms of agency needs and barriers.
RESULTS: LACK OF FUNDING
Consistent with previous research, one of the most common barriers agency personnel mentioned was a lack of funding. The magnitude of funding needs varied among agencies though all indicated that increased funding would enable them to better serve crime victims. Additionally, staff indicated that restricted monies were often barriers because these types of funds can only be used for certain purposes (e.g., direct services, operating costs) or for certain types of crime victims (e.g., sexual assault). In other words, if a victim does not meet the specific criteria for that funding source, agencies have to try to find another way to fund services for that victim, which sometimes results in the use of emergency funds.
While federal grants for victim service agencies are available, service providers reported that the application process is extremely competitive and time consuming. For those agencies with few staff members, it is difficult to find the time to apply for these grants. Due to the lack of state-level, appropriated funding for victim services in Idaho, as exists in 49 other states, agencies must seek out federal and other grant monies to supplement their resources. Fundraising was an option for some, but again, similar problems exist regarding the time and resources necessary to raise money through events or other means, particularly by short-staffed agencies where the choice may essentially come down to serving a victim in crisis or organizing a fundraiser.
STAFF SHORTAGE AND TRAINING
Monday: Bostaph’s intro
Monday: King & Bostaph, et al on Idaho victim services
Tuesday: Fisher on sexual violence on campus
Wednesday: Miller on theory of change
Thursday: Cares crime victims’ classroom needs
Friday: Franklin on the victim-offender connection
Friday: Campbell on police and victims of sexual violence
Strongly related to funding, and also common among all agencies, was staff shortage. At least one advocate from every agency indicated that having more staff members to run programs (e.g., support groups for victims), organize fundraisers, apply for grant funding or staff hotlines would be helpful and enable them to better serve crime victims. One of the issues related to staffing is that most of these positions offer very low pay and few, if any, benefits. In short, due to limited funding, it is difficult for victim service providers to attract and retain highly qualified individuals, resulting in staff shortages and difficulties in service provision. This is the case nationwide. However, it is important to note that the majority of the advocates interviewed were clearly passionate about their work and dedicated to serving crime victims, despite the low salary and lack of benefits.
Another issue related to both funding and staffing is training. The ability to attend trainings on the latest evidence-based, best practices is crucial for victim service providers. However, smaller agencies with severe staffing issues indicated that it simply was not possible to attend trainings because they would have to close the office. Also, many of the trainings are offered hundreds of miles from these agencies, specifically for the more rural programs. Thus, the inability of an agency to send its employees to these essential trainings due to funding and staff shortages can have a negative impact on their ability to most effectively serve crime victims.
One other concern that a few interviewees mentioned was that the training sessions they were able to attend were not always on the most relevant topics. Others expressed a need for training for other criminal justice personnel to better understand the dynamics of certain types of victimization (e.g., intimate partner violence) as some of the practices in their communities were not in line with current evidence-based research and practice.
While all agencies mentioned the needs and barriers noted above, those located in rural areas clearly encountered more barriers in serving crime victims. Funding and staff shortages seemed to be more significant issues for rural agencies, which were often staffed by only one or two advocates at a time, severely hindering the ability to attend trainings or apply for grants. Transportation was another commonly cited barrier. A complete lack of public transportation is common in rural areas, while in those areas that did have public transportation, the service was expensive or extremely limited.
Campbell, R., Townsend, S. M., Long, S. M., Kinnison, K. E., Pulley, E. M., Adames, S. B., & Wasco, S. M. (2006). Responding to sexual assault victims’ medical and emotional needs: A national study of the services provided by SANE programs. Research in Nursing & Health, 29, 384-398.
Logan, T. K., Stevenson, E., Evans, L., & Leukefeld, C. (2004). Rural and urban women’s perceptions of barriers to health, mental health, and criminal justice services: Implications for victim services. Violence and Victims, 19(1), 37-62.
Macy, R. J., Giattina, M. C., Parish, S. L., & Crosby, C. (2010). Domestic violence and sexual assault services: Historical concerns and contemporary challenges. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 25(1), 3-32.
For victims who do not have their own transportation, obtaining needed services or resources can present a significant obstacle. In addition, advocates at rural agencies often have to transport victims to court hearings, appointments and other related services without receiving any mileage reimbursement. Thus, the lack of transportation results in undue hardship for victims as well as agency personnel, particularly in rural locations.
Another barrier that seemed to be more prevalent among rural agencies relates to the economic conditions of the area. Lack of employment opportunities, lack of affordable housing and difficulties obtaining public assistance were commonly noted. These issues are particularly salient for some victims of intimate partner violence who leave their abusers and need assistance finding housing and other resources. While some areas do have shelters for these situations, many do not. Victims may be turned away if shelters are full or if they are ineligible. Some agencies are able to offer temporary housing in local motels but this is typically only for a few days and may not be the safest option in smaller, rural areas where only one or two motels operate, thus making it easy for an abuser to locate a fleeing victim.
Over the past several decades, remarkable strides have been made in regard to the rights and needs of crime victims, including the proliferation of crime victim service providers who offer valuable resources to aid in recovery from the trauma of victimization. However, as previous research and the results of these site visits suggest, service providers continue to encounter a number of barriers that can impede their ability to best serve crime victims. While funding and staff shortages were barriers for all agencies, these issues were particularly pertinent for agencies in rural areas due to isolation, lack of public transportation and economic conditions.
Overcoming these barriers will require multiple responses. Existing funding options must offer more flexibility (and more accountability) in their use. When community resources are limited, agencies must be allowed to use their funding in the most efficient and effective manner to best serve crime victims. In addition, new funding streams are needed. Whether these funding streams are open to all agencies or only those identified as hot spots of need, increased monies to overcome barriers to serving victims of crime are imperative.
Given that Idaho currently does not offer any appropriated funding for local victim services, which is not the norm across the United States, legislation earmarking funds to serve constituents who are victimized by crime seems overdue. Court fines for perpetrators may cover some costs related to counseling and medical needs of victims who report crimes to police and cooperate with prosecution, for some types of crime. Other large-scale efforts require discussions about the future of smaller, rural communities. Improving economic conditions, such as local employment, affordable housing, public transportation and access to ancillary services (mental health, substance abuse, medical), are essential for rural communities across Idaho and across the nation if citizens (some of whom are victims of crime) are to thrive.
*Sentence edited to reflect the Council’s independence from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.