Victimization may result in physical harm and/or psychological symptoms. Victims may experience severe bodily harm or disfigurement as a result of the crime or may experience debilitating health problems from psychological stress brought on by the victimization.  Adults often experience anxiety, depression, and PTSD after a victimization such as losing a loved one to a crime, elder abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault. The cumulative impacts of violence on multiple areas of victim’s lives can impact overall well-being by disrupting a victim’s ability to engage in day-to-day activities, including work and school. Victim service providers may address these impacts of violence through a variety of services based on victim need.
In June 2016, ICJIA researchers conducted a statewide study to better understand crime victim needs, identify service gaps, and measure the capacity of Illinois victim service providers. Victim service providers (N = 235) from all regions of the state responded to an online survey and a subset of providers (N = 28) also participated in focus groups. This article summarizes the main research findings. For a more detailed discussion of the study methodology and results refer to the complete report.
Victim service providers from across Illinois identified the needs of violent crime victims. These needs can be described as fundamental needs, presenting needs, or accompanying needs. Victims’ fundamental needs correspond to physiological needs (Figure 1), in Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs. Physiological needs are critical to survival and if these essentials are not met, all other needs become secondary. Victim services that seek to address the physical, psychological, and legal impacts of victimization, help to restore harm, and improve overall victim well-being are satisfying victims’ presenting needs, or safety needs. If both physiological and safety needs are fulfilled sufficiently, individuals then progress to love needs for affection and belongingness. By addressing accompanying needs (e.g., child care, transportation) providers reduce barriers to service utilization for victims, and enable victims to progress towards fulfilling other higher level needs (i.e., love, esteem, and self-actualization).
Figure 1. Victim Needs and Maslow’s Hierarchy
At the most basic level, victims have fundamental needs including the need for shelter, food, and utility services, as well as assistance with the strengthening of life skills (i.e., education, employment, or housing assistance). Emergency shelter was identified as a top immediate victim need (i.e., 0-3 months post-victimization) by over a third (36 percent) of victim service providers who were surveyed. More than one third of victim service providers surveyed, regardless of the victimization populations they worked with, identified life skills as a top long-term victim need or a need that emerged six months or later after their victimization experience (38 percent). These fundamental needs form the foundation upon which presenting needs are met.
Presenting needs refer to victims’ need for mental health and counseling services, medical care, longer term housing, legal assistance, or substance use treatment. More than half of victim service providers surveyed said services that aid victims in meeting presenting needs were essential or high priority, with psychological well-being (i.e., counseling, mental health) seen as the most important service priority (Figure 2). The majority of providers also viewed medical care, longer term housing, and civil legal assistance as services that were important. Fewer victim service providers viewed substance use treatment as essential or high priority (40 percent).
Victim Presenting Needs
Equally important are a victim’s accompanying needs. When translation services, case management, child care, and transportation assistance are available victims are better positioned to engage in services that address presenting needs. Providers noted that due to population shifts translation services are essential to meeting the needs of non-English speaking victims and victims with limited English proficiency. Case management is need to traverse complex systems, particularly the public benefits system. Providers also described how transportation assistance, and for victim with dependents, child care are often support services needed for victims to attend court proceedings and/or to receive services.
Victim service providers highlighted service gaps, or ways in which current service availability was unable to satisfy victim need. Services gaps were either programmatic, where need exceeded a provider’s ability to serve victims, or geographic, a lack of services in a particular area. Programmatic gaps included a lack of housing options, both emergency shelter and longer term services, mental health and counseling services, legal assistance, substance abuse treatment, translation services, transportation assistance, and child care. Gaps in emergency shelter services were particularly pronounced for victims of sexual assault and human trafficking, and for older crime victims, whereas children, their parents, and juvenile justice-involved youth often have limited mental health and counseling service options.
Geographic gaps centered on providers’ limited ability to offer expanded or specialized medical, mental health or legal services; this gap was more pronounced in rural areas. Other gaps, such as unmet needs for substance abuse treatment, translation services, transportation assistance, and child care were present throughout the state, regardless of region or county type (i.e., urban vs. rural). For example, only 14 percent of providers reported offering child care services directly, or in house, with more than two-thirds of providers (71 percent) offering child care referrals.
Implications for Policy and Practice
The findings highlight several policy and practice implications for funders, victim service providers, and other service agencies that interact with victims throughout Illinois. These are presented below.
Continue to provide victim services that address fundamental and presenting victim needs. Core service components are needed across victimization types and throughout the state. Funders can help ensure core needs are met by funding and encouraging providers to incorporate services that meet fundamental and presenting needs as a central component to their service delivery model. Providers should document victim need to demonstrate where service gaps continue to exist and elicit continued financial support of cores services to address fundamental and presenting victim needs.
Address barriers to service utilization by meeting accompanying victim needs. Addressing accompanying needs is often necessary to sufficiently assist victims. Translation and case management services, child care, and transportation assistance reduce barriers that prevent or discourage victims from accessing or staying engaged in services. Victim service providers should consider strategizing around how to incorporate these supportive services into victim service programming and funders should take steps to financially support these efforts. Providers in rural areas of the state may find it particularly challenging to offer supportive services, and may need to consider alternative strategies, such as leveraging local provider networks, to meet accompanying victim needs and funders should enable and support such efforts.
Develop a comprehensive plan to address gaps. Providers should consider which gap(s) their agency is well-positioned to address, as well as the number of victims negatively impacted by a given gap. Providers should explore ways in which services can be expanded to rural communities through the utilization of satellite or partner offices, mobile units, or in-home services. Funders can support these efforts by making funding more flexible; not restricted to a particular victim group, service type, or service delivery method.
Victim needs and gaps may change over time. Providers are encouraged, when possible, to identify service needs and gaps in their own communities and to reflect upon their own internal capacity to meet current and future victim need. Funders can assist in identifying needs and gaps by allocating funding for data collection and program evaluation activities.
Coordinate services across providers to meet victim need. Providers within the same community or in neighboring communities should work to coordinate service provision to reduce duplication and ensure the most qualified provider is providing services. Some providers, due to their resources and/or expertise, will be better positioned to help certain victims. Funders can support agency efforts to assess strengths and weaknesses across local providers and encourage partnerships among agencies whose services would best complement one another. Improved communication among providers can enable them to better identify gaps, strategize around how they can individually and collaboratively address gaps, and delineate larger community wide needs that impact all members of the community.
Engage victims and the broader community in efforts to meet victim need. Victims are members of larger communities that can benefit from change that addresses larger structural issues, such as a lack of affordable housing, mental health providers, and public transportation. Thus, all community members have a stake in advocating for change to fill certain gaps as well. Victim voice is essential; victims are experts on how community-wide gaps differentially affect them. Legislators who have an open dialogue with community members regarding community need are better prepared to advocate for resources that can implement changes to address need.
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- Yuan Yuan, N. P., Koss, M. P., & Stone, M. (2016). The Psychological Consequences of Sexual Trauma. National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women. Retrieved from http://vawnet.org/sites/default/files/materials/files/2016-09/AR_PsychConsequences.pdf ↩︎
- Maslow, A. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396. Retrieved from http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm ↩︎
- Ibid. ↩︎