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Section III: Direct Services

ETHICAL STANDARD 3.1: The victim assistance provider respects and attempts to protect the victim's or survivor's civil rights.

Commentary: In addition to basic civil rights, a number of other rights have been prescribed for victims/survivors through state standards, legislation, and other sources. Victim assistance providers are encouraged to abide by the following guidelines for victims' rights:

  • The victim/survivor retains all basic civil rights in the professional relationship.
  • The victim/survivor retains the right to not be discriminated against on the basis of age; race; color; national origin, including limited English proficiency; literacy; sex, gender identity and expression; sexual orientation; disability; social class; economic status; education; marital status; religion; immigration status; or HIV status in the provision of services.
  • The victim/survivor retains the right to protect his or her confidential information and records, and to have that right protected.
  • The victim/survivor retains the right to know any and all exceptions to the confidentiality agreement, including state, tribal, or federal laws (including mandated reporting) governing the victim assistance provider's duty to report the abuse of children and vulnerable adults.

ETHICAL STANDARD 3.2: The victim assistance provider recognizes the interests of the person served as a primary responsibility.

Commentary: Although service provision is dictated by the limits of ethics, program policy, and state and federal laws, victim assistance providers should pursue the best interests of the persons they serve and advocate for what victims want (see Ethical Standard 3.4 for considerations regarding self-determination). When a conflict arises between a victim's interests and those of the victim assistance provider or program, the provider should verbally disclose the situation to the victim, refer the victim to an alternate provider, and/or consult a professional regarding appropriate resolution of the conflict. In situations involving multiple victims or mass casualties, providers should ensure that all victims are served at a level that meets or exceeds applicable standards, policies, or laws.

ETHICAL STANDARD 3.3: The victim assistance provider refrains from behaviors that communicate victim blame, suspicion regarding victim/survivor accounts of crime, condemnation for past behavior, or other judgmental sentiment.

Commentary: One of the most significant barriers to accessing victim services is victims' belief that their story will not be believed or that they will be judged or blamed for the crime perpetrated against them. To establish trust and advocate effectively for victims/survivors, it is critical that victim assistance providers use a culturally competent, respectful, and nonjudgmental approach.

ETHICAL STANDARD 3.4: The victim assistance provider respects the victim's right to self-determination.

Commentary: In some cases, victim assistance providers may perceive victims'/survivors' wants, needs, and rights differently from how the victims/survivors perceive them. Unless dictated by program policy, victim assistance providers shall under no circumstances use ultimatums in the provision of services (e.g., providing services only if a victim/survivor of relationship violence agrees to leave the abusive relationship). Victim assistance providers are also prohibited from intentionally withholding service information that might contribute to a victim's decisionmaking.

Victims/survivors have the most informed perspectives of their own history, preferences, risks, and resources. This gives them ultimate authority over their own interests. When a victim's wants are at stark odds with a victim assistance provider's perception of the victim's best interests, the provider can present information to help the victim gain a broader perspective. Nevertheless, the victim assistance provider's role is ultimately to encourage the victim/survivor to make his or her own decisions, and to support the victim/survivor in those decisions.

Supporting a victim's right to self-determination may become complicated in contexts involving children or people of all ages who have certain cognitive disabilities or mental illnesses that impede their ability to make decisions affecting their safety and well-being. Victim assistance providers are encouraged to consider the age, maturity, and cognitive abilities of their clients and to consult qualified medical, mental health, and social work professionals for assistance in interpreting a client's level of self-determination. Providers who frequently work with children or adults who have certain disabilities or illnesses are encouraged to seek training in understanding mental competence and effective communication skills.

See www.thearc.org for more position statements related to supporting self-determination for people with cognitive, intellectual, and developmental disabilities.

ETHICAL STANDARD 3.5: The victim assistance provider avoids conflicts of interest and discloses any possible conflict to the program or person served, and also to prospective programs or persons to be served.

Commentary: Victim assistance providers must act within the bounds of the law and program policies, for the benefit of the person served, and to make efforts to avoid compromising influences and loyalties. Although avoiding all such conflicts may be more difficult in small communities, reasonable efforts should be made. Neither a victim assistance provider's personal or professional interest nor those of other clients or third persons should compromise professional judgment and loyalty to the person being served. Victim assistance providers are to avoid conflicts of interest that may arise from previous assignments, whether for present or past employers/programs or persons served. They also are encouraged to avoid conflicts of interest that arise from family relationships and from personal and business interests. Victim assistance providers may reveal sufficient non-confidential information about persons being served (preferably to other program staff or ethics counsel) to reasonably identify if actual or potential conflicts of interest exist.

ETHICAL STANDARD 3.6: The victim assistance provider terminates a professional relationship with a victim/survivor when the victim/survivor is not likely to benefit from continued services.

Commentary: Victim assistance providers who anticipate terminating services are to provide advanced notice to the victims/survivors they serve, and to do so in a manner that complies with applicable legal and ethical requirements. They should also provide referrals, as needed or at the victim's request. Victim assistance providers are strongly discouraged from terminating professional relationships in order to begin personal or business relationships with victims/survivors who have received services.

ETHICAL STANDARD 3.7: The victim assistance provider does not engage in personal relationships with persons served that exploit professional trust or that could impair the victim assistance provider's objectivity and professional judgment.

Commentary: If a victim assistance provider is unable to avoid a personal relationship with a victim/survivor, the provider should take appropriate precautions to ensure that his or her own objectivity and professional judgment are not impaired. Such precautions include obtaining the victim's informed consent and consulting with a supervisor.

Victim assistance providers are strongly discouraged from engaging in social or business relationships with either current or former clients. This boundary between personal versus professional relationships applies not only to in-person contact but also to electronic communications (e.g., text messages, emails, social networking); that is, providers should be aware of their roles as program or agency representatives versus those as autonomous acquaintances. This does not include purchasing from a victim/survivor who is providing necessary goods or services to the general public if the victim assistance provider determines that it is not possible or reasonable to obtain such goods or services from another provider. Victim assistance providers may engage in professional relationships with individuals with whom they have had previous personal or business relationships only if a reasonable person would conclude that the victim assistance provider's objectivity and professional judgment would not be impaired by reason of the previous relationship.

If a victim assistance provider plans to engage in a personal relationship with a client, the provider should consult with a supervisor and notify the client of the termination of the professional relationship. The victim assistance provider should continue to consider the best interests of the former client, and not engage in a personal relationship with that person if he or she continues to relate to the victim assistance provider in the provider's professional capacity. It is the victim assistance provider's responsibility to demonstrate that the former client has not been exploited or abused, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Victim assistance providers are prohibited from engaging in or requesting sexual contact with victims/survivors they serve, under any circumstances. Under no circumstances are victim assistance providers to engage in verbal or physical behaviors toward victims/survivors that a reasonable person would find to be sexually seductive, sexually demeaning, or sexually harassing.

Victim assistance providers are not to offer medication or controlled substances to persons they serve, or to accept these substances from clients for personal use or gain. Under no circumstances should victim assistance providers offer alcoholic beverages to persons they serve or accept such from them.

Victim assistance providers are solely responsible for acting appropriately in relationships with persons they serve. A client or former client's initiation of a personal, sexual, or business relationship is not a defensible reason for a victim assistance provider to violate this standard.

These guidelines also apply to victim assistance providers' relationships with program staff and volunteers, and with the client's family members and significant others. In general, as in most of the situations described above, victim assistance providers should consult with and/or request the supervision of a professional to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest, employment discrimination, or ethics violations.

ETHICAL STANDARD 3.8: The victim assistance provider does not discriminate against a victim/survivor and does not turn victims/survivors away from services due to personal biases or lack of cultural competency.

Commentary: Victim assistance providers should not deny services to or otherwise discriminate against victims/survivors on the basis of age; race; color; national origin, including limited English proficiency; literacy; sex; gender identity and expression; sexual orientation; disability; social class; economic status; education; marital status; religion; immigration status; or HIV status.

All victim assistance providers are expected to develop cultural competence, including in their provision of services for marginalized populations. Lack of cultural competency is not a sufficient reason to turn victims/survivors away from the program.

The victim assistance provider must not refer a victim/survivor to another organization solely for reasons related to a personal bias or the victim's characteristics that are protected by local, state, or federal civil rights such as those described above. If a victim assistance provider is unable to offer services because of staff capacity or a possible conflict of interest, he/she should consult with a supervisor for assistance in resolving the issue. In some cases, it would be appropriate to offer the victim/survivor a referral to another organization that offers specialized services that would address the client's needs. computer icon

ETHICAL STANDARD 3.9: The victim assistance provider furnishes opportunities for colleagues to access services if/when these colleagues become victims of crime or trauma.

Commentary: Although seeing a colleague as a client may present a conflict of interest, it may be necessary under some conditions and in areas with limited resources. Victim assistance providers who are in need of victim services should attempt to locate service providers in other jurisdictions or take other measures to minimize conflicts of professional interest.

computer iconVAT Online is a free Web-based victim assistance training that includes modules on the topics of “Culture, Diversity, and Inclusivity,” and “Ethics.”