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Promising Practices in Serving Crime Victims With Disabilities Printer-Friendly Option Promising Practices in Serving Crime Victims With Disabilities Image of a teacher using American Sign Language to communicate with her students. Image of parents holding their two children, one of whom is disabled.
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About This Project

OVC Funds Inquiries Into Disability Issues

The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) began its efforts to raise awareness about the victimization of persons with disabilities by funding the National Organization for Victim Assistance’s Working with Crime Victims with Disabilities project, one of the first national scope initiatives to focus exclusively on the issues associated with crime victims with disabilities. In January 1998, the organization coordinated a symposium of the same name, which brought together experts from the fields of disability rights, protection and advocacy, crime victim assistance, law, and research. Participants developed a strategy for victim service providers and other allied professionals to use to improve their capacity to recognize and better respond to crime victims with disabilities by identifying issues, gaps in services, and other barriers; recommending needed changes; and identifying successful programs and best practices. That same year, OVC published Working with Victims of Crime with Disabilities (NCJ 172838), a bulletin addressing the complicated personal, cultural, and systemic issues that have created and perpetuated obstacles to safety, services, and justice for this population. The bulletin also provides recommendations for improving access to the justice system and victim services, networking and cross-training, and enhancing direct services and advocacy efforts.
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The Promising Practices Project

In 2002, OVC funded Promising Practices in Serving Crime Victims with Disabilities (hereafter referred to as Promising Practices), a 3-year discretionary cooperative agreement (number 2002-VF-GX-K005), to improve the local response of criminal justice personnel and victim service providers to people with disabilities. This bulletin and the companion toolkit are products of the grant, which was in effect from 2002 to 2006. OVC chose SafePlace of Austin, Texas, which provides emergency shelter and services to women, children, and men who are survivors of domestic, sexual, or caregiver abuse, to administer the project and monitor the work of 10 subgrantees.

In 2002, SafePlace issued a call for applications from victim assistance, law enforcement, and disability service organizations throughout the country seeking to improve their community’s response to crime victims with disabilities. Program staff sought a diverse mix of project sites in rural and urban areas and in different geographical locations that provided a variety of services. The chosen sites included local and regional communities in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania.

From the 95 applications submitted, 10 subgrantees were chosen:

By working with these organizations, OVC learned more about current services for crime victims with disabilities, as well as conditions that affect reporting and responding to crime. Profiles of the 10 participating organizations and additional information on their activities can be found in the Promising Practices toolkit.
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Methodology: A Six-Step Process

Each subgrantee completed a six-step process that involved building collaborations, assessing community needs, planning and implementing strategies, evaluating progress and services, and planning for sustainability. The goal was to promote innovative practices, principles, and community partnerships that would strengthen the ability of victim assistance organizations to provide accessible and relevant services to crime victims with a wide range of disabilities.

The subgrantees addressed myriad issues, including—

  • The impact of crime and victimization on people with disabilities.
  • Local community response to crime victims with disabilities.
  • Outreach efforts.
  • Access to existing local victim support services.

Subgrantees tailored their strategies and activities to the needs and conditions found in their communities. Some focused on changing existing systems and processes, while others worked to create new resources. All of the projects improved their own response to persons with disabilities in the aftermath of a crime.

In addition to the many common obstacles encountered by the project sites, subgrantees also faced challenges unique to the nature of their strategies and services. Domestic violence programs, for example, had to plan carefully to ensure that individuals participating in surveys or seeking help could do so without the knowledge of an abusive partner or caregiver. Law enforcement agencies had to gain the trust of victims who were wary of police involvement or whose past attempts to get help had failed. Organizations working with rural populations often found it difficult to establish partnerships and build support for their efforts, particularly with small town organizations such as churches that were already overwhelmed by trying to meet the basic needs of area residents. Subgrantees addressed their individual issues by soliciting feedback from the communities they served and adapting their strategies and activities as needed.

In addition to the six-step process completed by all the project sites, staff members also participated in teleconferences and training symposiums and contributed to a newsletter and e-mail listserv that allowed them to share information and discuss emerging issues. SafePlace monitored the projects and provided training and technical support, fiscal oversight, and access to curricula, videos, books, and other resources.

The overall goal of this OVC national demonstration project was to promote innovative practices, principles, and community partnerships that would strengthen the ability of victim assistance organizations to provide accessible and relevant services to crime victims with a wide range of disabilities. As part of meeting this challenge, the 10 subgrantees readdressed the following questions during each stage of their projects:

  • How can communities better anticipate and meet the needs of crime victims with disabilities?

  • How can traditional victim service systems adequately identify and accommodate people with disabilities?

  • What steps can local communities take to fill the gaps in existing services for crime victims with disabilities and create relevant new supports for this population?

  • Which individuals and agencies are in the best position to resolve the communication and accessibility issues that can burden crime victims with disabilities?

  • Where can communities find training and resources to help improve local response to crime victims with disabilities?

Subgrantees quickly discovered that the answers lay in putting proven techniques and practices to work where the seeds of lasting change are best sown—local communities. By participating in an intensive process focused on meeting the needs of their city, town, or region, each organization broke new ground and developed successful strategies that can be replicated in communities throughout the country.
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Knowledge and Products Gained

Through its project subgrantees, OVC gained a better understanding of how persons with disabilities experience the criminal justice and victim service systems, how service gaps originate and are resolved, how relationships between local organizations can improve all community services, how most barriers can be removed through dialogue with and feedback from the community, and how small changes in attitude and approach can lead to huge strides in meeting the needs of people with disabilities. The project had a significant positive impact on both participating local organizations and the persons they served, and on improving access to the places, processes, agencies, and systems charged with responding to crime victims with disabilities.

The resulting products and toolkit are intended for law enforcement, victim service agencies, domestic violence and sexual assault programs, disability service providers, municipalities, and others striving to improve their community’s response to crime victims with disabilities. More information on the key concepts addressed in this bulletin can be found in the glossary section of the toolkit, where the terms disability, accessibility, architectural barriers, attitudinal barriers, accommodations, and victim are defined and discussed.
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