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Providing Help for Victims of Violence and Crime

Rachel Garthe

Associate Professor, Director of the Violence Prevention Research Lab

VPRL group photo

The Violence Prevention Research Lab is dedicated to helping victims of violence and other forms of crime. Their latest study reveals the need for more comprehensive training across all systems of care in the state.

Three-quarters of the 1,114 Illinois residents who participated in a recent study led by Rachel Garthe, associate professor in the School of Social Work and director of the Violence Prevention Research Lab (VPRL), indicated they had been the victim of intimate partner violence. Sixty-nine percent noted that they had been physically assaulted, 51% had been the victim of sexual assault, and 33% had been victims of sex or labor trafficking.

The findings by Garthe and her team were reported in the 2022 Victim Needs Assessment for the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) in November 2022.

Those are just some of the sobering findings that, Garthe says, point to the critical need to improve all systems of care for victims of violence and crime.

“Trainings need to be provided across all systems,” Garthe says. “Police and law enforcement, medical and healthcare settings, social services, community-based organizations, helplines and hotlines, as well as other systems of support, including spiritual and faith-based settings, need trainings to improve services and to focus on increasing cultural competence and understanding in the delivery of victim-centered services.”

Garthe’s team members included Wan-Jung Hsieh, an assistant professor at the National Taiwan University; and, from the VPRL, graduate research assistants Mary-Elizabeth Guenther and Dora Watkins; undergraduate research assistant Christine Kwon; and lead graduate research assistant Madisyn Welsh.

A Singular Journey With Many Barriers

“A noteworthy aspect of this study is the reminder that there is not a linear path for victims of violence or crime,” says Garthe. “Everyone’s journey seeking help, seeking support, and processing the experience is different. And that means there is not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to victim services.”

Some people seek formal support—from police, from medical personnel, from social service agencies—while others might look for informal supports, such as family and friends. Some gravitate toward a mixture of both, Garthe says.

“But there are a number of barriers, stigma, discrimination, and negative interactions that victims experience when seeking help,” she adds. “We need to continue to support the providers from the various systems and organizations on being trauma-informed.”

Recommendations from Study

Garthe and her team came up with 11 recommendations for the ICJIA, whose mission is to improve the administration of justice in Illinois. “Our report assists the ICJIA’s Victim Services Planning Committee in ensuring effective and efficient services for victims, helping guide funding decisions and policymaking,” Garthe says.

Among the recommendations were:

  • Creating more accessible, accommodating, welcoming, culturally competent, gender-responsive, inclusive, and equitable environments for all victims.
  • Enhancing services to better serve underrepresented groups and to decrease experiences with discrimination and inequities when receiving formal services.
  • Creating more primary prevention programs within communities to reduce the needs for interventions, enhance education around victimization, and strengthen knowledge of available resources and supports.
  • Enhancing and evaluating virtual services as the pandemic continues so that victims can still access high-quality support and assistance.

“We heard from youth and adults that victim services need to be more trauma-informed, accessible, and equitable,” Garthe says. “Thus, there is an urgent need for all systems of care to take a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach. In order to be more victim-centered and trauma-informed, systems of care across Illinois need more training, support, collaboration, and accountability. “

VPRL Mission and Student Experiences

The VPRL studies the development and prevention of dating violence/intimate partner violence, bullying, cyber-victimization, stalking, sexual violence, and other forms of violence during adolescence and young adulthood. “We had PhD, MSW, and BSW students assisting with this project,” Garthe says. “The lab provides students with opportunities to work on federal and state research grants, to participate in the design of research projects, to lead and participate in academic papers and presentations, and to collaborate with other researchers, community stakeholders, and grant program officers.”

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