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Victim Focus Groups

ocus groups were the final component of the VS2000 Victim Services Needs Assessment. These groups were formed to obtain information from Denver's unserved and underserved victims of crime. Focus groups were used because they are able to elicit more precise and indepth information about the experiences and opinions of hard-to-reach populations than surveys. Underserved populations in Denver include American Indians, African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, new immigrants, non-English-speaking individuals, the disabled, the elderly, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered victims.

The focus groups tried to elicit information about the types of crime that most affect underserved populations and how comfortable and knowledgeable they were about available services and the criminal justice system. Furthermore, the focus groups tried to find out what the underserved populations thought would make positive changes occur. Focus group questions were formulated to specifically find out certain information, including the reasons why these groups do not access services, what would need to change for them to access services, and what were the gaps in services and possible avenues of outreach to these communities.

For a focus group model, VS2000 relied on Richard A. Krueger's excellent book Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research. This book provided valuable advice on effective group facilitation, development of questions, group makeup and dynamics, and data analysis.

Recruitment of Focus Group Participants

The Focus Group Committee and VS2000 staff assumed that lack of trust, prior negative experience, and language and cultural barriers contributed to the underuse of services. It was also assumed that these factors would make the identification of potential focus group participants difficult. To transcend these barriers, focus group participants were recruited via community "gatekeepers."

Gatekeepers are individuals who are part of or have access to a particular group, but who are also involved in the broader community beyond that group. They are trusted, respected, and are often sought out by community members needing aid and advice. Gatekeepers can include community leaders, members of faith communities, business owners, community police officers, and service providers. The Focus Group Committee identified and contacted these gatekeepers and asked them to recruit focus group participants. VS2000 staff drafted a letter explaining Denver VS2000, the purpose of the focus groups, and what participants could expect when attending a session.

Gatekeepers were given this letter to help them recruit, since many of them were not familiar with the project. When gatekeepers found a potential participant, they explained the purpose and procedure of the focus groups and obtained the recruit's permission to be contacted by VS2000 staff. If still interested after an introductory telephone call, the recruits were sent a letter listing available dates and locations of groups to choose from. Additional recruitment efforts consisted of placing ads in neighborhood newspapers, newsletters, and bulletins. Incentives to encourage participation included the provision of childcare, transportation, refreshments, and a $20 stipend for each group member.

Each recruit received two letters—one for selecting which session they would attend and one to confirm their choice. In addition, each received at least two phone calls—one was an introduction and a screening interview and one reconfirmed their attendance the day before the session. Of the approximately 50 individuals initially contacted, 35 agreed to participate, while only 24 actually attended the focus group sessions. The attendees came from the following diverse populations: African American, American Indian, Asian American, the elderly, Latino, monolingual Spanish-speaking, the disabled, African immigrant, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and the indigent.

Implementation of Focus Groups

Four focus groups, each with four to eight participants, were conducted. Spanish-speaking victims were in a separate group, as they required Spanish-speaking facilitators. The other groups were racially and culturally mixed. Their bond was that they were all victims of crime.

Focus groups were held at neutral and easily accessed locations, such as libraries, museums, and community centers. Efforts were made to make the meeting space as appealing and comfortable as possible. Participants were seated around a tablecloth-covered table. The table provided a place to lean and a means of cover so the participants would not feel physically exposed as they might if only seated in chairs. Name tents were placed in front of each participant, and food and drink were provided.

A moderator and assistant moderator facilitated each group and a scribe took notes. The moderator had experience facilitating discussion groups and knew how to establish conversational ground rules, use conversational probes, handle overbearing participants, encourage information from shier participants, and keep the group on track by focusing the discussion. The moderator had to maintain an atmosphere of open, casual interchange. The assistant moderator helped facilitate the group and took notes on responses, attitudes, and trends. The scribe recorded the verbatim responses to the questions. In VS2000's groups, the scribe wrote the responses on large pieces of paper taped to the walls so participants could view them and ask for corrections if what they meant was something different from what was written. Each 2-hour session was tape recorded with the permission of participants.

The same individuals who facilitated the focus groups also analyzed the data for each group to ensure consistency in analysis. The assistant moderator's notes, the information recorded by the scribe, and the audiotape were studied and summarized.

Results of Focus Groups

The information from the focus groups proved to be some of the most interesting, enlightening, and helpful of any that was generated by the VS2000 Needs Assessment. The main themes arising from the focus groups were that victims did not trust that services would meet their needs even when the services had been designed for their demographics; that victims would not usually access services outside their community even when they had knowledge of those services; and that victims wanted service providers to bring services to them and ask them what they needed rather than just tell them what is available.

Focus group participants wanted victim services to be

  • Holistic and humanistic, recognizing and addressing the multiple layers of obstacles to getting needs met and offering counseling for victims beyond what victim compensation or Medicaid provide.

  • Community-based, located in their neighborhood and provided by individuals who are members of their community or neighborhood.

  • Respectful, valuing the diversity of victims, offering services in the victim's language and in a culturally competent manner, and acknowledging the unique barriers to accessing services experienced by many ethnic and culturally diverse communities.

  • Accessible, applying flexible criteria for access to services, serving people where they are, offering an array of services and allowing victims to choose what they need, and not requiring that forms be filled out each time services are accessed.

  • Restorative in nature, holding offenders accountable to victims, seeking restitution that benefits the victim, and involving the community and its members.
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OVC Bulletin, October 2000
Denver Victim Services 2000 Needs Assessment
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