Chapter 12

Multi-Cultural Issues

Abstract: The racial and ethnic diversity of the United States has changed considerably in the last few decades. An increasing proportion of Latino, Asian and African Americans have been interwoven with the European American population. With this transition, victim assistance professionals are faced with new challenges. Recognizing and respecting individual cultural differences are important to sensitive and effective work with victims. In addition, differences in concepts of suffering and healing can influence how a victim may experience the effects of victimization and the process of recovery.

Learning Objectives: Upon completion of this chapter, students will understand the following:

1. The vast array of cultural differences among the people of the United States.

2. Basic principles of culturally-competent and culturally-sensitive interaction with crime victims.

3. Specific practices that will enable victim assistance professionals to provide appropriate services to crime victims of various cultures.


The term "culture" can be reasonably applied to various population categories. There are cultures or subcultures, for example, that reflect differences of age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and geographic region. Each of these groups employ particular ways of viewing and meeting the challenges, traumas, and triumphs of life. For this discussion, however, culture represents race and ethnicity. It is this diversity that both enriches and obstructs much of our involvement and interaction with others.

Across America, racial and ethnic heritages are being dramatically interwoven. An array of languages, religions, customs, and traditions is infusing our nation with both vibrancy and challenge. Molefi Asante, chair of African American Studies at Temple University has stated:

"Once America was a microcosm of European nationalities,
today America is a microcosm of the world."

Such an occurrence is not necessarily the harbinger of chaos. Inevitably and even enthusiastically, this emergence must be accepted and endorsed.

The criminal justice system is not exempt from the consequences of these demographic changes that are generating a new definition of "American." As the European American population continues to decrease in relative percentage, there is a corresponding and accelerating increase of Latino, Asian, and African Americans. This raises the following concerns or questions for victim service providers:

Diversity Within Diversity

There are two eternal truths about human beings:

When the distinctiveness of others is considered, there can be a tendency to over-generalize in order to highlight the commonalties within cultural identities. The variety within cultural groups, however, may be obscured by the emphasis placed in distinguish-ing between them. Any aggregate labeling of people is, in other words, part logic and part insult.

The term "Indian," for example, was a misnomer foisted upon the Arawak tribe of the southeastern United States by an errant Italian navigator who had set sail for India. It is now (mistakenly) used to describe all the native populations of the Western Hemisphere.

The term "Hispanic" refers to those who share a common language, i.e. Spanish. But not everyone who is from Mexico speaks Spanish, e.g. the native peoples from the central mountains.

Just as it is presumptuous to consider a Bostonian Irishman, an Anglo-California yuppie, a Jewish Greenwich Village artist, a Texas rodeo star, and a New Age Santa Fe vegetarian as all the same because they are coincidentally "white," it is just as unwise to render all "Latinos" (or Asians or African Americans) as inherently alike. As Ross, Millen, and Martinez have pointed out, "There are some ways in which any particular Chicano is like all other Chicanos, and there are some ways in which a particular Chicano is like no other Chicano."

Points to Reflect Upon in Providing Services

What "Culturally-Sensitive Service" is Not

Color Blindness

I haven't noticed that you are different. We are all humans. We all have the same feelings. I don't care if you are pink, green or purple.

Presumably with good intentions to treat everyone equally, such overtures are sometimes made by victim counselors. There is, however, no universal response to suffering. The role of racial experience and cultural history cannot be readily dissolved into some melting pot of generic humanity. As Tello states:

"What it (color blindness) does demonstrate is the service provider's inability to understand and articulate these differences. When this occurs, the service provider may attempt to justify his or her own position by mini-mizing the role of culture."

Individual experiences in culture, language and identity serve to filter and shape how a person perceives events and reacts to both small and life-altering events. As Parsons writes:

"Ethnic identification is an irreducible entity, central to how persons organize experience."

Memorizing Cultural Idiosyncrasies

Service to culturally diverse crime victims is not primarily a command of every minute custom or memorization of an encyclopedia of rigid "do's and don'ts." This would be an impossible task.

This will help one gain a personal feel for the culture, and to know people from the perspective they see themselves rather than focus upon their isolated behaviors and "unusual thinking."

Case Example of Multi-cultural Healing in the Aftermath of Victimization:
In the aftermath of Patrick Purdy's deadly rifle assault on the schoolchildren of Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California in 1989, for example, there was an outpouring of concern and support from across the nation. Five children had been killed and 29 children and one teacher wounded. Two of the central events in the healing process for the Cambodian and Vietnamese surviving family members were the Buddhist funeral service and a subsequent ceremonial purification of the school grounds for the purpose of "releasing" the children's spirits.
These rituals were strange for the local district attorney's victim assistance staff, but their involvement in facilitating and participating in these events, their willingness to depend upon the Buddhist monks for leadership, and their efforts to quickly learn (only) the most important Southeast Asian mourning customs were keys to being helpful.

Diversity of Victim Service Providers

Race is not the same as culture. There are, for example, "Black Portuguese" residing in the United States. These persons are racially black African but culturally Portuguese as the result of colonization and slavery on the islands off the coast of Africa. Same ethnicity, moreover, does not itself mean biculturally competent. A particular counselor's favorable cross-cultural experiences predict effectiveness with diverse victims more than simply identical race or ethnicity.

Basic Qualifications of Culturally-Competent Service

Compassion and Sincerity

Most minorities have developed a sharp sense for detecting condescension, manipulation, and insincerity. There is no substitute for compassion as the foundation and sincerity as its expression for carrying out victim services equally and fairly. Although it is not possible to feel the same compassion for all victims, it is the responsibility of providers to provide the same compassionate service for every victim. Compassionate and sincere advocacy knows no borders.

The plight of undocumented residents or illegal aliens, for example, involves complex issues of personal prejudices and international politics. Sentiments among Americans regarding the clandestine migration of those who seek a better life here, mostly from Mexico and Central America, range from compassion for the safety and dignity of those fleeing poverty and war to border vigilante hunts and savage beatings.


Respect is withholding ethnocentric judgements about the cultural practices of others. A place of remembrance for a deceased person, for example, is often found in an Asian home.

"After my father died, my mother placed his photograph on the hutch in the dining area of her home. She offers the best of the fruit she buys at the market and the first plate of anything she cooks is placed next to the photograph. It is her way of honoring the over 55 years of married life they shared. This custom may be strange to most Westerners, but it is a Japanese and Buddhist tradition to have an ancestral altar" (Dr. Brian Ogawa, Author).

Respect also means not minimizing the experience of others. In the inner city of Los Angeles, gang and drug-related homicides are common. When one particular slaying occurred, the newspaper headline routinely announced, "Just Another Day in South Central." The familiar scenario of young black males seeking reprisal for a cocaine buy gone awry was present. The alarming difference in this case was that the victims were two mistakenly killed teenage girls. For their parents, loved ones, and friends, this was not just another day.

As one of the girl's mothers stated to me, gang violence and the fear it brought to her neighborhood were never acceptable. There was never a "tolerance of crime" merely because it was an everyday occurrence. The day her daughter died was not and can never be ordinary. It is the deepest tragedy which will repeatedly pierce her heart through many years.

Delivery of Services

Translating Standard Materials

A frequent method of outreach to non-English speaking victims is to provide translated materials with portrayals of racially diverse people. When the translation explains how to seek a restraining order, to locate the courthouse and prosecutor's office, to apply for criminal injuries compensation, or to complete forms, such multi-lingual brochures and handbooks improve accessibility to the criminal justice system. Key words in English should also be included to enhance recognition and familiarity. However, several points are important to consider:

Victim counseling materials that are developed from within a culture and then translated into English so that an understanding can be gained for what is relevant for that culture would be helpful. However, few such materials exist today. This remains an area for further work and development.

Agency Organization and Outreach

The manner in which we organize our agencies may unknowingly deny or hinder entry to various groups. The responsibility for delivery of services rests with the providers and not with (potential) recipients.

Initial Contact

The first contact minorities have with the criminal justice system will either confirm or dispel suspicion as to how they will be treated.

In working with immigrant, refugee, or native populations, it is also helpful to learn a few words of greeting from that culture.

The Native Hawaiian word "aloha," for example, has been frequently corrupted. The root "ha" refers to the "breath of life," the giving (exhaling) and receiving (inhaling) of life itself. As a greeting, it means the imparting of life to others and the acknowledgment of accepting life from others. When the "ha" is crudely enunciated, it collapses the spiritual essence of this meaning.

The Asian home is a sanctuary wherein various rules and proprieties are followed. Knowing this, a victim service provider should be observant and alert to cues as to appropriate words and actions, rather than be consumed by anxiety about committing mistakes.

Appraise Your Prejudices

Darnell Hawkins, a sociologist in the Black Studies Department at the University of Illinois-Chicago, states:

"Black victims of crime in general are not treated seriously, particularly if the offender is also black."

Attitudes toward black women especially are rooted in the long period of legalized slavery in America and profligated by current prejudices. Black women were the sexual property of white slave masters. Since they had no rights to resist or protest, there was no definition of rape to protect them and thus no legal recourse.

Today, many black women assume they will be treated unfairly by police and prosecutors when they do report rape. Any rape case where there is little corroborating evidence, such as eyewitnesses or physical injuries to substantiate the charges against a defendant, presents obstacles. When the woman is black, there appears to be greater reluctance by legal authorities to proceed beyond preliminary investigation.

Black women, in other words, may be burdened with stereotypes about being sex objects and solicitors. As Evelyn White recites,

"We are considered evil but self-sacrificing . . . sexually inhibited yet promis-cuous. Covered by what is considered our seductively rich but repulsive brown skin . . . society finds it difficult to believe that we really need physical and emotional support just like everybody else."

When racism invades criminal proceedings, it subverts the very concept of justice being blind. In a California prosecutor's office, for example, an assistant district attorney was heard to have made this comment about a young white woman who had been beaten by her African American husband: "She deserves it because she married a nigger." In the mind of this prosecutor, any white woman who is in an intimate relationship with a black male (and perhaps any minority male) has somehow abrogated her rights to ordinary sympathy and legal protection. His attitude universally degrades women and marks any black male as a dangerous partner.

Responding to Hate Crimes

Resistance to rapid ethnographic changes due to large-scale immigration has amassed with long-standing racial bigotry, to produce a climate of racial tension. Whether or not this constitutes an adjustment period to form a more pluralistic society or the brewing of polarization is unknown. With the incidents of ethnoviolence spreading, the signs are not encouraging.

Key questions to consider in responding to hate or bias crimes include:

The ironic effect of any personal prejudice jeopardizing the quality of services to victims of hate crimes is that these victims have been found to suffer more symptoms of post-traumatic stress than other violent crime victims. According to a National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence survey of such victims:

"The substantive character of these responses is quite serious, ranging from psychophysiological problems indicative of great stress (higher levels of depression and withdrawal, increased sleep difficulties, anxiety and loss of confidence) to an extraordinary percentage reporting serious interpersonal difficulties with friends and significant others." (Forum, 5:1, p.6)

Developing a Cross-Cultural Style

Avoid Misuse and Distortion of Cultural Values

On April 14, 1989 Ramon Salcido, a Mexican vineyard worker in California, murdered his daughters, his wife, his mother-in-law, his sister-in-law, and an employer. Alcohol and jealousy fueled Salcido's "journey of destruction," which resulted in the worst mass homicide in the history of Sonoma County. The media accounts portrayed Salcido as a "hot-blooded Latin who gloried in machismo." This implied that his gruesome acts were somehow culturally-based in the characteristic way Latino men treat their wives.

Mexican culture, in other words, is not pathological as has been assumed by those who have regarded machismo as promoting wife-battering. Indeed, it is the balance of relationships in Latino families which provides the safeguards preventing domestic strife. Ramon Salcido is an aberration of his cultural heritage, as any criminal is of any culture. His savage act was a failure to fulfill machismo, not a fated demonstration of it.

Case Example of Cultural Meanings of Mental Health Terms
The therapist told Kim that she needed to "heal the child within her." Kim, a Southeast Asian refugee, listened in astonishment and became very nervous and agitated. She wondered how this Caucasian woman could know that she was pregnant when Kim herself was unaware of this. More so, she did not want another child by her abusive husband! Noticing the look of anguish in her client's face, the therapist hurriedly explained that the term "child within" was not to be taken literally. It was merely an expression from a popular Western therapy that meant the "spirit" of a child within someone. Hearing this explanation, Kim fled the room.

Upon returning to the shelter where she was staying, Kim tearfully announced to a staff member that the spirit of the child she had lost through miscarriage several months earlier was distressed and trapped inside of her! It was many hours before Kim could be assured that her fears were needless.

Evaluate Mental Health Concepts

A critical need for Kim and other battered Asian immigrant or refugee women is therefore to regain a sense of belonging. Without her traditional family ties through her husband, Kim became an oddity in the Southeast Asian community. Her isolation needed to be ameliorated by a strong base of support provided by other women in the shelter.

Case Example of Native American Self-Treatment
The Sioux, for example, practice a form of self-treatment called wacinko. This is a sort of "time-out" by which the person intentionally sets aside active and non-productive involvement in a stressful situation.

This practice has been frequently misdiagnosed by Western psychiatrists as a reactive depressive illness marked by withdrawal.

Wacinko is in fact a solution to a problem, a trust that a resolution will naturally occur. This is a cultural form of healing in which passivity is not hopelessness but hopefulness.

Culturally-Appropriate Listening

Listening is fundamental to human relationships and counseling. The principles and manner of listening, however, differ across cultures.

Many Western cultures, on the other hand, value direct eye contact as a sign of sympathy or respect. Looking elsewhere is seen as disinterest, evasiveness, or rudeness. Misunderstanding can accordingly occur if some allowance is not made for these differences.

Learning From Diversity

Serving diverse crime victims is not just learning about other races and cultures, a collection of information and facts. It is learning from them. Unless we covet the wisdom and experience of other people and allow these to have a personal effect upon our lives, we will fail to appreciate the tremendous contributions they can make to our comprehending suffering and the process of healing.

A key principle in Eastern psychotherapies, for example, is that "life is attention." Life is only that which occupies our attention. Where attention goes, in other words, life energy follows. It is therefore crucial to be practical and purposeful to what and to whom we give our attention.

Promising Practices

Multi-Cultural Victim Services

1. Acknowledgement of the different and valid cultural definitions of personal well-being and recovery from traumatic events.

2. Support of the sophisticated and varied cultural pathways to "mental health" and incorporate these into appropriate victim services and referrals.

3. Extensive cultural awareness training and competency testing to enable victim assistance staff to have the capacity to understand persons whose thinking, behavior, and expressive modes are culturally different.

4. Multiethnic and multilingual teamwork as a resource to implement and monitor effective victim services.

5. Cross-cultural perspective to benefit from the principles and methods of other cultures.

(Brian K. Ogawa, D.Min., Director, National Academy for Victim Studies, Department of Criminal Justice, University of North Texas, Denton, TX. Excerpted from Focus on the Future: A Prosecutor's Guide to Victim Assistance, National Victim Center, sponsored by the Office for Victims of Crime, 1994.)
Self Examination Chapter 12

Multi-Cultural Issues

1) Define the term "culture." Describe the array of cultures that are present in your community.

2) In what way might two people of a particular race or ethnicity be similar, and in what ways might they be different?

3) List three principles that should form the foundation of your interaction with crime victims from any culture.

4) Describe three practices that would be beneficial in your work with crime victims of different cultural backgrounds.

5) Identify at least two different philosophies of life and healing that may influence the way a victim views victimization and recovery.

Branch, T. (1988). Parting the waters: America in the King years 1954-63. New York: Simon & Shuster.

Crow Dog, M. & Erdoes, R. (1990). Lakota woman. New York: Grove Weidenfeld.

Deloria, V., Jr. (1973). God is red. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.

DuBois, W.E.B. (1903). The souls of black folk (1969 ed.). New York: New American Library.

Kempsky, N. (1989, October). A report to the Attorney General John K. Van de Kamp on Patrick Edward Purdy and the Cleveland school killings. Sacramento, CA: Office of the Attorney General.

Ogawa, B. (1990). Color of justice. Sacramento, CA: Office of the Governor, Office of Criminal Justice Planning.

Parson, E. (1985). Ethnicity and traumatic stress: The intersecting point in psychotherapy. In C. Figley (Ed.), Trauma and its wake: The study and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (pp.314-337). New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Pedersen, P.B., Draguns, J.G., Lonner, W.J., & Trimble, J.E. (Eds.). (1989). Counseling across cultures. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Takaki, R. (1989). Strangers from a different shore. Boston: Little, Brown.

White, E.C. (Ed.). (1990). The black women's health book. Seattle: Sage Press.

Wilson, J.P. (1989). Trauma, transformation and healing. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Young, M.A. (1994). Responding to communities in crisis. Washington, DC: National Organization for Victim Assistance.

Additional Suggested Reading

Bastian, L. D. (1990, January). Bureau of Justice Statistics special report: Hispanic victims. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Hamilton, J. A. (1989). Emotional consequences of victimization and discrimination in "special populations" of women. Women's Disorders, 12 (1), 35-51.

Hawkins, D. F. (c. 1986). Homicide among black americans. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Levinson, D. (c. 1989). Family violence in cross-cultural perspective. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Ohio Coalition on Sexual Assault (1991, August). Guidelines for providing culturally appropriate crisis intervention. Columbus, OH: Author.

Shriner, S. (1992). Victim programs to serve native americans. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime.

Sue, D. W. and Sue, D. (c. 1990). Counseling the Culturally Different: Theory and Practice. New York: Wiley.

United States Commission on Civil Rights (1992, February). Civil rights issues facing Asian Americans in the 1990s. Washington, DC: Author.

Whitaker, C. J. (1990, April). Special report: Black victims. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Young, M. A. (1992). Cross-cultural service delivery. The road to victim justice: Mapping strategies for service. A series of regional raining conferences: National Organization for Victim Assistance and National Victim Center.

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