As an occupation, victim assistance is characterized by a variety of organizations and agencies with a wide range of functions, as well as by a variety of practitioners with diverse backgrounds, qualifications, and perceptions of practice. This diversity provides a challenge to the conceptualization and realization of victim assistance as a professional discipline.
Upon completion of this chapter, students will understand the following concepts:
The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) describes the occupation of victim assistance as "a full-fledged advocacy and service field dedicated to meeting the physical, financial, and psychological needs of victims and their families" (OVC 1998, 153). This broad description provides a general definition of the purpose and activities of both organizations and individual practitioners.
Organizations may choose to be comprehensive and serve all types of crime victims (such as prosecutor-based programs) or be selective and serve only certain types of crime victims (such as rape crisis/sexual assault centers). Organizations may be government-based, private, or a combination of the two. Service delivery may be local, state, regional, national, or cross two of more of these jurisdictions.
Individual service providers range from full-time paid employees to part-time volunteers; from those with advanced degrees in social services, criminal or juvenile justice, health care, and other disciplines to those with no formal education; from those whose life history does not include personal criminalvictimization to those who have survived the trauma of criminal victimization committed against them or a loved one.
The diversity of organizations and individuals who serve crime victims presents a challenge to the field's emergence as a profession. The task for the emerging profession of victim assistance is to define the components and aspects of the profession, assess the extent of professionalization already achieved, and develop strategies to achieve further progress.
The Professionalization Continuum
In the early study of professions, scholars identified a set of specific criteria that could be applied to occupations in order to determine their status. In a time when society was served by relatively few professions--i.e., medicine, law, and religion most noted (Carr-Saunders 1966; Wilensky 1964), the identification of a cluster of traits or stages was appropriate. As society became more economically and socially complex through industrialization, urbanization, and bureaucratization, the study of professions shifted from this rigid, static concept of essential components towards recognizing professionalization as a dynamic process in which an occupation could strive towards the ideal of a profession. Instead of asking "whether . . . any particular group is `really a profession,' . . . it is much more fruitful to ask `how professionalized,' or more specifically `how professionalized in certain identifiable respects' a given occupation may be" (Vollmer and Mills 1966, vii).
The concept of professionalization as a dynamic process suggests a continuum with various occupations distributed between the two extremes. There is a constant push from occupational groups to become more professional and to claim public recognition as a profession. The essence of these emerging or marginal professions is that the occupation is in a transitional state between non-professional and professional (Barber 1963).
Placement on the continuum is not stagnant. Professions evolve due to the interactive effects of increasing specialization and the necessity for professional association with one another. Evolution is further accelerated by complexity in society and by an ever-expanding knowledge base (Houle, Cyphert, and Boggs 1987). The concept of professionalization as a dynamic process allows for consideration of the extent or degree of professionalization that an occupation has achieved based on various characteristics.
Cyril Houle (1980) suggests three groups of characteristics that reflect the professionalization of an occupation: conceptual, performance, and collective identity.
Historically, professionals were free agents and practiced independently. In modern society, however, they are increasingly employed by bureaucratic organizations, which can place important restrictions on the autonomy of the professional. The functions and values of these two institutions--the profession and the organization--may create conflicts between the professional and the organization.
Evolving societal needs also affect the mission of a profession. Professional knowledge is "pluralistic, socially constructed, contextually defined, and constantly altering" (Baskett 1993, 15). The public perception of a profession's mission and purpose evolves over time as social circumstances change. Social perception, however, may conflict with that expressed by the profession.
The stated mission of the victim assistance discipline offered by OVC is broad enough to include all types of victim service practitioners. However, the mission may not always operate in complete congruence with the values or priorities of the employing organization or the community.
Mastery of theoretical knowledge. Theory and philosophy provide a guide to describe and understand the problems and circumstances of the world as they apply to the particular occupational area. A profession need not have its own unique theoretical foundation; newer professions in particular draw upon existing theoretical fields in order to understand the unique features of practice. Young (1993) notes that there is "growing acceptance of the theoretical underpinnings of the field of victimology and victim assistance" (p. 397). Victimology as a discipline is typically considered within the realm of criminology. The field of victim assistance, though, draws from many disciplines, including sociology, psychology, biology, and education.
Capacity to solve problems. Houle (1980) proposes that "the ultimate test of the success of a professional is the ability to solve problems (or decide that they cannot be solved), and those problems usually involve vital and deeply significant outcomes" (p. 43). The problems faced by professionals tend to be characterized by uniqueness, uncertainty, or value conflict. "How one frames professional problems and the range of solutions available are what differentiates an expert from a novice" (Bennet and Fox 1993).
Problem solving is a primary function of victim assistance. The role of victim assistance in "helping victims assess where they are, where they want to go, and how to get there" (Friedman and Tucker 1997) reflects the dynamic of problem solving. Regardless of the type of offense or whether there are numerous victims associated with one crime, such as the 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, each and every victimization bringsunique circumstances that do not necessarily follow a predictable and orderly model or respond to a specific technique of intervention.
Use of practical knowledge. A professional area should have a substantial body of knowledge and techniques that reflect the practical application of the field. Practical knowledge is the techniques and strategies, based in theoretical inquiry, that have been found useful through experience. The increased presence of victim assistance literature, including academic journals, books, newsletters, Web sites and listserv discussion groups, is evidence of the applied literature and resources that help to expand practitioners' skill base.
Self-enhancement. Finally, Houle promotes the value of self-enhancement as a professional characteristic. Self-enhancement refers to the continued pursuit of knowledge and understanding in those areas of study and interest not directly related to the occupation. This is valuable not only for the insights, perspectives, and creativity gained by rounded learning, but also for self-preservation and personal vitality. A balanced self is critical for effective victim assistance practice which, by nature, is characterized by unique stressors that may lead to ineffective practice.
COLLECTIVE IDENTITY CHARACTERISTICS
Formal training. This characteristic refers to the "formal processes for the transmission of the explanatory theories, doctrines (systems of values), applied theories, and practice theories" (Harris 1993, 34). Education--characteristically formal, university-based programs of study--is seen as one of the key determinants of all other professional characteristics. Formal training is considered a lifelong endeavor for the professional and, as such, includes continuing professional education. Houle (1980) notes that "the necessity to keep on learning throughout life seems so obvious to the leaders of most professions that they believe its self-evidence will cause it to be internalized within the value system and pattern of actions of every practitioner" (p. 85).
Formal university-based pre-service programs, though limited in number, do exist in the field of victim services. A review of victim assistance education programs (DeHart 1998) found that half of the existing programs were at least connected to universities. The others identified were state- or private-based programs not associated with an academic institution. Many of the education programs reviewed could be considered continuing education programs, university-based and otherwise.
Credentialing. Credentialing is a mechanism for setting standards of competency. It is the formal means of identifying individuals by occupational group. There are variations of credentialing that reflect different levels of requirements and oversight. The Office for Victims of Crime (1998) recommends the development of national certification standards for victim assistance. Universities, state agencies with regulatory authority, and professional associations currently offer varying aspects of credentialing in victim services (DeHart 1998).
Creation of a subculture. A profession should nurture a subculture of attributes that distinguishes it from other occupations. This subculture promotes a professional identity that enhances the field's uniqueness. The formal institutions of the universities, professional associations, and work organizations serve as venues for the socialization of the professional subculture. Furthermore, continuing professional education also enhances the sense of professional affiliation and identity.
A dynamic of victim assistance that affects the professional subculture is the grass roots nature of the field. Historically, victim services were started and rendered by "predominantly lay people: volunteers and former victims" (Davis and Henley 1990, 163). The subculture of victim assistance includes an awareness of the relatively brief history of the field through the literature (OVC 1998; Young 1990), pre-service education, and continuing education. Job titles continue to be a source of variability and confusion. Practitioners lack a common identifying job title and clear and required standards for entering the field. Even the terminology reflects the diversity of approaches such as the often impassioned discourse on the term "victim" versus "survivor."
Legal reinforcement. Professions should seek legislative, judicial, and administrative support or rulings to protect the rights of practice, such as the right to practice the profession and the right to maintain confidentiality. According to one perspective, professions vie for exclusivity or monopoly of practice. In order to do this, an occupation must develop a special relationship, a regulative bargain, with the state that is conditioned and approved by the political power network.
Privileged communication or confidentiality is one of the most important of professional privileges and is owed in return for the trust that a client places in a professional. In many cases, though, the relationship between a victim advocate and a victim is not protected under law. Approximately one-half of all states have some type of law established in the area of victim protection concerning disclosure of confidential information shared with counselors and advocates.
Victim assistance has gained little in the way of legal reinforcement of professional activities. Many of the practice elements may be considered within the domain of other occupational areas; thus, "the multiple and competing professional organizations may be divisive" (Hall 1968) and may resist the professionalization and legitimization of victim services.
Public acceptance. The general public should be made aware of a profession's value to society. "The inception of a new occupation implies that certain specific work activities are valued enough such that those activities become distinctively differentiated from others and publicly recognized" (Moore 1970, 52). Thus, in order to attain professional status, an occupation must engage in image building to increase its social prestige.
Victim assistance has been proactive in public education about violence and victim rights issues. National Crime Victims' Rights Week, for example, is a time when victim service organizations across the nation focus on public awareness and victim outreach. "Increasing public awareness of victimization is critical to ensuring that victims receive the services they need and that victim assistance programs continue to be supported" (OVC 1998, 184). While public education activities may not be exclusively focused on victim assistance as a profession, they do promote awareness of the field's contributions to society.
Ethical practice. Professions should develop guidelines or codes for ethical practice. A professional code of ethics is part informal and part formal, and essentially describes the terms of relations to the client, other professionals, and society. Houle (1980) advises that a code should be "a broad summary of the moral behavior that is expected of every practitioner and that becomes a guiding though constantly reinterpreted tradition, somewhat like the American Bill of Rights" (p. 65-66).
Victim assistance struggles with ethical obligations. For example, most practitioners would identify the victim as its chief client. But practitioners may also be obliged to serve the justice system, which may be in conflict with the needs of the victim as a client. Practitioner competence is another area. Obliged to "undertake only those tasks that are within their competence . . . the determination of what counts as sufficient or minimally adequate competence . . . is a complex problem" (Ozar 1993, 169). At what point during the provision of comprehensive services to victims should/can a practitioner refer to another profession and what is the availability of service by that profession?
The Office for Victims of Crime has recommended a code of ethics for victim service providers (OVC 1998). The National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) are two national organizations that have developed codes of ethics.
Penalties. Professional members who are incompetent or who act in an unethical manner may face penalties that include financial sanctions, exclusion or expulsion from certain areas of practice or from special privileges, and, the ultimate sanction, termination of the right to practice. Professional associations or the state may serve as formal disciplinary bodies.
Though there are state and specialty variations, victim assistance as a field is not unified under a national governmental agency or professional association. While governmental and national entities support initiatives for professionalization, they do not have the authority to establish firm standards for individual practitioners or sanctions against incompetent or unethicalpractitioners. The Office for Victims of Crime has, however, recommended the development of a means of accountability along with the development of a code of ethics (OVC 1998).
Relations to other vocations. There is a need to define and maintain role relationships among the allied occupations. As an occupation becomes professionalized, "a complex and usually ambivalent relationship grows up between them and each of the occupational groups with which they work, particularly those which are more highly professionalized then they are" (Houle 1980, 67). As the technical and social complexity of professional practice evolves, professions may split off into specializations or they may subprofessionalize, that is, the "spinning off to subordinates of professional duties that do not require full professional training" (Moore 1970, 174).
Victim assistance practitioners interact with an array of other professions, most of whom can be considered farther along on the scale of professionalization. Many of the victim assistance tasks may be considered subspecializations of law, mental health, and other fields. However, crime victimization is a unique event (Young 1990) and, as such, the focus on the victim client requires unique knowledge and skills. The challenge for victim assistance is to develop and define its role in collaboration--not conflict--with allied professions. The Office for Victims of Crime has issued a series of recommendations for effective and responsive victim service for all criminal and juvenile justice professions, as well as the professions of health care, mental health, law, education, the faith community, business, and the news media (OVC 1998).
Relations to the users of service. The final characteristic is the formal relationship between practitioners and the people who use their professional services. There are several general models of the professional-client relationship. An interactive model is when both parties have "unique and irreplaceable contributions to make in the decision-making process" (Ozar 1993, 167). This ideal of the professional-client relationship is common to most interactions in modern society. This model is consistent with the view of the professional-client relationship from a reflective practitioner model in which the professional agrees to "help the client understand the meaning of the professional's advice and the rationale for his actions, while at the same time he or she tries to learn the meanings his actions have for his client" (Schon 1983, 297).
While victims do not choose to be victimized, they do have choices in their interactions with the professions. For example, considering that only 38 percent of all crimes are reported to law enforcement (USDOJ 1997), victims exercise fundamental choices about whether to interact with the criminal or juvenile justice system. Since individual needs and responses to victimization vary greatly, services for recovery should be individualized accordingly. Thus, the interactive model of the professional-client relationship is most appropriate.
Barriers to Professionalization
As presented in the discussion of the characteristics of professionalization, victim assistance as an occupational field has only minimally accomplished many of the characteristics. Houle (1980) cautions, however, that the characteristics presented cannot "ever be completely and finally achieved . . . but as an occupational group raises the level of its performance of various characteristics, its right to call itself a profession increases, as does its right to expect society to view it as one . . . a professionalizing vocation must strive towards many goals, and therefore they try to achieve some or all of the characteristics suggested here as well as others that may be unique to their particular work" (p. 74).
As a field, victim assistance must strive to reduce the barriers to professionalization. These barriers include addressing the conflicts among the various service agents regarding consensus of mission or purpose and the lack of occupational identity. The field must address external conflicts with closely related occupations. As an emerging profession, victim assistance must strive for collaboration, not competition. Finally, victim assistance must establish its unique knowledge, expertise, and skills so that professional autonomy may be exercised within the various bureaucratic organizations. The more an organization depends on adaptation and innovation for its survival, the more it will invest itself as a learning organization (Senge 1990) and will encourage professional problem solving.
Comparisons to Other Professions
The second major phase of reforms within the police community occurred during the first half of the 1900s through the late 1960s when police administrators begin to demand that police officers conduct themselves as professionals. This approach involved accepting the position that police officers were knowledgeable and honest and that departments could be effectively administered. This second wave of reform was far more effective than its earlier counterpart, and as a result, police chiefs gained more control over their officers and departments (Wallace, Roberson, and Steckler 1995).
Reform continues to the present day as police chiefs and the departments they run more readily accept the principle that they are a microorganism of the society they serve. Law enforcementofficers typically go through an intensive training or academy program, and increasingly, departments require, or at least give preference to, applicants with college degrees. Police departments have also been more active in connecting with the public through community policing initiatives and community/citizen review boards, thus enhancing public acceptance of and involvement with the profession.
This diversity of educators tends to segment the field into various groups, such as educators of children and educators of adults. As a profession, most educators have had formal university-based training. In most settings, educators are required to have some level of credentials, often a combination of an academic degree and some level of state licensure or certification.
Public acceptance of education as a value to society is relatively high. Educators do tend, and in some states are required, to participate in continuing education; a positive correlation has been found between continuing education and professionalization of the field of education (Jackson 1970; Childers 1993).
Most states or jurisdictions require a formal period of study or internship followed by an examination before a person may practice law. Many states also require attorneys to keep their skills or knowledge updated. These requirements are known by a variety of names, but all involve some sort of formal educational process. For example, in California, attorneys must complete thirty-six hours of education every three years. Eighteen of these hours must be in a formal educational or participatory setting and the other eighteen hours may be self-study that can be accomplished on an individual basis.
A person admitted to the bar in one state must apply for admission to practice in another state. Some states allow attorneys who have been admitted to practice law in another state to "waive" the requirements of a formal examination, assuming a formal application process is made and certain other requirements are met. However, the majority of states require attorneys from other states to pass some sort of examination in order to practice law in their jurisdiction.
Practical Applications in Crime Victim Services
A variety of skills are necessary to enhance the ability of victim service providers to do their jobs well, make a difference in the lives of traumatized victims, and collaborate with allied organizations and the community. There is a wide range of victim services, from basic (very limited) to comprehensive. Typically, the job description of the victim assistance provider is defined by the employing organization. And just as typically, a victim service provider's duties often extend far beyond his or her job title and duty statements.
Victim assistance staff serve in various disciplines, such as child advocacy, domestic violence, sexual assault, law enforcement, prosecutor's programs, community and institutional corrections, juvenile justice system, and emergency assistance. The field of victim services includes volunteers, interns, survivors, caseworkers, administrative staff and social workers. Some victim practitioners have extensive formal education, while others have little or none.
Why do victim service practitioners need to continue their education and skills development in victim services? While advocates are not expected to be "experts" in all areas of service, it is helpful to have basic knowledge of the discipline, as well as requirements of victim advocacy, because:
The old adage that "victim service providers wear a lot of hats" is an understatement. Victim advocates have traditionally been considered "generalists," with a little knowledge about a lot of topics. Service providers are often asked, "What type of background do you have that prepared you to become a victim advocate?" While the answers are varied, from people who have strong academic credentials to survivors of crime who became advocates to effect positive change, one thing is often true: Victim advocacy is a developing profession that has a great deal of "on-the-job training." Little can prepare an individual for the many challenges that victim service providers face in their daily work. Education, experience, commitment, empathy, listening skills, and plenty of courage are assets that are common to, and necessary to affect change in the lives of crime victims and to assume the professional responsibilities of victim advocates across the nation and abroad.
It is important to note that the field of victim advocacy has become very specialized, with professionals developing a great deal of expertise in specific topical areas, particularly in assisting different types of victims, or working within the community non profit area or with government based programs. These specialties are addressed elsewhere throughout the Academy text. This section seeks to describe specific skills and attributes that are commonareas of expertise and skills applicable to many victim service practitioners, regardless of their particular discipline or specialty area.
The following is a list of fifty skills and responsibilities that victim service providers find "common" to the practice of victim assistance, their agencies, the community and their colleagues. These are intended to provide a "snapshot" of the wide variety of skills and capabilities that contribute to effective victim advocacy and service.
National Victim Assistance Standards Consortium
In September 1999, the Center for Child & Family Studies at the University of South Carolina has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime to research and make recommendations concerning issues of standards and credentialing for victim service professionals. As a component of this project, a national Consortium has been selected and convened, comprised of a multidisciplinary group of victim service professionals with a broad range of experience, including direct service, nonprofit advocacy, and governmental/public policy. One of the goals of the Consortium is to build collective expertise on training and practice in victim services.
The Consortium is a cooperative working group, and each member brings unique interests and philosophies to the table. An important concern for the Consortium is development of an inclusive approach based on shared service goals. Professional standards must provide accessibility to persons from diverse backgrounds, including the victim-survivors, grassroots advocates, and volunteers who for so many years have defined the workforce. The Consortium will be vigilant to the number of ways that experience and training prepare practitioners to provide quality service. Together, the varied professionals who comprise the Consortium will draft recommendations on program standards, training development, and professional competency (including ethical standards) for persons who work with victims of crime.
As a means of gathering input from the grassroots components of the victim assistance field, a series of "town hall" meetings were held in four diverse geographical locations: Augusta, ME; Boulder, CO; Topeka, KS; and Austin, TX. These meetings had a blended format--between a traditional town hall and a traditional focus group meeting--to provide a base for the Consortium's thinking. Because much has already been done in the field of victim services to examine roles and perspectives in the field (e.g., New Directions from the Field), the meetings were not intended as exhaustive surveys of the field, but rather as an opportunity to gather an inside view of practitioner concerns regarding training, standards, and other professional development issues.
The Consortium will consider a number of resources in making recommendations for the development of individual and program standards, including: findings from the town hall meetings; academic research pertinent to the development of standards within professions;historical development and evolution of the field of victim services; development of standards in other service-oriented professions; and existing state-based credentialing and other training programs for victim service professionals. Contact: Dr. Dana DeHart, Project Director, National Victim Assistance Standards Consortium (803-777-7867) or email@example.com.
Professionalizing the Discipline of Victim Services Self-Examination
1. What is meant by the conceptual characteristic of a profession? What is the conceptual characteristic of victim assistance?
2. Identify one example of performance characteristics and illustrate how it applies to victim assistance.
3. Identify one example of collective identity characteristics and illustrate how it applies to victim assistance.
4. Identify one barrier to victim assistance professionalization.
5. Describe one of the fifty practical applications in crime victim services that is a priority in your job.