Chapter 7 Respecting Diversity: Responding to

Underserved Crime Victims


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 integrated 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.

The term "culture" can be reasonably applied to various demographic categories. For example, cultures or subcultures can reflect differences by age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and geographic region. Each of these groups has its particular self-identity and lifestyle and employs particular ways of viewing and meeting the 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.

Learning Objectives

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


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

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

Projections for the U. S. population in the year 2000 are 71.8% white, 12.2% African-American, and 11.4% Hispanic. By the year 2030, however, these percentages will be 60.5% white, 18.9% Hispanic, 13.1% African-American, and 6.6% Asian (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1997).

The shift is even more dramatic in some states:

The criminal justice system is not exempt from the consequences of these demographic changes that are generating a new definition of "American" (Ogawa 1998). As Ogawa states:

Crime victims experience their bond of humanness, and therefore also their particular victimization, through a prism replete with racial histories, ethnic colorations, and cultural variations. Every criminal justice and crime victim-related issue is fundamentally multicultural.

As the European-American population continues to decrease in relative proportion, there is a corresponding and accelerating increase of Latino, Asian, and African-American populations. These changes raise the following concerns for victim service providers:


Two eternal truths about human beings are people differ from one another and people are similar to one another. When highlighting the commonalities within cultural identities, overgeneralizations are often made at the risk of overlooking distinctions within these groups. The variety within cultural groups may be obscured by the emphasis placed on distinguishing among cultural groups. In other words, any aggregate labeling of people is part logic and part insult.

For example, the term "Indian" 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. "American Indians," preferably called "Native Americans," are now acknowledged by the Bureau of the Census to be over 500 separate nations and tribes with 187 different languages (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1997).

The term "Hispanic" refers to those who share a common language, i.e. Spanish. However, not everyone who is from a Spanish-speaking country speaks Spanish (for example, the native peoples from the central mountains in Mexico).

Just as it is presumptuous to consider a Boston Irishman, an Anglo-California yuppie, a Greenwich Village Jewish artist, a Texas rodeo star, and a Santa Fe New Age vegetarian as all the same because they are all "white," it would be just as inappropriate to consider 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."

Intertwined throughout our racial and ethnic identities are the distinctions of age, gender, generation, degree of acculturation, and socioeconomic status. "Ecological fallacy" (Robinson 1951, 351) occurs when one fails to consider variables between individuals.

Points to reflect upon in providing services.


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 service providers. 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 minimizing 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 (1985), "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. A stereotypic approach to any victim is obviously simplistic and harmful. Instead, an attempt should be made to learn the significance of several major cultural forms, for example, the meaning to the persons practicing those traditions.

The victim service provider can thus begin to gain an understanding of the culture and a knowledge of the people from the perspective in which they see themselves rather than focusing upon their isolated behaviors and "unusual thinking." A relevant example occurred following a mass murder in Stockton, California:

These rituals were strange to 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 the most important Southeast Asian mourning customs enabled them to truly meet the needs of the victims they served.

Basic Qualifications of Culturally-Competent Service













Culture Destructiveness is the conscious denial of another's culture, and/or the belief that one's own belief system is superior to all others.

Culture Incapacity understands that there are differences among cultures but refuses or does not do anything to change.

Culture Blindness overlooks differences as though they do not exist.

Culture Pre-competence begins to realize that there is a world outside of oneself.

Culture Competence values others and their differences; diversity is recognized and accepted.

Culture Proficiency occurs when diversity works together.


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, providers have the responsibility to provide the same compassionate service to 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. Once in the United States, undocumented aliens become easy prey for employment exploitation, consumer fraud, housing discrimination, and criminal victimization because assistance from government authorities is attached to the fear of deportation. There is an epidemic of sexual assaults, for example, committed upon undocumented Latinas. Their immigration status, however, does not mean that they should receive less protection under America's criminal laws or less right to victim services.


Respect includes withholding ethnocentric judgments 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 (Ogawa 1990).

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 African-American males seeking reprisal for a cocaine buy gone awry was presented. 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, 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 that will never leave her.


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 multilingual 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:

Agency organization and outreach. The manner in which victim service providers organize their 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. It is simplistic to bemoan the scarcity of certain groups utilizing services by attributing this primarily to their lack of education or awareness. Minorities, in fact, often view prevailing services as unresponsive to their needs and uninformed of their preferred practices and beliefs.

Therefore, the methods for reaching culturally diverse victims must include traditional resources within the various communities as well as the inauguration of victim-specific ones. For example, the historical role of African-American churches, the reliance upon Mexican curanderas and Native American shamans, and the social constructs of Asian life must be understood and incorporated. Establishing some type of presence in ethnic neighborhoods, whether store-front offices, mobile crisis units, outreach to homes, or coordination with community-based organizations, is essential.

All victim service agencies need to look inward and examine their internal voice about diversity. In order for agencies to move from rhetoric to the implementation of sound policies and procedures, the following process can be particularly instructive:

- Board of Directors. Persons of diverse cultures and from different backgrounds should sit at the policy making table. The Board or group of advisors should reflect the composition of the community. Those persons should have a grasp of their community's problems and should be willing to actively help address these difficulties. Don't look for participants in the usual ways; be creative! Many times those who are "appointed" may not be the "anointed" community leaders.

- Staff. Understanding that it may not be possible to mirror every aspect of the community, it is important that in the hiring practices ethnic/cultural applicants be given utmost consideration. Staff members must not be tokens to meet some guidelines or quotas; their professional competence, compassion, and all other important elements that makeup the qualifications for the position, must be taken into account. In addition, agencies should carefully note whether or not persons of ethnic and diverse cultures are a part of agency management. This can be a real statement of empowerment and commitment to inclusiveness.

- Clients. Do the persons who use victim services, such as crime victims, family members, and significant others, represent the diverse population of the community? If so, how? For example, if clients in a rape crisis center avail themselves of medical treatment but are reluctant to participate in counseling, the agency should examine this pattern and the reasons for it, and proactively address it by making the necessary paradigm shifts.

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. Proper pronunciation of a person's surname is an excellent place to start. Surnames also have histories and meaning that allow conversation beyond introduction. In working with immigrant, refugee, or native populations, it is also helpful to learn a few words of greeting from that culture.

The Asian home is a sanctuary wherein various rules and proprieties are followed. 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, observed that "Black victims of crime in general are not treated seriously, particularly if the offender is also black."

Attitudes toward African-American women especially are rooted in the long period of legalized slavery in America and proliferated by current prejudices. African-American 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 African-American 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 a female rape victim is African-American, there appears to be greater reluctance by legal authorities to proceed beyond preliminary investigation.

When racism invades criminal proceedings, it subverts the concept of justice being blind.

Responding to hate crimes. Recently, our country has been replete with stories of horrific displays of violence based on hate crime:

Resistance to current, rapid ethnographic changes due to large-scale immigration has joined 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.

In 1995, there were 7,947 incidents of hate crimes reported to the FBI. Sixty-one percent were motivated by racial basis and 10 percent by ethnicity/national origin bias. There were 10,469 victims, including twenty murder victims (FBI 1997). KLANWATCH, however, estimates the number of hate crimes to be five times the FBI's numbers (APA 1995, 1).

The following are key questions to consider in responding to hate or bias crimes:

Developing a Cross-Cultural Style


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 is any criminal is of any culture. His savage act was a failure to achieve machismo, not a fated demonstration of it.

Renee Candalaria-Brent, a Puerto Rican woman and the Community Educator for Rape Crisis Volunteers of Cumberland County in Fayetteville, North Carolina, says: "I'm not sure if victim service providers know or understand that one problem that Hispanic victims face is the fact that not all have the same status in the United States. Puerto Ricans are one of the few Hispanic groups who are automatically U.S. citizens, regardless if they are born in Puerto Rico or the U.S. They have the same rights and privileges as U.S. citizens."

She goes on to point out that individuals who are born in other Latin American countries or on Caribbean Islands such as the Dominican Republic are not U.S. citizens and have to apply for citizenship. This lack of citizenship may keep individuals from coming forward when they are victims of crime because they fear deportation.

It is also a challenge for agencies to provide services for victims who are sponsored in this country by their abusers.

Case example of the crucial importance of mental health terms. A 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.

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.

Rather than individual therapy, Kim needed to learn how to maintain and broaden her linkages to others, including gaining sufficient proficiency in English to secure employment and networking with other single parents. Western views of normality should also be carefully applied.

Case example of Native American self-treatment. The Sioux practice a form of self-treatment called wacinko. This is a sort of "time-out" by which the person intentionally sets aside active and nonproductive 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.


Listening is fundamental to human relationships and counseling. The principles and manner of listening, however, differ across cultures. Asians and Pacific Islanders, for example, deflect direct eye contact in conversation as a sign of patient listening and deference. Words are believed lost through the force of personalities when attention is drawn to physical presence and posturing. Staring is therefore considered impolite and confrontational.

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 occur if some allowance is not made for these differences.


Five core tenets of providing quality multicultural victim services are:

1. Acknowledgment 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 incorporation of 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.


Serving diverse crime victims well means not just learning about other races and cultures (a collection of information and facts), but also learning from them. Unless victim service providers absorb the wisdom and experience of other people and then allow these to have a personal effect upon their lives, they will fail to appreciate the tremendous contributions that others can make to their comprehension of 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 one's attention. Where attention goes, in other words, life energy follows. It is therefore crucial to be practical and purposeful to what and to whom one's attention is given. This is transculturalism, a sharing of some truth across cultures. Victim service providers can serve a diversity of people only as well as they engage in such sharing.

Promising Practices

Respecting Diversity: Responding

to Underserved Crime Victims Self-Examination

1. Briefly describe the demographic changes that are underway in the U.S. population.

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 culturally-sensitive 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.

Chapter 7 References

Branch, T. 1988. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63. New York: Simon & Shuster.

Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). December 1997. "A Policymaker's Guide to Hate Crimes." Series: Monograph. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Burton, D. Diversity Trainer and Crime Victim Advocate, Ft. Lauderdale FL.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). 1997. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Kempsky, N. October 1989. 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 Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 314-337.

Chapter 7 Additional Resources

Crow Dog, M., and R. Erdoes. 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.

Eugene, T. M., and J. N. Poling. 1998. Balm for Gilead. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

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.

Pedersen, P. B., J. G. Draguns, W. J. Lonner, and J. E. Trimble, eds. 1989. Counseling Across Cultures. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Pierce-Baker, C. 1998. Surviving the Silence: Black Women's Stories of Rape. New York: W.W. Norton.

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

Takaki, R. 1989. Strangers from a Different Shore. Boston: Little, Brown.

U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. May 1997. Criminal Victimization in the United States, 1994. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

United States Commission on Civil Rights. February 1992. Civil Rights Issues Facing Asian America in the 1990s. Washington, DC: Author

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.

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