In today’s world, organizations and individuals face a lot of pressure to keep up with modern technology.
Organizations that serve vulnerable populations, such as victims of crime, are not immune to that pressure. In its vision for twenty-first century victim services, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) recommended that providers fully integrate technology into all aspects of service delivery and program evaluation.
Though some victim service providers have embraced how technology can enhance aspects of program evaluation and outcome measurement, they have also identified challenges, particularly around client privacy and security.
Currently, most victim service providers have at least some type of online presence, but until recently, we didn’t know how and whether practitioners were using technology to access research findings and improve service delivery.
To better understand the gap that exists between research and practice in victim services, the Urban Institute conducted a nationwide survey of victim service providers. The survey was part of an OVC-funded project, Bridging the Gap: Integrating Crime Victim Services Research and Practice, led by the National Center for Victims of Crime in partnership with the Urban Institute and the Justice Research and Statistics Association.
More than 330 victim service providers participated, representing all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. They support domestic violence and sexual assault victims, child abuse survivors, victims of elder abuse, and victims of human trafficking. About half were affiliated with criminal justice agencies, and the other half were nongovernmental agencies.
Three key findings emerged, shedding light on why the evidence base on what works in victim services is somewhat limited and why research and practice remains largely divided:
Many providers collect data, but few conduct research on their own programs or in collaboration with an external researcher or evaluator. Nearly three-quarters of agencies track the services they are providing, nearly two-thirds measure client satisfaction with their program, and just over half track client outcomes. Yet only 9 percent of agencies have internal research staff as employees and fewer than 3 in 10 (28 percent) have partnered with an external researcher.
Victim service providers report, however, that technology could be helpful in improving this situation: Three-quarters agree that online networking meetings can be useful for building rapport and developing relationships with researchers in their field.
- Nearly all providers read and share information accessed online about service provision. Over 80 percent of providers reported reading information they accessed online and sharing it with colleagues at least “somewhat”or “a lot.” A similar share of providers used the information they accessed online to improve services.
- Many providers rely on online trainings and webinars to learn about research in the field, but very few say such efforts have facilitated research-driven changes in victim services. Over three-quarters of providers regularly rely on online trainings and webinars to become familiar with victim services research. Those who do so are nearly three times as likely to rate online trainings/webinars as a“most useful” way to obtain victimization data (59 percent compared with 21 percent) and learn about research-informed practices (58 percent compared with 21 percent).
Only 6 percent of the 242 respondents who had witnessed a research-driven change in victim services, however, believed that online trainings or technical assistance had helped facilitate that change. In fact, few respondents cited any specific reason for that change, though the highest proportion (11 percent) credited a government mandate.
Our findings imply that technology can play a key role in helping victim service providers document services and monitor service quality, but they also lead to several questions for the field to consider around technology use and victim service provision:
- First, how can technology be better used to examine program success in assisting victims of crime?
- Second, how can technology use be improved or expanded to better serve victims of crime?
- Third, how can online trainings and webinars be more useful in encouraging evidence-informed changes in victim services?
Answers to these questions should lead the field toward more helpful services and improved experiences for victims.