The blog of the Urban Institute
December 12, 2019

Lessons from One Year of Operating the Center for Victim Research

The disconnect between those trying to understand victimization through research and those working in communities as service providers has long limited our ability to effectively prevent and respond to victimization at the local, state, and national levels.

To bridge these gaps in the victim services field, the Center for Victim Research (CVR) launched a year ago, funded by the Office for Victims of Crime and operated by the Justice Research and Statistics Association, the Urban Institute, and the National Center for Victims of Crime. This online resource center helps professionals share information, better produce and use victim research, and ultimately improve responses to the millions of crime victims and their loved ones in the US.

Over the past year, we have learned valuable lessons about what the field needs, what is working, and where we still need to go. Here are the top five things CVR has revealed about and for the victim services field.

1. Critical gaps in victim research persist, but they’re narrowing.

Albeit with some challenges, the victim services field has received financial support from the Victims of Crime Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and other federal efforts for nearly 40 years. Although there has been a corresponding research focus on gender-based violence crimes, certain subgroups of victims and victimization types were, until recently, virtually ignored in research.

At the same time, we learned a lot from practice that often goes unrecognized. And the information that is available is not collected and synthesized in a single location or in a useful way.

CVR supports growth in the scope and quality of victim research and shares findings in two ways:

2. Practitioners want access to victim research, but many need help.

Finding evidence to support programming or contextualize crime is not easy, and service providers often lack time, research familiarity, and resources to get through journal paywalls. Practitioners and researchers have called for easily accessible platforms to continue learning and building professional networks without having to travel or take time off work.

In response, CVR highlights new and important research through regular webinars, podcasts, and social media updates. The site also houses a full victimization research library, along with tips to maximize searches and a dedicated librarian to answer questions. These digital resources increase the likelihood that victimization professionals have the most recent and relevant information to build more effective support services and stronger studies.

3. Both researchers and practitioners benefit from evidence-based, trauma-informed practices.

The same challenges that prevent practitioners from accessing research prevent them from acting on research to improve their services. CVR breaks down barriers to accessing and applying information by offering free, research-focused technical assistance (TA).

To date, CVR has completed nearly 60 TA requests across 22 states, working with universities, service providers, law enforcement, hospitals, the military, and national advocacy and TA organizations. Our TA has shown us the range of provider needs, such as literature on specific crimes to inform programs and trainings, vetted survey and interview questions, and help planning community needs assessments.

Researchers need support, too. In response, CVR provides tools on protecting victims in research and engaging in more victim-centered, community-engaged research. Doing so strengthens the quality of the research findings and ensures the work is useful and meaningful.

4. Victims benefit from effective, evidence-based services.

In addition to evidence-based practices, victims benefit most if they have access to the best possible programs. Program evaluation can show service providers and community partners what is working, what should change, and why.

Many—but not all—practitioners know that evaluation results can improve their responses to victims and make the case for a program’s growth, funding, or adaptation, but most are deterred by the time and resources required for high-quality evaluations. In response, CVR has created tools that support practitioners’ engagement in evaluation:

  • quick reference guides on different evaluation types
  • curated tools and trainings to guide stakeholders through evaluation
  • sample tools and guidelines for states to evaluate service provider training for victims
  • an online researcher directory to help practitioners find the right evaluation partners​

5. Collaboration is key.

Underlying these challenges and everything CVR does is the need for partnership and communication between researchers and practitioners. The barriers are clear—time, funding, access, and awareness—but so are the benefits.

CVR has learned how to bring people together from diverse backgrounds to address victimization and build community well-being. CVR’s digital tools, TA, researcher directory, and fellowships emphasize the need for and value of collaborations and provide insight and connections to build such relationships.

More than 42,000 visitors have sought resources through CVR’s website, exemplifying the need for victim research and demonstrating what can be accomplished when researchers and practitioners are given space to collaborate. Looking ahead, CVR will continue to grow and offer lessons to improve support for victims.

Photo by Hero Images via Getty Images.

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