Last Spring, the Crime Victims Legal Network Project launched a comprehensive needs assessment to better understand the civil legal needs of crime victims in New York State. To the hundreds of crime victims and service providers who completed surveys or took part in focus groups and in-depth interviews: Thank you! I am overwhelmed and gratified by your participation and excited to share the results with you.
The Crime Victims Legal Network Project is a federally funded partnership between the New York State Office of Victim Services, Empire Justice Center, the Center for Human Services Research at SUNY Albany (CHSR) and Pro Bono Net. Together with our fourteen-member Advisory Committee, we are working to develop a first- of- its- kind statewide network outside New York City that uses sophisticated technology solutions to make it easier for crime victims to access civil legal aid.
Over a year was spent designing and conducting a multi-phase Needs Assessment, led by our research partner, CHSR. The Needs Assessment was essential to helping us identify the civil legal problems faced by crime victims, the barriers to seeking help and the role an online resource could play in helping fill the existing gaps in services outside of New York City. While we had a sense of what these problems and gaps were, we want to create an evidence-based solution that will play a meaningful part in assisting victims of crime and the professionals who work with them.
The response to the surveys was tremendous. We received 310 responses to the victim of crime survey, and 412 responses to the service provider survey. Focus groups for both sectors were conducted in nine regions across the State, and civil legal attorney and law school clinical faculty were interviewed.
Here are some highlights of the analysis of the issues, services and challenges in meeting the civil legal needs of victims of crime:
- Most crime victims faced problems related to money or finances, family and housing as a result of their victimization.
- High percentages of victims reported needing help with knowing what services were available and understanding the legal system.
- Of those who did not seek help to deal with their problems, many indicated that they did not know what services were available or they didn’t think anything could be done.
- Service providers also indicated that the biggest barrier to meeting the needs of crime victims was victims’ lack of knowledge about the availability of services.
- Focus group participants and interviewees echoed these responses and highlighted transportation as well as language access and cultural issues as barriers to victims receiving civil legal aid.
- With regards to the use of technology in helping meet these service needs, most victims indicated that they would, or may, consider using an online tool, and most service providers reported a willingness to refer their clients to an online resource.
The complete report can be found on CHSR’s website.
As the Project Leader, I had the privilege of assisting in four of the focus groups in western New York, and I am humbled by the generosity of all the participants. The expertise of service providers was astounding, and your recommendations – all of which came from a place of genuine caring – were taken to heart. And the crime victims? Your willingness to share some of the most intimate and traumatic experiences of your life to ensure that other crime victims get the help you didn’t is nothing short of incredible. Thank you, to all the participants.
What’s so exciting is that, now with the analyzed results, we can make sure that the technology solutions developed for the Network Project are truly grounded in the real life needs and preferences of crime victims. Based on the results, Pro Bono Net, our technology partner, has proposed that the Network’s technology include a website with a suite of features designed to meet the needs of crime victims, and at the same time help civil legal assistance providers in delivering holistic services to their clients. And that’s what we are starting to develop during this second phase of the Project.
May 1st marked the start of Phase II, the pilot phase of the Network Project. As we develop the technology, we will be focusing on growing partnerships within the western New York region, specifically in Erie and Genesee counties, the geographic area of the pilot. Our goal is to work with service providers – both legal and human services providers – whose clients may benefit from the technology solutions being developed, and have them test the online resource and help us improve it before we expand it to the rest of New York State.
For the pilot stage, we will be focusing on the top concerns identified by both crime victims and service providers in the needs assessment: family, money/finance, employment, housing and immigration. Your knowledge, along with the continued guidance of the Advisory Committee, will help us make sure the information on the website is useful, practical and can really assist crime victims with their civil legal issues.
In the next few months, I’ll be reaching out to some of you to be a part of this initiative. If you’re interested in learning more about the Crime Victims Legal Network Project or in helping out, please contact me. I can be reached at rparthasarathy[at]empirejustice[dot]org.
This report was produced by the Empire Justice Center & the New York State Office of Victims Services under Grant No. 2014-XV-BX-K009, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.