Services for victims of crime have been multiplying in recent decades, as a kind of formalized compassion in the face of pain that was often terrible to witness, let alone experience.
Those services, however, were more instinctive than scientific in design and information on how victims navigate their way through the system that’s intended to help them is sparse. Researchers at Algonquin College in Ottawa are exploring how victims of violence navigate obstacles as they deal with the aftermath of a crime, and whether negotiating the system and their own trauma helps them develop resilience.
“So much focus goes on the harm and vulnerability, that if those are the conversations you are always having, it can reinforce the negatives,” said Benjamin Roebuck, coordinator of Algonquin’s graduate Victimology program. He is the principal investigator on a Community and College Social Innovation Fund project, sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Roebuck is a strong believer in focusing on strengths. “We can learn a great deal about how to help people rebuild their lives by talking about the deep resilience some people develop.”
While aware people who have been traumatized should not be pressured to look for a bright side, Roebuck finds some people are very glad to talk about how they are coping and what they have been able to do to navigate the aftermath of the crime they suffered.
“You wouldn’t go to the parents of a murdered child and ask positive-toned questions,” he explained. “But we have so many examples of people talking about strengths, and if you can share with other survivors stories of people who really found a way to live again, it provides hope.”
Timing, knowing what not to say, and recognizing that trauma and strength exist side by side in many people are all crucial in efforts to draw out resilience, Roebuck said. But learning about growth factors — when people feel resilience, and what helped or hindered it growing — will allow the research team to build them into lessons in the college’s victim assistance training program.
The multiphase project involves victims and service providers throughout — asking in interviews and questionnaires about what services have been most helpful, what gaps there are in knowledge about resilience and how it is built. Broadly distributed questionnaires will be followed up by one-on-one interviews to explore experiences of strength and resilience.
Partners in the research include the Victim Justice Network, which connects victims of crime, victim services providers and victim advocacy organizations across the country. It is one of several groups wanting to improve services for victims. Indeed, enhanced training on victims’ particular vulnerabilities and sensitivities has frequently been recommended for people who work with them, including service providers and legal professionals.