Thursday, September 8, 2011

Recognizing All Victims of Crime

By Keith Wallington

Over the last few decades, the victim’s rights movement has been effective in highlighting the needs and concerns of victims of crime. This movement – born out of the women’s right era of the early 1970s – continues to pick up steam as states amend laws and policies to give victims more defined rights and services. However, as the victims right movement has evolved, so must it’s recognition of and treatment of victims.

When you hear the word “victim” seldom do you associate that with young African American men. Society, through sensationalist media reporting, scapegoating and rhetoric-laden politicking has done a thorough job of painting what a “perpetrator” and a “victim” look like. One of those paintings uses more color than the other. The irony of such mischaracterization is that young black males are victimized at a higher rate than any other demographic – according to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2008 blacks are victimized at a personal crime rate of 26.6 percent in comparison to whites who are victimized at a personal crime rate of 18.6 percent – yet when victims are talked about, this population don’t enter the discussion.

Going into my senior year in high school I worked an entire summer from sun up to sun down to save enough money to help my mother buy me a car. When I finally got that car it was broken into not long afterward. I felt angry, stranded, violated, sad and a whole host of other emotions but for whatever reason, I never felt like a victim. Why not? I had obviously just been victimized. In hindsight, just like many other young black males, I probably didn’t feel like I fit the bill of what a victim was according to mainstream society and my naive acceptance of that blinded me to the fact that I was indeed the victim. Combine a lack of recognition, pride and “street code” and you get a huge section of society omitted from the victim services conversation. This omission has been a misstep in the victim’s reform movement and continues to be the Achilles heel to victim services offered to young black victims. If they don’t see themselves as a victim, then they certainly aren’t going to understand the importance of getting help through victim services. According to JPI’s Healing Invisible Wounds: Why Investing in Trauma-Informed Care for Children Makes Sense, people of color are more likely to be victims of crime and violence and youth who have been victimized or experienced trauma are more likely to be involved in illegal behavior and have disproportionate contact with the justice system.

This is a cycle that must be broken. Research continues to show that youth victimization creates a pipeline for those young victims to the justice system. To better understand the needs and concerns of victims, we must do a better job of recognizing all victims. The impact on the justice and healthcare system of youth victims left untreated is so profound that it’s one of the most costly health problems in the United States. Minority youth victimization is a very real concern and must be addressed with distinction and cultural competency which must start with improved reporting and screening of all victims followed by treatment. It is important to address youth victimization before it becomes the catalyst of involvement in the justice system. Just as research has proven that youth victimization is a variable in someone’s involvement in the justice system, research also shows that with proper recognition and intervention that many victims can avoid future contact with the justice system.

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