Building Bridges to Help Crime Victims
Many victims of crime in urban areas report that they turn to their faith as a source of personal strength and call on faith communities for assistance, support, and guidance. Spiritual guidance is as essential as physical, financial, and psychological assistance for those who are in need. Faith leaders are often the first source of comfort for victims of crime. In order to assist victims, these leaders need to know the resources in their community and they need to be able to trust the victim assistance professional to whom they are making a referral. Victim assistance providers can learn from faith leaders as well about the spiritual crisis that results from victimization and how to address each victim’s spiritual needs.
Issues of Diversity
It remains crucial that the diversity of spiritual beliefs and practices in the United States be considered. While this diversity adds to the richness of our neighborhoods, it complicates the development of spiritually sensitive services to victims. Joining a religious group in today’s society often means crossing boundaries previously set by expectations of family members, ethnic groups, and social class. Spirituality is an emotionally laden issue for victims of crime. The way it is addressed can cause it to strengthen or diminish.
Respect for individualism and unique faith perspectives must be considered. Respect is more than tolerance. Respect for diversity must extend to genuine appreciation and competent, spiritually sensitive services. With training and collaboration that incorporate understanding of the racial and ethnic groups within a community, their value systems, spiritual beliefs, practices, and historical traditions, services will be significantly enhanced and will be far more effective.
Here is one family’s experience:
Our lives were centered around our faith, family and friends before our oldest daughter, Stephanie, was kidnapped, raped and murdered just as she was ready to graduate from college. My husband and I were totally devastated, and Stephanie’s four siblings, ranging in age from 18 to 10, were confused, angry and scared.
Our faith community and many others opened their arms to us immediately after Stephanie’s death and funeral, but that soon changed. As we struggled to make sense of this cruel and senseless tragedy and prepare for the trials of the two men who killed her, we began to realize that our faith community did not know how to help. While it did not intend to harm, both its absence and misunderstanding hurt. Some simply couldn’t tolerate the depth of our despair. Others wanted us to prematurely focus on forgiveness. It seemed that no one could relate to our faith crisis.
Spirituality and Victim Services