Contact: Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), 202-307-0703
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OUTLINES CHALLENGES OF SERVING
VICTIMS OF GUN VIOLENCE
Bulletin Makes Recommendations and Describes Promising Programs
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The unique nature of gun violence presents specific challenges in helping victims, according to a new Justice Department bulletin. Efforts to assist victims of gun violence must take into account the fear, anger and hopelessness that many of these victims experience.
The bulletin, Working With Victims of Gun Violence, recommends that programs for victims of gun violence be broad-based, comprehensive and include victims’ families. Efforts must also focus on young people, who are a disproportionate share of gun violence victims.
“Gun violence corrodes the fabric of our communities, traumatizing victims, witnesses, families and neighborhoods,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft. “Victims need care that is immediate, thorough and addresses the many different types of damage that gun violence causes.”
The bulletin, developed by the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), resulted from a meeting of a working group of various professionals who work with victims of gun violence, including physicians, social workers, mental health providers, prosecutors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, school principals, victim compensation administrators and judges. Several gunshot victims and family members of firearm homicide victims also participated. OVC convened the working group as part of the bulletin’s development.
The working group identified several key factors that separate gun violence from other forms of violence. Gun violence can more often be random and can affect more people in a shorter time period. Victims are more likely to include innocent bystanders. Residents of neighborhoods with frequent gun violence are often afraid to leave their homes fearing that they might be injured by gunfire.
Other factors include the severity of the nonfatal gun violence injuries, which can alter a victim’s life forever. Also, many young gun violence victims face continuing fear, as well as a stigma that they somehow contributed to their victimization.
The bulletin emphasizes that efforts to help gun violence victims take into account their unique circumstances. One recommendation is the creation of peer support groups, similar to those available for rape or domestic violence victims. Another recommendation is developing programs focusing on family members, such as the Family Advocacy Program in Washington, D.C. This program helps educate the family members of gun homicide victims about police and hospital procedures and provides referrals to counseling or pastoral services.
In addition, the bulletin profiles programs that focus on young gun violence victims. Caught in the Crossfire, based in Oakland, California, provides immediate help to gunshot victims between the ages of 12 and 19. Crisis intervention specialists provide victims with immediate counseling in the hospital and follow-up services for a year after the injury. Many of the counselors in Caught in the Crossfire were themselves gun violence victims.
Given the preponderance of young victims, the bulletin recommends school-based peer counseling as a way to prevent the anger and fear surrounding gun violence from leading to more violence. One such program is Rise Above It, in Newark, New Jersey, which shows students the long-lasting effects of gunshot wounds and teaches them skills to deal with anger and prevent fights.
Working With Victims of Gun Violence, as well as information about other OVC publications, programs and conferences, are available through the OVC Website at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovcand from the OVC Resource Center at 1-800/627-6872.
Information about other Office of Justice Programs (OJP) bureaus and program offices is available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/. Media should contact OJP’s Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at 202/307-0703.