SCARS™ Special Report: From Pain to Power – Crime Victims Take Action

SCARS™ Special Report: From Pain to Power – Crime Victims Take Action

The following is from a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime [Edited]

Please note: The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this document are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice or the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. It is presented (edited) to help victims better understand the context of victimization. Some sections have been omitted since they do not reflect our focus or because they have become dated.

SCARS’ Introduction

The following helps crime victims understand the broad context of what it means to be a victim of a crime and how working to create change can occur.

The Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. [SCARS] was created out of just such a need and has now been operating for years to support scam victims worldwide. Most of this document was written about victims of violence, but it also provides a broader understanding of the views of victims’ assistance providers and the United States government which can be helpful in helping victims develop a more complete understanding.

The roles described below are services being provided by SCARS and we stand ready to help all victims of cyber-enabled crime worldwide.

(Original) Foreword

Across America, victims of crime have turned their agony into activism. Many have found that participating in community service— helping other victims and initiating crime prevention and awareness programs—contributes significantly to their own healing. These victims include extraordinary people such as Marilyn Smith, who founded a comprehensive victim service program in Seattle for deaf and deaf-blind victims of sexual assault after trying unsuccessfully to find services herself as a deaf sexual assault victim; Azim Khamisa, who joined with the grandfather of the 14 year-old gang member who murdered his son to provide gang prevention programs in San Diego schools; and the many parents who came together after their children were killed by drunk drivers to support Mothers Against Drunk Driving in its successful efforts to strengthen laws, provide victim impact classes, and educate the public about the devastating impact of this crime.

This monograph chronicles ways in which many crime victims are channeling their pain into helping others, improving their communities, and healing themselves at the same time. It describes opportunities for victims who want to become active and makes important recommendations for victim service programs regarding ways to involve victims in community service.

The monograph was written by Victim Services, a New York City-based program that is the largest victim assistance provider in the nation. The monograph is part of a larger document entitled New Directions From the Field: Victims’ Rights and Services for the 21st Century, a comprehensive report and set of recommendations on victims’ rights and services from and concerning virtually every community involved with crime victims across the nation.

Crime victims themselves have a critical role to play in the nation’s response to violence and victimization. The purpose of this monograph is to foster increased collaboration between victims, service providers, and policymakers to ensure justice and healing for all victims of crime.

Kathryn M. Turman, Acting Director, Office for Victims of Crime


“Pain falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom.”

—Agamemnon, Aeschylus

(Original) Introduction:  Two Stories

In 1985, Ralph Hubbard’s 23-year-old son was shot and killed in New York City. After years of feeling angry, frustrated and powerless, Hubbard resolved to help other families work through their suffering. In a Victim Services support group for families of homicide victims in New York, he began to speak out, telling his family’s story to the police, criminal justice officials, social service providers, and the public. He found that telling others what his family had gone through helped him cope with his pain and anger and inspired other victims to address their feelings. He started a self-help group for men who had lost family members to violence. He also became an adviser to New York’s Crime Victims’ Board, vice president of Justice For All, a victims’ rights advocacy group, and a board member of the National Organization for Victim Assistance. A leading spokesperson for victims’ rights in New York State, Hubbard feels no less compelled to be an advocate for victims ten years after his son’s murder: “It’s something I need to do. This is therapeutic for me.”

The Trauma of Violence Leaves Its Mark

Long after the physical wounds have healed, many crime victims continue to feel overwhelmed by the psychic pain of loss, powerlessness, low self-esteem, isolation, fear, rage – feelings that often are shared by their family and friends, as well as by the extended community.

From the ashes of criminal violence, victims and their families are struggling to rebuild their communities, as well as their own lives. Through community activism, individuals like Ralph Hubbard and Tom McDermott are transforming their pain into power, helping change society, and healing themselves in the process. Moving from the personal to the political, they work to correct causes of crime that are systemic, such as poverty, racism, sexism, the culture of violence, and easy access to guns; to hold those who commit crimes accountable, and to enact victim-sensitive reforms and programs. As the crime victims’ movement enters its third decade, advocates should look for ways to nurture victims’ desires to help others by providing educational and organizational opportunities for community action.

Without intervention, victims can become chronically dysfunctional — afraid to venture out at night, unable to work productively, alienated from neighbors and friends, distrustful of police and courts, and overly dependent on social services. Their withdrawal from life hurts their families and weakens the fabric of the community.

Individual counseling and practical assistance help people deal with the psychological aftermath of crime and reconstruct a sense of equilibrium. When crime victims move from their personal experiences to a broader social analysis and to activism, they can also aid their own recovery from the trauma of victimization. Recognizing or addressing the social conditions that lead to violence and victimization is important. Helping other victims, working to change laws, or mobilizing violence prevention initiatives can help victims and survivors regain a sense of control and channel their fear and rage into efforts for reform.

The history of grassroots efforts in other movements shows that community activism can be a powerful catalyst for social change. Individual stakeholders—those whose lives were directly affected by the movement’s cause—have brought about landmark reforms. The movements for civil rights, elder rights, welfare, environmental protection, and AIDS research and treatment have been spearheaded by those directly affected by the issues. Like crime victim activism, each of these movements arose from victimizing conditions of neglect, persecution, or marginalization; and the involvement of “victimized” individuals legitimized the cause.

A crucial step toward activism may be the individual’s self-identification as a member of a group victimized by particular social conditions. Yet within the crime victims’ and battered women’s movements, the “victim” label remains controversial. Some believe it is a stigmatizing label that hinders recovery and reinforces society’s perception of victims as helpless, hopeless, and dependent. Others see it as an empowering identification that promotes connection with others and spurs community involvement.

The impetus for community involvement and political empowerment often comes from victims themselves or from their families and friends. Victim Services’ Families of Homicide Victims program initially offered individual counseling. By talking with each other, participants found they were not alone in their suffering and could give each other valuable affirmation and support. They formed a self-help group, which provided the first real sense of community since their tragedies. When members wanted to become more politically active, the group spun-off as an independent organization. Those who wanted to help other survivors were trained to work with Victim Services staff as group co-facilitators. More recently, members have become involved in crime prevention. One participant who lost three sons to violence started an afterschool program for at-risk youth.

The Impact of Crime

Crime victims often suffer a broad range of psychological and social injuries that persist long after their physical wounds have healed. Intense feelings of anger, fear, isolation, low self-esteem, helplessness, and depression are common reactions.4 Like combat veterans, crime victims may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, including recurrent memories of the incident, sleep disturbances, feelings of alienation, emotional numbing, and other anxiety-related symptoms. Janoff-Bulman suggests that victimization can shatter basic assumptions about the self and the world which individuals need in order to function normally in their daily lives—that they are safe from harm, that the world is meaningful and just, and that they are good, decent people.5 This happens not only to victims of violent assaults but also to victims of robbery and burglary6 and to their friends and family.7 Herman has suggested that “survivors of prolonged, repeated trauma,” such as battered women and abused children, often suffer what she calls “complex post-traumatic stress disorder,” which can manifest as severe “personality changes, including deformations of relatedness and identity [which make them] particularly vulnerable to repeated harm, both self-inflicted and at the hands of others.”8

The emotional damage and social isolation caused by victimization also may be compounded by a lack of support, and even stigmatization, from friends, family and social institutions, that can become a “second wound” for the victim. Those closest to the victim may be traumatized by the crime in ways that make them unsupportive of the victim’s needs. Davis, Taylor and Bench found that close friends and family members, particularly of a victim of sexual assault, sometimes withdraw from and blame the victim.9

Crime victims must also contend with society’s tendency to blame them for the crime, which compounds the trauma of the event. To protect their belief in a just world where people get what they deserve, and to distance themselves from the possibility of random or uncontrollable injury, many prefer to see victims as somehow responsible for their fate.10 The lack of support for victims trying to recover from a crime can exacerbate the psychological harm caused by victimization and make recovery even more difficult.

When victims do seek help, they may be treated with insensitivity. They may feel ignored or even revictimized by the criminal justice process, which has traditionally been more concerned with the rights of the accused than with the rights and needs of the victim. Family members of homicide victims in particular may feel left out of the justice process. When one woman whose child had been murdered asked to be informed as the case progressed, she was asked, “Why do you want to know? You’re not involved in the case.”

Benefits of Community Involvement

Community involvement can help victims overcome feelings of low self-esteem, isolation, powerlessness, fear, and anger. The process of connecting with others, confronting and overcoming real-life challenges, striving for justice, and giving something back to the community can provide recovery benefits not achieved solely by traditional counseling or therapy.

[SCARS NOTE: in the following sections it will be talking about victim initiated peer to peer support groups. It is important to remember that all such groups have obligations of care and limitations in what they can offer. Far too often amateur groups go far beyond what is effective, safe, or legal in their groups. In the case of traumatized scam victims, peer to peer groups have to be tempered with professionalism, and if that is lacking they turn into hate groups that do more harm than good. SCARS offers safe and effective support groups!]

Rebuilding Low Self-Esteem

Participating in peer self-help groups can improve victims’ self-images by demonstrating they are neither abnormal nor guilty for the victimization. Before joining groups such as Families of Homicide Victims, survivors often blame themselves for their children’s deaths, seeing themselves as inadequate parents because they could not protect their children from harm. By talking with other parents who seem nurturing and loving, they are able to look at themselves and the question of blame more realistically. When those who once lamented, “If only we had moved to a safer neighborhood,” meet residents of safer neighborhoods who have also lost family members, they begin to recognize that it was not their fault. Self-help groups can create an “adaptive spiral”; acceptance by other group members boosts the individual’s self-esteem, in turn increasing his or her empathy and support for others.11

Community involvement generally involves some degree of risk; there is no guarantee that victims’ efforts will pay off. Efforts to pass legislation, increase services for victims, or establish prevention programs will often be disappointing. By standing up to these challenges and failures, victims prove to themselves and others that they are neither weak nor helpless and that they are able to fight their own battles.

Self-esteem also can be enhanced by joining a particular cause “from which one derives reflected power and glory.”12 Creating psychological strength through numbers—banding together to advance the cause of victims or to reduce violence—can provide a dividend of empowerment that may be considerably greater than victims might receive through individual action. When victims share their personal experiences with others, they are no longer alone in their struggle.

Reducing Isolation

Victims of crime often feel alienated from family, friends, and community. They may consider themselves stigmatized or tainted by the crime, a feeling reinforced by insensitive treatment from those who “shun victims, sensing their ‘spoiled identities.’”13 Battered women are especially at risk of feeling isolated because they are often separated from society by their abusers. According to Stark, “the hallmark of the battering experience [is] ‘entrapment’. . . a pattern of control that extends. . . to virtually every aspect of a woman’s life, including money, food, sexuality, friendships, transportation, personal appearance, and access to supports, including children, extended family members, and helping resources.”14

Lebowitz, Harvey and Herman describe the process of overcoming this isolation and reestablishing ties with others as one of the key stages of trauma recovery.15 Social action can serve as one effective means of achieving this reconnection. When victims work with those who have had similar experiences, they begin to realize they are not alone.

Peer support groups or victim-initiated advocacy groups may help to create a new community for victims that can be strengthened by grappling with the larger social problems that affect it,16 and may serve as a bridge to relationships outside the group.17 Publicly embracing the victimization experience through advocacy or other public actions can reduce feelings of deviance and stigmatization that perpetuate isolation from others.

Regaining a Sense of Power

A common reaction to crime is to ask, “Why me?” Unable to find a reason for their victimization, crime victims may feel a loss of control over their surroundings. By joining with others to prevent violence or improve the treatment of crime victims, victims can have an impact on the community and recapture a sense of power. They “transform the meaning of their personal tragedy by making it the basis for social action.”18 Victims who are able to answer “Why?” perhaps by taking on a survivor mission, may be less likely to be psychologically incapacitated;19 they create something positive out of a negative experience by carving out an area of their lives where they are in control. Sarah Buel, a battered woman who became a district attorney specializing in domestic violence cases, said, “I feel very much like that’s part of my mission, part of why God didn’t allow me to die in that marriage so that I could talk openly and publicly. . . about having been battered.”20

Dealing with Fear and Anger

Fear of revictimization, which is related to feelings of powerlessness and isolation, is a powerful, sometimes paralyzing result of crime. Fear of crime can be “divisive. . . creat[ing] suspicion and distrust,”21 but it also can “motivate citizens to interact with each other and engage in anti-crime efforts.”22

Crime victims can master their fear by working on community crime prevention projects. In a study not limited to crime victims, Cohn, Kidder and Harvey23 found that those involved in community anticrime projects felt more in control of their surroundings and had less fear of crime. Other studies linking isolation from the community with fear of crime suggest that, as victims become more involved with others, they become less afraid.24 After witnessing the murder of his father, a student in a school-based victim assistance program overcame his fear of being victimized again by launching an anti-violence campaign in his school. By finding a more positive way to increase the safety of his environment, he no longer felt the need to be overly defensive or to resort to violence to protect himself.

The anger that follows victimization—at the offender, at the criminal justice system and at society for letting it happen—can productively be redirected through activism. By speaking out at conferences, schools, churches and public hearings, Tom McDermott found that he “transferred [his] hatred, bitterness and white-hot anger into something positive.” Some victims may focus on the pursuit of justice, not only for their own suffering but also because they recognize the detrimental impact of crime on society. Herman notes that in the later stages of recovery, victims often embrace abstract principles that “transcend [their] personal grievance against the perpetrator [and]. . . connect the fate of others to their own.”25 Thus, in addition to wanting the individual offender brought to justice, they might work to ensure that victims are given the support they need or to fight the social conditions that may have contributed to the crime. In these ways, feelings of rage and anger are transformed into constructive social action.

Some victims find release by sharing their experiences with others, who also are helped in the process. After telling the story of his son’s murder at conferences, Ralph Hubbard found that his words helped other men talk about the loss of their own child after years of silence and denial. Hubbard describes this experience as “one of the most rewarding things ever.” Similar benefits from sharing have been described by victims of AIDS and other serious illnesses who, as Susan Sontag describes in Illness as Metaphor, have historically been ostracized and silenced.26

Others feel compelled to testify publicly about their victimization—in court, in church, to community groups, or in print. Like the physician narrator of Albert M. Camus’ The Plague, whom Felman and Laub describe as feeling “historically appointed ‘to bear witness in favor of those plague-stricken people, so that some memorial of the injustice done them might endure,’”27 victims sometimes need to testify to feel that some degree of justice is achieved. Describing the survivors of the Holocaust, Felman and Laub note that, “The witness’s readiness to become himself a medium of the testimony—and a medium of the accident—in his unshakable conviction that the accident [or the crime]. . . carries historical significance. . . goes beyond the individual and is thus, in effect, in spite of its idiosyncrasy, not trivial.”28 By continuously reminding the populace of the injustice, victims prevent society from acquiescing to what they may prefer to deny or forget. Lorna Hawkins was frustrated that no one else seemed outraged by the death of her two sons by gang violence; random shootings were so common in Los Angeles that her story was not considered “news” by the media. To raise awareness about the pain, suffering, and injustice of urban violence, Hawkins began “Drive-By Agony,” a weekly cable show.29 Countless other victims have spoken out against violence and advocated for reforms. Since 1990, 72 noteworthy activists have been recognized by the President’s annual National Crime Victim Service Award.

Victim Assistance

If crime victims have sufficiently recovered from their own traumatic experiences and have received appropriate training, they often are well-suited to help other crime victims because |of their capacity to empathize. Facilitating victim support groups (such as the Families of Homicide Victims or the nationwide Parents of Murdered Children (POMC)), accompanying victims through the criminal justice process, or becoming in-court advocates are practical, valuable services. The Youth Empowerment Association in New York City trained teenagers recovering from sexual assault to work as peer counselors with youth victims who were at earlier stages of recovery. Victims also have played large roles in establishing and staffing rape crisis centers.30

Victims’ Rights Advocacy

Having experienced poor treatment from the criminal justice and social service systems, some victims choose to advocate for social change. By speaking to government officials, legislators, or the press and by campaigning for reform, victims often find that they are accorded greater respect than service professionals and that their words carry weight with decision makers. When Victim Services staff travel to Albany, New York, accompanied by crime victims, to talk with state legislators, they usually are met by the legislator; when they go alone, they are more likely to be met by staff. Victim Services offers public speaking training to crime victims, as well as to agency staff, and maintains a Crime Victim Speakers Bureau. Another good example of the effectiveness of this kind of victim advocacy is the Stephanie Roper Committee, which has contributed significantly to the passage of three dozen victims’ rights bills in Maryland since 1983.

Some victims may work to ensure that the criminal justice system functions as it should and that offenders are brought to justice. The Roper Foundation, the direct service component to the Roper Committee, operates a Courtwatch program that places volunteers, many of them victims, in courtrooms to monitor whether victims’ rights are being respected. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID) developed Victim Impact Panels, through which victims speak directly to offenders about the devastating impact of drunk driving. POMC’s Truth-In-Sentencing program mobilizes its national membership to make sure that those convicted of murdering their children serve at least the minimum sentences; when an offender comes up for early parole, the network launches a letter-writing campaign to oppose the offender’s release. Taking another approach, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, a national group based in Virginia, campaigns against capital punishment.31

Violence [Crime] Prevention

Victims often say that what they want most is for the crime never to have happened. Accordingly, some focus their efforts on crime prevention through public awareness and education campaigns or by creating programs for at-risk youth and self-defense training.


In its public education work, MADD launched the national Designated Driver program. The California-based Teens on Target (TNT) trains at-risk youth and young victims to be anti-violence advocates. Based on their first-hand experiences, these advocates talk to their peers about the causes of violence and suggest alternative approaches for resolving conflicts. In a new TNT project, “Caught in the Crossfire,” advocates visit young gunshot victims who are still hospitalized to dissuade them from seeking revenge. In New York City, P.O.W.E.R. (People Opening the World’s Eyes to Reality), a group of victims of gun violence who use wheelchairs, visit young people to show what can result from a life of drugs and violence. The group also has advocated for stricter state legislation against assault guns, and has testified in Washington, D.C. at a hearing on gun control before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice.

[NOTE: these are real nonprofit professionalized organizations that are doing victims’ assistance and support work – just like SCARS]

Caveats Regarding Victim Activism

Though beneficial for many, becoming a victim activist is not a requisite step in trauma recovery and may be problematic for some. Because people recover in different ways and have different needs, community action is not necessarily appropriate for all crime victims. The individual’s personality and history of victimization may play a role in determining whether community involvement will be helpful to recovery, while the availability of emotional and financial supports may be a factor in determining whether the victim has the time and energy to spend on community issues. Some victims of crime, though able to lead normal lives, may never feel prepared to deal with the pain of others or the frustrations of advocacy efforts. Being a victim may not be enough by itself to lead to activism; there is some evidence that victims who become active in community efforts are likely to have been activists before the crime.32 In the absence of clear criteria for when activism is likely to benefit a traumatized individual, a victim’s own interest and desire to participate should be the determining factor. Rather than prescribing activism as a necessary part of the recovery process, professionals can provide people with opportunities for action, and support those who choose to get involved.

Timing is also an important consideration in community involvement. Advocating for legislative reform or helping others before coming to terms with their own trauma may impede some victims’ recovery. Lebowitz, Harvey and Herman note that what they call the third stage of trauma recovery—reconnecting with others—should not be attempted until the earlier steps of achieving a sense of safety and exploring and integrating the traumatic event have been achieved.33 Unless they have reached this stage, victims may be unable to cope with other people’s trauma on top of their own. Listening to others’ crime stories may exacerbate fears and bring back disturbing, even overwhelming, memories of their own experiences, thereby retraumatizing them.34 Research on MADD’s Victim Impact Panels has shown that the act of speaking out was beneficial for the overwhelming majority (87 percent) of participants; the few participants (3 percent) who felt they were harmed by it had become involved too close to the incident—they were still using coping strategies, such as denial, that conflicted with telling their stories publicly.35 This suggests that victims who invest themselves in advocacy efforts too soon may be taking on more than they are ready to handle. If individual change is difficult, societal change is even more so, especially in the face of political opposition. To avoid these pitfalls, activism generally should be encouraged later rather than earlier in the recovery process.

Certain types of activism may cause victims to feel exploited, potentially revictimizing them and setting back their recovery. For example, some victims who have spoken out through television and other news media feel that they have been taken advantage of—that their messages were misrepresented or their words cut or edited to alter their meaning. In an attempt to make a story more compelling, some journalists recast victim activists’ identities, portraying them as powerless and pitiable rather than empowered and brave. As a result, victims may feel embarrassed or betrayed, and may be less likely to speak out in the future. To avoid revictimization and to appropriately access the power of the media, victim activists need to understand how the media works—for example, that their page-one story may fade completely from the news a day later. Victim services organizations can provide training for crime victim activists as to what they might expect from working with the media. And the news media need to become sensitive to the risk of revictimization as well as the value of victim activism.

Finally, some victims interested in activism may not feel comfortable getting involved through organizations that are labeled as “victim” activist or “victim” assistance, which is one reason why other community groups—religious institutions, community organizations, neighborhood and parent groups and other formal and informal organizations—should support crime prevention and activist efforts. Some individuals who already have ties with these groups may feel more comfortable taking action in familiar settings within their support networks than venturing into new organizations. Thus, institutions outside the victim field need to be supportive of victims and recognize that victim involvement can benefit both their own individual members’ well-being and their efforts for community improvement.

Barriers to Involvement

Given the successful programs described above and their benefits for both victims and communities, why is victim activism not more widespread? One reason cited by Skogan and Maxfield is that those crime victims who see conditions in their communities improving are more likely to try to do something about crime, whereas people living in more traumatized neighborhoods may feel relatively more “incapacitated” by fear for their safety.36 Research has suggested that, although victimization may lead to community involvement, the very social conditions that contribute to victimization can also discourage activism. A disproportionate number of crime victims already feel disempowered by racism, poverty, sexism, and a lack of political power. Victimization makes them feel even more helpless and estranged from society. For many, the combined effects of living on the margins of society, being victimized and living in constant fear of crime can make social activism seem irrelevant and futile.

Society’s tendency to blame victims further inhibits their ability to become effective public players. The common misperception that victims are responsible for their victimization (especially victims of domestic violence or sexual assault) can inhibit them from becoming advocates, damage their credibility as victim activists and cause them to pull back. In this way, some crime victims miss out on the recovery benefits of involvement, and society loses their potential contributions for social reform. This tendency to blame victims suggests that the friends or relatives of crime victims who fight on their behalf may be less subject to personal criticism and social backlash than those victims who act on behalf of themselves.

Moreover, people who are subjected to on-going violence or abuse— victims of sexual assault, domestic violence,37 stalking or gang violence and those who live in neighborhoods characterized by chronic violence—face multiple barriers to activism. For example, the feelings of low self-esteem and degradation resulting from the “coercive control” that characterizes partner violence, as well as the symptoms of what Judith Herman calls “complex post-traumatic stress disorder,”38 can inhibit the capacity of women (and no doubt others suffering persistent victimization) for living, much less taking public action.39 In some cases, individuals may not even imagine the possibility of activism because they do not identify or label themselves as victims, or they may be silenced out of shame and embarrassment. This is often the case where community violence is the norm, when society explicitly or tacitly condones men’s power and control over women,40 or if the violence occurring within families (against women, children or the elderly) is denied. Of course, real fear of being found or of violent retribution keeps other victims (women who have fled violent relationships, gang members) from going public who might otherwise want to.

In view of such substantial barriers, the effective activism of some victims is especially noteworthy. For example, Barbara Hart in Pennsylvania, Vickii Coffey in Chicago and Sarah Buel in Quincy, Massachusetts are formerly battered women whose names are synonymous with the leadership to end violence against women. Many others across the country—perhaps less publicly and without necessarily identifying themselves as battered women—work in shelters and provide peer counseling for other battered women. In recent years, adult victims of child sexual assault have become a vocal and effective force in raising awareness about the prevalence and trauma of incest. In many communities beset by violence, poverty and racism, committed residents—many of whom have lost friends and family to violence—have stayed to fight for education, job training and opportunities, especially for young people.

Building primarily on their own initiative, commitment and resources, crime victims have demonstrated the viability of activism and its value for themselves and society. The role of “victim as activist,” however, has not yet become a recognized role in society, its benefits for victims’ recovery have not been sufficiently examined, and most victims lack the opportunity or support they need to become involved. By creating structures for community involvement, forging links with existing victim programs and conducting further research, the public sector and victim assistance organizations could mobilize many more crime victims to help others and to participate in grassroots initiatives for victims’ rights and crime prevention, thereby enhancing their recovery and helping to improve society.

The self-determination that contributes to victims’ healing needs to be supported but not co-opted. By placing a higher priority on victim activism, government and assistance organizations can ensure that community involvement efforts remain community-based, rooted in the soil of individual victims’ dedication and experience.

Victim Activism Recommendations

Recommendations for Victim Service Programs

Working directly with crime victims, victim service programs are in an excellent position to educate them about the larger political and social ontext of crime and violence and to create opportunities for activism. Victim service programs should:

[SCARS NOTE: We are pleased to offer all of the recommendations through our organization – to learn more visit]

  1. Train staff to understand the benefits of community activism for victims and to be aware of opportunities for victims both within and outside victim assistance organizations.
  2. Engage crime victims in the leadership and guidance of the organization through serving on boards and developing new services and programs.
  3. Create speakers’ bureaus that recruit and prepare victims to speak at conferences and with legislators, criminal justice officials, police, medical personnel, and others about the needs and rights of victims and the causes of violence.
  4. Include battered women as presenters in domestic violence training programs for police, service providers, and others.
  5. Actively engage victims in paid and volunteer positions throughout the organization, from facilitating self-help groups to managing programs.
  6. Prepare victim activists to work with the media.
  7. Promote and disseminate information about the value of victim activism through local and national associations of victim assistance programs. For example, the National Organization for Victim Assistance and the National Victim Center have provided training and technical assistance to foster victim involvement.

Recommendations for Government

As new legislation and criminal justice reforms have increased the involvement of victims in their own cases, the public sector has gained the ability to expand victims’ involvement in their communities, even with current financial constraints. Many of the following recommendations require little or no new resources; instead, they focus on shifting priorities for decision making or program funding. Public-sector agencies and organizations should:

  1. Actively engage crime victims in the policy decisions that affect them. Public hearings on legislation and public policies that affect victim services, victims’ rights, and violence prevention should always include testimony from victims themselves.
  2. Require victim involvement as part of professional curricula in all disciplines that work with victims (e.g., criminal justice, social work, medicine, and law enforcement).
  3. Incorporate community involvement as a funding guideline. This will encourage the creation of programs that engage crime victims in service, advocacy and violence prevention roles. Requests for proposals should require victim participation on advisory boards, as designers of services and projects, and as paid or voluntary staff.
  4. Launch demonstration programs to develop the most effective program models for victim involvement. One possible route might be AmeriCorps, where youth could work in their communities to engage crime victims in social action.
  5. Create opportunities for battered women to become more openly and actively involved in their communities. Services to empower battered women and increase their sense of self-determination— including education, job training, and placement—would provide them with the skills and confidence they need to reach out to others. Public education programs that debunk the myth of battered women as helpless would increase society’s acceptance of women who do speak out.
  6. Engage crime victims through community policing programs. Designed to create partnerships between police and the communities they serve, these efforts are ideal situations for victims to work with police to reduce crime and help others in need.
  7. Encourage the involvement of all citizens, along with crime victims, on issues of victim assistance and violence prevention, through public education (public service announcements, news and entertainment media). When victims initiate or join community-based efforts, they often do so with the understanding that the injustice they experienced affects all of society. A more widespread recognition that crime affects everyone would create a more supportive atmosphere for victim involvement and could reduce some of the social barriers to community activism, such as the common tendency to blame the victim.
  8. Support research to document more clearly the benefits of community involvement for victims’ recovery. This would provide the rationale and motivation necessary for victim assistance programs to create opportunities for victim activism and establish links with victims’ organizations.


Victim assistance organizations, professionals and policymakers have much to gain by looking more closely at victim activism. A better understanding of the healing benefits of community involvement would encourage partnerships between victim assistance programs and community initiatives. Expanded opportunities for involvement would create new avenues for reintegrating crime victims into society while mobilizing a dedicated force for social change. Through better communication between groups, victim activists might stimulate victim assistance professionals to look beyond individual needs to the broader social conditions that lead to violent crime.


  1. Katz, “A Journey We Did Not Want To Take,” Worth, (April 1995), pp. 87-96, 118-125.
  2. W. Crenshaw, “Race, Reform and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimization in Antidiscrimination Law,” Harvard Law Review, 101 (1988), p. 1331.
  3. R. Mahoney, “Victimization or Oppression? Women’s Lives, Violence, and Agency,” in The Public Nature of Private Violence: The Discovery of Domestic Abuse, ed. M.A. Fineman and R. Mykitiuk (New York:  Routledge, 1994), pp. 59-92.
  4. C. Davis and L.N. Friedman, “The Emotional Aftermath of Crime and Violence,” in Trauma and Its Wake, ed. C.R. Figley (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1985), pp. 90-112; A.J. Lurigio and P.A. Resick, “Healing the Psychological Wounds of Criminal Victimization: Predicting Postcrime Distress and Recovery,” in Victims of Crime: Problems, Policies, and Programs, eds. A.J. Lurigio, W.G. Skogan, and R.C. Davis (Newbury Park, CA:  Sage, 1990), pp. 50-67.
  5. Janoff-Bulman, “The Aftermath of Victimization: Rebuilding Shattered Assumptions,” in Trauma and Its Wake, ed. C.R. Figley (New York:  Brunner/Mazel, 1985), pp. 15-33.
  6. Lurigio and Resick, “Healing the Psychological Wounds of Criminal Victimization: Predicting Postcrime Distress and Recovery,” pp. 50-67; D.S. Riggs and D.G. Kilpatrick, “Families and Friends: Indirect Victimization by Crime,” in Victims of Crime:  Problems, Policies, and Programs, eds. A.J. Lurigio, W.G. Skogan, and R.C. Davis (Newbury Park, CA:  Sage, 1990), pp. 120-138.
  7. R. Davis, B. Taylor and S. Bench, The Impact of Sexual and Non-Sexual Assault on Secondary Victims(New York:  Victim Services, 1994).
  8. L. Herman, Trauma and Recovery(New York: Basic Books, 1992), p. 119.
  9. Davis, B. Taylor and S. Bench, The Impact of Sexual and Non-Sexual Assault on Secondary Victims.
  10. J. Lerner, D.T. Miller, and J.G. Holmes, “Deserving and the Emergence of Forms of Justice,” in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 9, ed. L. Berkowitz and E. Walster (New York: Academic Press, 1976).
  11. Herman, Trauma and Recovery.
  12. Simos, A Time to Grieve: Loss as a Universal Human Experience(New York:  Family Service Association of America, 1979), p. 228.
  13. G. Skogan and M.G. Maxfield, Coping with Crime: Individual and Neighborhood Reactions, (Beverly Hills:  Sage, 1981), p. 230.
  14. Stark, “Framing and Reframing Battered Women,” in Domestic Violence: The Criminal Justice Response, ed. E. Buzawa (New York:  Auburn House, 1992), p. 282.
  15. Lebowitz, M.R. Harvey, and J.L. Herman, “A Stage-ByDimension Model of Recovery from Sexual Trauma,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 9 (3) (1993), pp. 378-391.
  16. A. Stein, “Conflict and Cohesion: A Review of the Literature,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 20 (1976), pp. 143-172.
  17. Herman, Trauma and Recovery.
  18. IBID
  19. L. Silver, C. Boon and M.L. Stones, “Searching for Meaning in Misfortune: Making Sense of Incest,” Journal of Social Issues, 39 (1983), pp. 83-103.
  20. Herman, Trauma and Recovery, p. 209.
  21. Skogan and Maxfield, Coping with Crime: Individual and Neighborhood Reactions, p. 230.
  22. Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, 1977, cited in Skogan and Maxfield, Coping with Crime: Individual and Neighborhood Reactions, p. 230.
  23. S. Cohn, L. Kidder and J. Harvey, “Crime Prevention vs. Victimization: The Psychology of Two Different Reactions,” Victimology, 3 (3-4) (1978), pp. 285-296.
  24. Skogan and Maxfield, Coping with Crime: Individual and Neighborhood Reactions.
  25. Herman, Trauma and Recovery, p. 209.
  26. Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor(New York: Ferrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978).
  27. Felman and D. Laub, Testimony: Crisis of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History(New York:  Routledge, 1992), p. 24.
  28. Ibid.
  29. “Mother of Two Murder Victims Provides Solace for Others on Her Talk Show,” New York Times, 17 April 1995.
  30. Schechter, Women and Male Violence(Boston: South End, 1982).
  31. Terry, “Victims’ Families Fight for Mercy,” The New York Times, 1 February 1996, p. A-10.
  32. J. Weed, “The Victim-Activist Role in the Anti-Drunk Driving Movement,” The Sociological Quarterly, 31 (3) (1990), pp. 459-473.
  33. Lebowitz, Harvey, and Herman, “A Stage-By-Dimension Model of Recovery from Sexual Trauma.”
  34. Skogan and Maxfield, Coping with Crime: Individual and Neighborhood Reactions.
  35. H. Lord, Personal Communication, 1995.
  36. Skogan and Maxfield, Coping with Crime: Individual and Neighborhood Reactions.
  37. Stark, “Mandatory Arrest of Batterers: A Reply To Its Critics,” American Behavioral Scientist, 36 (5), (Jones & Schechter, 1993).
  38. Herman, Trauma and Recovery.
  39. A number of writers have pointed out how society’s common misperception of battered women as “victims without agency” fails to recognize their capacity to act even within a system of oppression. R. Mahoney, “Victimization or Oppression?  Women’s Lives, Violence and Agency”; K.W. Crenshaw, “Race,
  40. Stark, “Mandatory Arrest of Batterers: A Reply To Its Critics,” American Behavioral Scientist, pp. 651-680.
  41. H. Lord, Victim Impact Panels: A Creative Sentencing Opportunity(Dallas:  Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 1990); Mercer, R. Lorden, and J. Lord, “Victim and Situational Characteristics Facilitation of Impending Post-Victimization Functioning.”  Presentation at the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, San Antonio, 27 October 1993.
  42. H. Lord, Victim Impact Panels: A Creative Sentencing


The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) would like to thank Victim Services for their hard work in the development and writing of this document.  Specifically, OVC would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their dedication and time in producing this publication.

Lucy N. Friedman, Ph.D., Executive Director
Victim Services
2 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor
New York, New York  10007
(212) 577–7705

Since 1978, Dr. Friedman has served as the Executive and Founding Director of Victim Services, the largest victim assistance provider in the nation. Dr. Friedman has worked to incorporate victim services into all system components that come into contact with victims— including schools, hospitals, and the courts. Among her innovations are a domestic violence program that teams police officers with counselors to reach domestic violence victims; New York City’s first school-based mediation program, which teaches young people non-violent conflict resolution; the country’s first domestic violence service program in a public housing setting; and a counseling program for families of homicide victims. Dr. Friedman is a 1994 recipient of the President’s Crime Victim Service Award.

Susan B. Tucker, J.D., Director of Policy and Research Development Victim Services

Susan B. Tucker is Director of Policy and Research Development at Victim Services, where she has directed projects on the costs of domestic violence, anti-bias education for immigrants in ESOL programs and crime victim activism. She has written and spoken on a variety of victimization and violence prevention issues including domestic violence, workplace domestic violence and victim assistance. She previously taught and practiced law in New York City.

Peter Neville, Program Assistant, Victim Services

Peter Neville is Program Assistant in the Policy Office at Victim Services, where he works on a broad range of crime, victimization and violence prevention topics. Previously, he worked at the Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University, focusing on public policy in the areas of early education and family services. He holds a B.A. in psychology from Wesleyan University.

SCARS’ Summary

As you will see, much of the above follows the SCARS models and goals. SCARS was originally found as a Victims Activism organization following the model of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving. However, we have found over the years that activism falls short of truly meeting the complex needs of traumatized scam victims. For these reasons we have expanded our scope beyond these areas into greater explorations and research into both understanding the mechanics of socially engineered cyber-enabled crime, directly supporting crime victims, and becoming a crime prevention organization in the process.

We are also strongly focused on enabling and supporting victims to help other victims through our volunteering and partnering programs. We maintain an active continuing education model available to our volunteers and local advocates (what we call Ambassadors) worldwide.

If you would like to volunteer or learn more about what our organization does, please visit our corporate website at

This report was oroginally published in 1998

TAGS: SCARS, Victims Activism, Victims’ Advocacy, Victims’ Assistance, Scam Victims,

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