The theme of the American Society of Criminology meeting this November is “Criminology at the Intersections of Oppression.” The burden of violence and victimization remains markedly unequal. The prevalence rates, risk factors, and consequences of violence are not equally distributed across society. Rather, there are many groups that carry an unequal burden, including groups disadvantaged due to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, place of residence, and other factors. Even more problematically, there is an abundance of evidence that there are marked disparities in service access and service quality across sociocultural and socioeconomic groups. Unfortunately, even today this still extends to instances of outright bias and maltreatment, as evidenced by ongoing problems with disproportionate minority contact, harsher sentencing, and barriers to services.
However, there is promising news, because advances in both research and practice are readily attainable. Regarding research, there are a number of steps that can be taken to improve our existing state of knowledge. To give just a few examples, we need much more research on hate crimes and bias motivations for violence. Hate crimes remain one of the most understudied forms of violence. We also need many more efforts to adapt violence prevention and intervention programs for diverse groups. The field has still made surprisingly few efforts to assess whether prevention and intervention programs are equally efficacious for different socioeconomic and sociocultural groups. Even after more than 3 decades of program evaluation, only a handful of such efforts exist. Program developers should pay more systematic attention to ensuring that materials that use diverse images and settings. However, it is also important to note that cultural adaptation means more than just superficial changes in name use or images.
Regarding practice, what is needed is more culturally appropriate approaches. In many cases, this means more flexible approaches and avoiding a “one size fits all” approach to services. Most providers, I believe, have good intentions and are trying to avoid biased interactions, but many of them lack the tools for more culturally appropriate services. One specific tool that can help is called the ‘VIGOR’, for Victim Inventory of Goals, Options, and Risks. It is a safety planning and risk management tool for victims of domestic violence. It is ideally suited for people from disadvantaged groups, because, unlike virtually all other existing safety plans, it has places for social and community issues, financial strain, institutional challenges, and other issues that affect people who experience multiple forms of disadvantage. The safety plan does not just focus on physical violence. The VIGOR has been tested with two highly diverse groups of low-income women, who rated it as better than all safety planning they had received.
The VIGOR also offers a model for how other interventions can be expanded and adapted to consider the intersections of oppression with victimization in an effort to be more responsive to all of the needs of those who have sustained violence. With greater attention to these issues, there is the potential to make a real impact and help reduce the burden of violence and victimization for all members of society.
Dr. Hamby attended an Author Meets Critics session at the ASC annual meeting yesterday morning. The session was chaired by Dr. Claire Renzetti, co-editor of the ‘Oxford Series of Interpersonal Violence’.