From a series of seven panel workshops on lessons learned from how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the criminal justice system, this report focuses on the panel workshop that brought together both justice agency-based and community-based victim service providers (VSPs), as well as other experts to discuss how the pandemic has affected VSPs and their respective responses to the pandemic.
The workshop discussion of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted VSPs addresses stress on staff due to the difficulty of getting personal protection equipment (PPE) and other supplies early in the pandemic, since critical victim services required in-person interaction with victims. In attempting to address this issue by transitioning to “virtual” court proceedings and interpersonal conversations, training in the technology involved was an issue. Accessing technology devices and reliable internet has been a challenge. Also, many VSPs were affected by law enforcement agencies’ decisions regarding responses to various types of crimes and how personnel were deployed. Prompt victim-related court decisions, particularly regarding pretrial release of offenders, has been a problem during the pandemic. VSPs also experienced funding disruptions due to the pandemic’s impact on funding sources. Given these challenges related to the pandemic, continued provision of services to crime victims has required significant innovation and adaptation. Key adaptation efforts identified by the workshop participants were the implementation of health protocols for victim shelters, virtual and remote working models for interaction with crime victims that involved cybersecurity, more collaboration with law enforcement agencies in identifying victims, and using flyers at grocery stores and other public places to advertise victim services. The workshop made recommendations for pandemic-related changes that should continue after the pandemic wanes, including effective interaction with other criminal justice agencies, the use of alternative technologies for interacting with victims, and expanded public information on confidential victim services.