Chapter 21 Innovative Technologies and the Information Age
The Information Age holds tremendous promise for victims of crime and those
who serve them. Innovative technologies are being utilized to streamline criminal
and juvenile justice processes; create a "seamless" delivery of services
to constituents, including victims; and strengthen our nation's capabilities
to assist and serve victims. The wide-ranging potential offered by the Internet
provides up-to-date information and resources online, including many from the
U.S. Department of Justice, to victims and victim service providers.
Upon completion of this chapter, students will understand the following concepts:
- The current status of technology's use for administration, case management,
and victim services for victim assistance organizations.
- How technology enhances information services for victims and service providers.
- The benefits of and barriers to using innovative technologies for justice
and victim service agencies.
- The resources available through the "Information Superhighway,"
as well as how to access them.
- Victim assistance and criminal justice resources available online from the
U.S. Department of Justice and allied federal agencies.
- Promising practices in using technology to benefit victims.
Information is power. With the explosion of the Information Age, and the
expansion of the "Information Superhighway," victims and service
providers have multiple opportunities to augment their individual and collective
power by accessing and sharing information electronically. Information forms
the foundation upon which many victims' rights and services are based, such
as the following:
- Victims' rights mandated by statute and case law.
- Victim services available locally and at the state and national levels.
- Case and offender status.
- Case and program management and evaluation.
- Research that documents trends in crime and victimization.
- Personal support and resources available to help victims reconstruct their
lives following a crime.
Since 1995, virtually all of these types of information are available
online to any victim or service provider who has a personal computer, telephone
line, and modem.
The growth in technological applications to manage the expansion and development
of victim service organizations, enhance case management and tracking information
for both victims and offenders, and simplify and expand communications through
the worldwide "Information Superhighway," holds great promise for
the discipline of victims' rights and services. Knowledge about and use of
existing and emerging technologies can save greatly needed time, money, and
human resources for victim advocates and crime victims (Seymour 1995, 1).
The primary purpose of the victim service discipline is to help crime victims
obtain three basic objectives: rights, recovery, and respect. Yet victims
are often barred from securing these objectives by ignorance, misimpressions,
and lack of information. In a very real sense, information is the key that
allows access to victims' rights, recovery, and respect. Unless victims
are made aware of their rights, as well as how and when to exercise them,
such rights have no meaning or usefulness. Simply put, information is the
means to victim service providers' ends. Indeed, it is the stock and trade
of the victim service discipline and the driving force behind most services
for victims of crime. How victim advocates are able to gather, synthesize,
analyze, expand, distribute, and dispense this precious commodity has a direct
impact on the success of the victims' rights movement (Beatty 1995, 1).
Technology Assessment of the Victims' Rights Discipline
A key component of the "Promising Strategies and Practices in Using
Technology to Benefit Crime Victims" project sponsored in 1997/98 by
the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), with support from the Office
for Victims of Crime, was a nationwide assessment to establish a "benchmark"
of how and/or if victim service organizations utilize technology to enhance
administrative, case management, and victim service processes. A total of
6,100 surveys were directly mailed to potential respondents, with 1,345 surveys
returned to the NCVC.
The survey assessment examined agencies' hardware configurations, operating
systems, and Internet and online services. The findings provide an important
and useful "snapshot" of technological applications in victim services.
Over one third of victim service organizations (34%) have a network installed
within their agencies. One-half of responding organizations (51%) utilize
laptops, and over one-half (52%) use modems (with an average of 1.3 modems
The overwhelming majority of organizations (69%) have laserjet printers.
A surprisingly high percentage of victim service agencies (27%) have color
Total Number Of:
% Of Total Respondents
Organizations that have a network installed.
Organizations using a PC(s)
PCs used in the responding organizations
(an average of 9.5 per organization).
Macintoshes used in the organizations.
Laptops used in the organizations.
Staff per PC (average).
Organizations that use a modem.
Modems used in the organizations
(an average of 1.3 per organization).
Modems with fax capabilities (N = 1,758).
Daisy wheel printers.
Ink jet printers.
Over one-third of survey respondents (37%) utilize Windows 95 as their operating
system. When one stops to consider that the 95 version of Windows was relatively
new when this survey was conducted, it is significant that over one-third
of responding agencies possessed this upgraded version.
Total Number Of:
Organizations using Windows 3.0
Organizations using Windows 3.1
Organizations using Windows 95
INTERNET AND ONLINE SERVICES
Although this survey was completed in July 1997, it is still somewhat surprising
that only one-third (33%) of victim service organizations are connected to
the Internet, either at the office, at home, or both.
Total Number Of:
Organizations that have office access to the Internet.
Organizations that have home access to the Internet.
Office and home access to the Internet.
Total number with office and/or home Internet access.
Of the 444 respondents that have office and/or home Internet access, 338
(33%) use Netscape Navigator, and 122 (27%) use Microsoft Explorer, as their
A surprisingly low number of the 901 respondents who do not currently
have Internet access expressed an interest in doing so in the future. Specifically:
- 344 are interested in getting an Internet connection (38%).
- 130 are not interested in getting an Internet connection (14%).
Four out of ten (360) respondents with Internet connectivity are interested
in developing a homepage for their organizations, while 169 respondents, or
38%, are not interested in developing a homepage (Seymour, Beatty, and Insco
The Victims' Rights Discipline: An Information Age for Victims and Service Providers
(This section is derived from the Promising Strategies and Practices in
Using Technology to Benefit Crime Victims text, published in 1998 by the
National Center for Victims of Crime, with support from the Office for Victims
of Crime, U.S. Department of Justice.)
If the very core of America's victims' rights discipline (that is, what it
takes to provide comprehensive, quality rights and services) had to be boiled
down to one concept, or one word, it would quite possibly be this: Information.
Perhaps the greatest barrier over the past quarter century to the enforcement
of victims' rights, and the empowerment of individual victims and witnesses,
has been a systemic lack of information. At the genesis of this field, advocates
struggled not only to interpret the various information needs of victims but
also to create a nationwide system where information could be refined and
disseminated. When the victims' rights movement strengthened in both numbers
and sophistication, advocates focused on how to manage the vast amount of
information thatgrew on a daily basis about rights, services, and related
resources. As this discipline matures, the challenge remains to obtain,
interpret, disseminate, and manage information that can assist victims
and those who serve them in the most efficient, cost-effective, and
accessible manner possible.
Consider the plight of a sexual assault victim 25 years ago . . . It would
have been a rare occurrence for a rape victim to receive information about
her rights from a responding officer. Referrals to supportive services were
very limited. Guidance about how to apply for and obtain victim compensation
was infrequently provided. Provision of the most basic information about her
case was uncommon. Assistance in understanding the "maze" of the
criminal or juvenile justice process would have been very limited, if available
Flash forward to the millennium, to a very different environment: A responding
officer would be likely to provide information about rights, services, compensation,
and support. Information about the justice process would be available in both
paper-based and electronic formats. The management of her case throughout
the justice process in many jurisdictions would be simplified by electronic
case files, with information shared "virtually" with security protections
across both agencies and jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, information
about the status of victim compensation claims could be electronically accessed.
Information about confidential counseling and support groups would be available
via the World Wide Web. In fact, today information about rape trauma, victims'
rights, and avenues for activism abound on the Internet.
The difference between information then and information now
reflects not only a growth in both quality and quantity but also a more refined
approach to how information is identified, managed, shared, and made available
to and about victims, and to those who serve them. Access to
information today reflects an advantage that has been significantly advanced
Victim-related information can be divided into six key categories:
- Information about choices.
- Access to information.
- Information sharing.
- Information management.
- Information about advocacy.
- Educational information.
INFORMATION ABOUT CHOICES
Nobody chooses to be a victim of crime. As such, the key tenet of helping
victims reconstruct their lives in the aftermath of a crime is to provide
them with choices and options.
Victims today can readily access information about rights, services, statutes,
victim compensation, civil remedies, and other important resources through
the World Wide Web. Criminal and juvenile justice and allied professionals,
as well as victim service providers, are often linked to each other so victims
know whom to turn to for information and supportive services. Victims' choices
about where to go and what to do in the aftermath of a crime
are tremendously expanded by the volume and quality of information available,
in both paper-based and electronic formats.
ACCESS TO INFORMATION
The advanced technology age has revolutionized the accessibility of information
to victims of crime. No longer are boundaries and barriers created by one's
geographical location, physical ability, culture, or language. Innovative
applications of technology have changed the ways victims can identify and
retrieve information and services. These innovations range from simple to
- More widespread use of TDD equipment has expanded information and services
for hearing-impaired and deaf victims.
- Telemedicine electronically links medical and mental health experts to remote-rural
regions and jurisdictions lacking needed expertise to provide consultation and
review of victims' medical histories and cases.
- The proliferation of toll-free telephone numbers helps break barriers for
victims who cannot afford a long distance telephone call to access information
- Automated voice response technology makes victim notification and offender
status information available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, in
multiple languages and dialects.
- The World Wide Web has numerous sites devoted to victim information and assistance
as well as sites providing access about the status of offenders in some states.
- In San Diego County, California, victim impact statements provided at the
time of sentencing are videotaped and captured on CD-ROM, creating a "permanent
record" for future review at hearings related to the release of incarcerated
A recent focus for information access is the accessibility of Web sites for
individuals with disabilities. The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST),
founded in 1984, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to expand opportunities
for people with disabilities through innovative uses of computer technology.
CAST's major initiatives include product development and applied research.
Product development focuses on the creation of universally designed curriculum
and software including network learning systems for elementary schools and
colleges, and supported learning tools and curriculum in the areas of literacy,
mathematics, science, and social studies. Research is conducted in classrooms,
homes, community organizations, and the Internet.
CAST has developed a Web-based tool, called "Bobby," that analyzes
Web pages for their accessibility to people with disabilities. CAST offers
Bobby as a free public service in order to further its mission. Bobby's analysis
of accessibility is based on the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines. For example, to become Bobby approved, a Web site
- Provide text equivalents for all nontext elements (i.e., images, animations,
- Provide summaries of graphs and charts.
- Ensure that all information conveyed with color is also available without
- Clearly identify changes in the natural language of a document's text and
any text equivalents (e.g., captions) of nontext content.
- Organize content logically and clearly.
- Provide alternative content for features (e.g., applets or plug-ins) that
may not be supported.
The W3C Accessibility Guidelines address barriers in Web pages which people
with physical, visual, hearing, and cognitive/neurological disabilities may
encounter. Common accessibility problems on Web sites include:
- Images without alternative text.
- Lack of alternative text for imagemap hot-spots.
- Misleading use of structural elements on pages.
- Uncaptioned audio or undescribed video.
- Lack of alternative information for users who cannot access frames or scripts.
- Tables that are difficult to decipher when linearized.
- Sites with poor color contrast.
The guidelines are written for a variety of audience--people who design Web
sites, people who check existing Web sites for accessibility, and organizations
that wish to ensure that people with disabilities can access information on
the Web. In order to have a Web site analyzed for conformity to the Guidelines,
simply access the Bobby site at www.cast.org/bobby/, type in the URL
of the site to be analyzed, and submit. Bobby will display a report indicating
any accessibility and/or browser compatibility problems found on the page.
Once a site receives a Bobby approval rating, it is entitled to display a
Bobby Approved icon (CAST 2000).
When integrated management information systems within and among
justice agencies incorporate victim information, both the quality of and access
to such information are significantly improved. Lost paper files and misplaced
case information become a thing of thepast when victim-related case information
is electronically attached, with appropriate security restrictions, to the
electronic case file of the offender as it makes its way "virtually"
through the justice process. Within victim serving agencies, basic networking
in an office improves the veracity of victim-related data, as well as professionals'
ability to access information when and where it is needed.
In addition, the need to interview and re-interview victims to obtain the
same information for different victim service and justice agencies can be
significantly decreased. Case information captured at "one source,"
such as law enforcement or prosecution, can be entered and consistently shared,
eliminating the need for redundant data entry and multiple contacts with victims
that are unnecessary and often traumatic.
In the Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grants Program (JAIBG)
Bulletin entitled "Establishing and Maintaining Interagency Information
Sharing," a twenty-point prescription for the development of a comprehensive
electronic juvenile justice information system was offered for juvenile justice
system professionals. These recommendations outline key points in developing
and maintaining an electronic information system that can support the sharing
of information within and among agencies as well as meet specific informational
needs of the juvenile justice system, e.g., confidentiality (Slayton March
- Appoint an Information Management Committee composed of representatives
from every agency in the juvenile justice system, funding agency officials,
legislative staff, management information systems experts, community representatives,
child welfare agents, and parents.
- Determine the information collected and maintained by all the agencies.
- Evaluate information needs.
- Evaluate agency goals and identify those that are overlapping.
- Determine the mission (overall goals) of the juvenile justice system.
- Clarify reasons to share information.
- Identify what specific information is to be shared and who needs access
to each item of information.
- Determine statutory record requirements about information collection and
dissemination as mandated by federal, state, and local governments.
- Determine exceptions to statutory requirements.
- Draft an inter-agency agreement.
- Fund the system.
- Designate information management liaisons in each agency.
- Build the system.
- Prepare and/or revise policies and procedures.
- Train staff.
- Supervise confidentiality needs.
- Review policies regularly.
- Review needs regularly.
- Revise system as necessary based on audits and system needs.
- Repeat steps 14 through 19.
Although this checklist was developed for juvenile justice system information
sharing, it can be easily adapted for criminal justice or other multiple-agency
The benefits of technology when applied to information and case management
are substantial. Databases can be designed to capture not only vital information
about individual victims but also helpful data about case histories, relationships
with offenders, and prior receipt of services.
In addition, basic organizational management is enhanced by information systems
that expand an agency's capability to design programs, secure funding, and
strategically plan for the future. See the following examples:
- Statistical information now provides valuable guidance about the scope and
level of services provided to victims and offers valuable trending data that
can be utilized for program planning.
- Some states provide for the electronic transfer of information related to
VOCA grants, both for reporting and grant application purposes.
- Information about the status of victim compensation claims is being managed
electronically in some states, thus eliminating the need to rely on paper-based
files that are not always easily accessible.
- Basic statistical information about victim demographics is more easily managed
and accessed by justice professionals today which, in turn, augments the ability
of the United States to track important trends in crime and victimization.
INFORMATION ABOUT ADVOCACY
Many victims today seek opportunities to get involved in victim advocacy efforts
and make a positive difference in others' lives through victim assistance,
crime prevention, and public education activities. Visits to the Web sites
of local, state, and national victim assistance organizations provide extensive
information about opportunities for victim advocacy. "Electronic newsletters"
contain timely resources related to current legislative and public outreach
efforts. In addition, the increased use of "listservs" on the Internet
can provide opportune information to multiple parties "at the press of
Public awareness about and community involvement in victims' rights and services
comprise a key goal of victim service and allied justice agencies. Many innovative
applications (from computerized graphic design software packages, to basic
electronic billboards, to the widespread use of the World Wide Web) have both
complemented and simplified the presentation and transfer of information to
interested parties about victims' rights and services. The speed of the transfer
of information has resulted in community awareness and public education activities
that are timely, matching the speed in which response and support from parties
interested in victims' rights and services are needed.
Benefits of Innovative Technologies for Victim Service and
Allied Justice Agencies and Their Implications for Victim Services
The National Center for Victims of Crime identified five significant benefits
for victim service and justice agencies that utilize innovative technologies
along with six implications relevant to improving victims' rights and services
(Seymour, Beatty, and Insco 1998).
While most innovative technologies that benefit victims require an initial
investment of money, sometimes a considerable sum, myriad data point to their
overall cost-effectiveness. In today's traditional victim service agency,
much time that could be spent providing direct victim assistance and support
is consumed by work directly attributable to paper-based systems. Technology
can enhance overall agency operations and the provision of direct services
to victims and reduce the duplicative efforts that are caused today by both
the lack of technology and the lack of adequate management information systems.
Victim-related data are essential for a variety of purposes for both community-
and system-based victim service agencies. Some examples follow:
- Crime and victimization statistics.
- General demographics related to crime and victimization.
- Efforts to identify trends in victimization in a community.
- Establishing relationships between victims and offenders.
- Funding requirements (especially establishing the need to receive additional
- Program evaluation.
- Program planning for the future.
For example, victim service providers in Wisconsin who receive VOCA funding
can file their reports electronically to the Department of Justice.
Reporting requirements for victim serving agencies are driven by both internal
need and external demand for information. Technology enhances an agency's
ability to provide these data more quickly, efficiently, and accurately for
IMPROVED CASE MANAGEMENT
Electronic databases enable victim service professionals to access information
more quickly, enhancing both direct victim assistance and providing vital,
and sometimes life saving, information to allied justice professionals. This
is particularly true of victims' cases that involve either multiple victims/offenders
or multiple case workers either within or among victim service agencies.
In addition, the security of victim-related information can be enhanced by
technology. Specific information that can and should be shared with others
can be made readily available to the proper authorities, while confidential
data can be protected through a variety of measures such as security screens,
personal identification numbers for victims, encryption, and "fire walls"
on the World Wide Web.
ENHANCED PROGRAM EVALUATION
For victim-serving programs and agencies, program evaluation is essential
for a variety of purposes such as follows:
- Measuring the quality and scope of services provided to victims.
- Measuring victim satisfaction with services provided to them.
- "Proving" the need to secure additional funding (from either public
or private sector sources).
- Identifying new areas for increased service and/or specialized programs.
- Providing data that are vital to program planning for the future.
The beauty of technology today is that user groups at the "front end"
of the development of new applications can clearly identify data that are
essential to program evaluation. These elements can be easily incorporated
into software programs to provide valuable data when and where they are needed.
ELIMINATION OF REDUNDANT DATA ENTRY
It is not unusual for data about a victim or offender to be entered into information
systems twenty-five or thirty times throughout the duration of a case. Consider
the many "points of entry" for victim-related information, from
law enforcement through courts and corrections, including data entered by
both system- and community-based programs. Then consider the amount of human
resources and time that must be dedicated to such redundant data entry.
Shared management information systems allow vital case information to be
entered once, where it will (when appropriate) cross agency and/or
jurisdictional lines in an electronic format.
For victim service agencies, data that are applicable to case management,
direct service, program evaluation, and funding, among other considerations,
can also be entered only once. Today, innovative software applications
organize and manage these often complex data in ways that can eliminate repetitive
data entry by multiple professionals.
IMPLICATIONS FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME
"Filling in the cracks." Victims have historically
been subject to "cracks" in the justice system that sometimes appear
to resemble the Grand Canyon. Vital information that is not shared among
agencies or within a single agency can result in situations ranging
from minor inconveniences to major tragedies.
Many innovative applications of technology today are designed specifically
to "fill in the cracks" of a system and services that should be
designed to protect victims. For example, victim case information can be electronically
and confidentially attached to his or her offender's electronic case file
for easy access and rapid retrieval. Furthermore, victim case information
within one agency can be accessed by legitimate and authorized staff, even
in the event that a victim's direct case worker is inaccessible at the time
the information is needed.
The ability to create this "seamless web" of case information is
perhaps one of the greatest contributions of technology to the victim's discipline
Enhanced outreach to victims. From the use of simple word processing
programs that create automated merge letters, to basic graphic design programs
that simplify the production of victim-related newsletters, to the wealth
of information available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week on the
World Wide Web, both the scope and quality of victim outreach has been vastly
improved by technology. Access to information about victims' rights and services,
statutory and case law, and opportunities for victims to become involved in
proactive efforts designed to help others and even prevent crime--all abound
as a direct result of the Information Age.
Caution must be taken, however, to ensure the veracity of the information
now available to victims. Particularly on the World Wide Web, there are legitimate
concerns about "quality control" because bad information is worse
than no information at all. Quality control is a crucial area that merits
continued assessment and action on the part of victims and those who serve
Emphasis on diversity. The ability to disseminate victim-related
information in multiple languages and dialects has grown considerably through
technological applications. Addressing diversity is beginning to resolve a
historical challenge that has consistently hampered the victims' rights discipline
because business was conducted primarily in the English language.
Many innovations have opened new and important doors to diverse populations:
- The growing use of TTY and TDD technology for hearing-impaired and deaf victims.
- The use of videotaped and audiotaped victim impact statements for victims
who are illiterate or who live in areas located far from key justice system
locations at which they have the right to have input and/or be heard.
- The use of satellite teleconferencing for hearings such as parole proceedings
or the uplink developed specifically for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing
to "view" the Denver trial from a secured site in Oklahoma City.
These remarkable examples have made justice processes and related victims'
rights and services more wholly accessible to populations diverse by geography,
culture, and physical ability.
Increased victim satisfaction. Any time an application of technology
enforces victims' rights or improves their access to greatly needed services,
a possible outcome is increased victim satisfaction. A rich body of research
correlates enforcement of victims' rights with increased victim satisfaction.
Such correlations are greatly enhanced with the use of technology that broadens
opportunities for input, information, notification, restitution, and protection,
among other significant victims' rights.
Better enforcement of victims' rights. Many innovative technologies
are designed to ensure enforcement of victims' rights:
- Automated restitution management programs provide timely, accurate information
about the status of legal and financial obligations, including any remedies
that victims may have.
- Voice-automated victim notification programs make offender release information
available in two manners: by providing automated notification within a prescribed
period of the actual release or by allowing victims to call a toll-free number
at any time to access information about the status of the offender.
- Several state correctional agencies offer offender status information such
as location and next release hearing and even photographs of inmates on the
World Wide Web.
- CD-ROMs contain updated information, including photographs and locations,
about convicted sex offenders thus offering valuable information to augment
the safety of victims and communities.
These are just a few of the examples of how victims' rights are being enhanced
through innovative applications of technology.
New opportunities for crime prevention. The abundance of information
about offenders and victims, relationships between offenders and victims,
trends in criminal activity, and innovative solutions to crime prevention
and intervention provides new and significantopportunities to stop crime before
it occurs. The increase in such data, along with the ability to manage information
about complex data among individuals and activities in cases, have contributed
to substantial improvements in prevention, early intervention, and reduction
of criminal activity.
Barriers to the Systematic Use of Innovative Technologies
Through its national assessment of victim service programs' use of technology,
an extensive literature review, and focused group discussions held at its
1998 technology symposium, the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC)
identified twenty-one potential barriers to the use of technology in victim
services (Seymour, Beatty, and Insco 1998). The barriers can be summarized
in five categories:
- Planning and implementation.
- The "learning curve" among victim service agencies and professionals.
- Internal agency issues.
- Sharing resources.
- Victim-specific concerns.
The NCVC, however, is quick to surmise that what many view as "barriers"
are simply "challenges" to be addressed when planning and implementing
technological applications to enhance victims' rights and services.
PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTATION
Funding. Technology is often not cheap.
This important fact aside, victim service agencies must consider the costs
of implementing innovative technologies and compare them to the benefits that
will be received. Cost/benefit analyses usually support the initial investment
in hardware and software (along with the concomitant costs of research and
development necessary to launch the desired technology) with the expectation
that in the long run, substantial savings in human and monetary resources
Many governmental entities have "seen the light" in terms of applying
new technologies to both justice- and victim-related processes. In the early
stages of the technology revolution, investments in technology were considered
high risk. As evaluation data consistently point to cost savings, streamlined
operations and improved services, these risks are mitigated by the benefits.
Some state agencies that provide victim services have successfully requested
appropriations for funding innovative technologies to enhance and streamline
such services from their legislaturesand executive branches. Key to these
initiatives is a systematic evaluation of positive outcomes that result from
this often substantial investment of taxpayers' dollars.
The U.S. Department of Justice has invested considerable dollars and human
resources in technology that benefits victims of crime. Many program plans
have designated dollars for technology applications or have emphasized the
use of technology as a fundable factor for discretionary and demonstration
Converting from paper-based systems. There are still countless
victim service agencies, both community- and system-based, that operate on
a "paper basis." Case management information, client records and
statistics, reporting systems, and information relevant to grant and other
funding is maintained manually or, in some cases, using rudimentary technology
such as basic word processors.
The transition from paper-based formats to electronic systems can be time-consuming,
adding to staff and volunteer frustration and even resistance. In addition,
electronic applications offer new approaches that, while significantly better
than "the old way," require different formats and unfamiliar ways
of organizing and accessing information.
Preserving the quality and accuracy of data as they become automated is another
significant consideration. Quality control and measures to ensure accuracy
of data are key factors when automating agency and/or service functions.
Potential agency/vendor liability. What happens when a technology
designed to enforce a specific victims' right (such as notification, protection,
or restitution) fails to accomplish its stated purpose? Who is responsible
if a citizen is victimized or re-victimized as a direct result of the failure
of technology, and/or the failure of professionals who are responsible for
implementing such technology? Do individuals who are detrimentally affected
by the failure of a technological application to adequately perform have a
cause of action, against either the sponsoring agency or the private sector
entity that helped develop it?
These questions require equally serious consideration in planning for new
and innovative technologies. Liability may, indeed, be a significant barrier
to the private sector's willingness to even enter into certain areas of research
and development, fearing that the high costs of liability insurance and litigation
Lack of victim/service provider involvement in planning and implementation.
Many technological applications that are geared toward victim services and
public safety fail to involve victims and those who serve them in the planning
process: One-third of the technology submissions received by the NCVC project
did not involve victims in the early stages of product development.
Who knows better what victims need, and what concerns them the most, than
victims themselves? Victim-related technologies can benefit from input and
guidance from victims andservice providers throughout the research, development,
planning, implementation and evaluation stages. Involvement of user groups
and advisory entities can be very beneficial to governmental agencies, nonprofit
organizations, and the private sector as they seek innovative approaches to
using technology to benefit victims and witnesses of crime.
Lack of program evaluation. One of the key components in proving
the success of new technologies (including cost effectiveness, victim satisfaction,
savings of time and human resources, and overall efficiency) is program evaluation.
The ability to show positive, measurable outcomes can lead to additional funding
for and support of further technology applications.
As many states and other jurisdictions move toward performance-based evaluation
measures, innovative technologies will be pressured to provide tangible means
of measuring their success. Evaluation must be directly tied to planning efforts.
Although costly, external evaluations by professional entities provide objective
opinions of whether or not the application fulfills its proposed goals.
In addition, technologies that are service-oriented and/or provide information
to users should make every effort to offer opportunities for user feedback.
Client surveys and user groups are simple approaches to maintain ongoing,
helpful communications with "customers" who utilize the technology.
Managing complex relationships among data elements. New technologies
offer endless opportunities to manage data in ways never dreamt possible just
a few years ago. Data that were accumulated and maintained in separate and
distinct databases are today being organized and managed for a variety of
- Statistical analysis.
- Determining criminal and victim histories.
- Establishing relationships between and among victims/offenders, offenders/offenders,
and offenders/types and patterns of crimes.
- Establishing relationships among victims and/or offenders across jurisdictional
While the possibilities of managing these, and other, complex relationships
are almost endless with today's technologies, they also pose challenges to
planning and implementation efforts. Many agencies and professionals have
historically operated "within the box" whose sides were held together
by a lack of resources, technology, and knowledge. Innovative applications
of data management systems require professionals today to think and go far
"beyond the box," and create a vision where technology can be utilized
to its full extent for not only victim assistance, but crime prevention, interdiction,
and early intervention.
THE "LEARNING CURVE"
"Technophobia." Fear of the unknown is one of the
greatest barriers that humans face in life. It is ironic that while technology
today opens up vast new horizons of information and opportunities, at the
same time it can be formidable and frightening. As one victim advocate noted,
"`Technophobia' doesn't begin to describe my problem. `Techno-terror'
is more like it!"
Entities and professionals who offer technological solutions to problems
facing victims today must be acutely aware of the fear of technology experienced
by many victim service providers. All of the "barriers" described
in this section add up to some very good reasons for some advocates' hesitance
to embrace new technologies. Education for end users as well as potential
users is essential to address the consummate "technophobia" that
affects much of America's victims' rights discipline today. Continuing training
and technical assistance in how to use specific applications, and recognize
the benefits of their use, are key to overcoming this barrier. An awareness
of service providers' limited time and resources must be taken into account,
with clear and convincing evidence provided to them about how technology can
make their jobs easier.
Lack of understanding of the nature of innovative technology.
"You can't see the forest through the trees if you're standing at the
foot of the ocean." Often people fail to understand the nature of and
opportunities offered by new technologies because they lack adequate information
to help them understand. The solution to this challenge goes far beyond
simply educating people. It requires an understanding of users' most basic
needs, job requirements, and expected outcomes. It demands the involvement
of users in augmenting their human resources with technology in a partnership
for progress. It needs an ongoing system of training, technical assistance,
and user feedback that allows for two-way communication about problems and
solutions. It means a commitment that involves learning and listening
as a "two-way street."
Staff "buy-in." Victim service providers and allied
professionals who are suspicious of new technologies will remain so until
their suspicions and fears are either confirmed or denied. The best way to
allay these predictable reactions from agency staff is to keep them informed
and involved in how and why the new technology is being implemented,
and how and why it can make their jobs easier. Such efforts
should not occur after a technology is in place but in the initial
planning stages and during implementation.
Some staff fear that their jobs will be replaced by technology. Still others
fear an increase in workload due to the logical increases in information that
can be managed through new applications. Both of these concerns must be directly
addressed by providing concise and honest answers to the question "What's
in it for me?"
INTERNAL AGENCY ISSUES
Lack of time. The opportunities offered by innovative technologies
are often tempered, in the minds of some staff, by the time required to implement
them. Technology and time management are affected by many factors:
- Unrealistic time frames for implementing new technologies.
- Changes in workflow that require significant training and individual, personal
- Personnel shortages.
- Technologically-savvy staff being hired away from government and/or nonprofit
agencies by private industry.
- The need to input information instantly to meet legal mandates such as entering
offender release information into a database within a specified, short period
of time for victim notification purposes.
- The ability to manage more information through the use of technology can
equate (at least initially) to more time and work for staff.
Need for revisions and/or enhancements in policies, procedures, and/or
laws. As America's justice system and allied professionals move into
the Information Age, the journey requires a thorough assessment of agency
policies and procedures, related provision of victim services, and state laws
that govern the management of information. The differences between existing
guidelines and legal requirements that were developed for paper-based systems,
and those that are partially or fully electronic, can be substantial.
The solution requires an ongoing partnership between technology experts and
those responsible for jurisdictions' laws and agencies policies. Mutual understanding
and cooperation is needed on an ongoing basis to manage the change associated
with technological innovations.
Today many management information systems (MIS) seek to build in mechanisms
that automatically change database requirements in accordance with changes
in laws and policies. For example, states' victim notification systems should
be flexible enough to automatically effect MIS changes related to sentencing,
sanctions for specific violations of supervision, or the addition of new victims'
rights related to notification.
Quality of data. The old adage "garbage in, garbage out"
takes on added meaning within the context of new technologies. The information
in information systems is only as good as the original data from which it
is derived, as well as the competency of staff who are inputting it into new
electronic databases. Human error can have costly ramifications for victim-related
technologies. Agencies must institute measures of quality assurance to maintain
the integrity and accuracy of their electronic information, especially as
it moves from a paper-based format into electronic systems.
Information overload. Is there such as thing as "information
overload"? According to some victim service providers and allied professionals
interviewed through the NCVC project, the answer is a resounding "yes"
if the information is not managed well. As part of the planning process, people
need to carefully determine the following:
- Information needs.
- How the information will be used.
- Who will have access to the information?
- How the information will be managed--in single or shared databases, across
agencies and/or jurisdictions, etc.
- Exactly how the information can be used to further victims' needs, rights,
The ability to amass tremendous amounts of data can easily lead one to gather
information just "because one can." Unless outcomes of information
management are decided early in the planning stage and throughout the implementation
process, agencies may fall prey to "information overload."
Information sharing. Professionals and agencies who view "information
as power" may have misgivings about sharing that power. In justice- and
victim-related processes, however, information sharing is vital to case management,
criminal tracking, trending, and other critical planning and management issues.
There are countless stories of victims who have "fallen through the cracks
of the justice system" because case information was neither shared, nor
passed on to the appropriate entity.
The sharing of information requires safeguards to make sure the information
is utilized in lawful and appropriate manners. Concerns about victim and offender
confidentiality can actually be addressed better with, rather than
without, technology, as current applications offer considerable security
However, fears of sharing information are very real and, as such, should
be validated and addressed throughout any technology implementation.
Systems integration. It appears that when victim service and
justice agencies began automating their processes over the past decade, few
discussions were held among professionals regarding the hardware and software
specifications that might eventually be integrated, across both agency and
jurisdictional lines. The result is a wide variety of platforms and applications
that, today, require significant interfaces to "speak" to each other.
In addition, many agencies today seek to upgrade somewhat archaic systems,
rather than replace them with newer, faster systems with greater capabilities.
While these decisions are cost-effective in the short run, it is questionable
as to their efficacy in the future.
Systems integration is also challenged by the unwillingness of some agencies
to share specific information (this issue is addressed below). However, there
are few systems that, with today's advanced technology, cannot be integrated
with seemingly disparate systems.
Inter-agency and inter-jurisdictional cooperation. Different
agencies and jurisdictions often operate under different policies, procedures,
and laws. Those who apply innovative technologies to benefit victims must
research and understand the variances that will affect implementation.
In many jurisdictions, cross-agency and cross-jurisdictional task forces
define not only user requirements for new technologies, but also
the policies and laws under which they must operate. For some systems, flexibility
is necessary to meet the various and ever-changing mandates required by agency
policy and state or federal law.
Agreements must also be developed that determine who is responsible for some
of the new and exciting outcomes made possible by technology. For example,
if an offender under community supervision that includes satellite monitoring
offends in a jurisdiction 250 miles away from his probation officer, who is
responsible for his apprehension? Who is responsible for providing immediate,
direct victim assistance? Are costs of both shared, or solely the responsibility
of the jurisdiction in which the offense occurred? These and other questions
are typical of the many concerns related to inter-agency and inter-jurisdictional
Public/private partnerships. The inner workings of private
industry can, at times, be quite different from those of governmental or nonprofit
agencies. Private firms are concerned about profits, and public sector agencies
are concerned about saving money. While these differences are by no means
insurmountable, they can pose significant challenges to the implementation
of new technologies.
Joint ventures require joint risks, as well as mutual understanding of expectations
and outcomes. Some vendors feel that the public sector doesn't understand
or appreciate the high costs of research and development necessary to launch
a new technology. On the other hand, some professionals in the public sector
feel that vendors need to gain a better understanding of the constraints they
face in terms of time, human resources, and funding.
Accessibility to technological applications. The "Information
Superhighway" may still be somewhat inaccessible for many victims and
service providers due solely to the cost of a basic personal computer, modem,
and Internet connection. The challenge posed by a lack of access to technology
is as serious a concern as the barriers posed by victims who speak a language
other than English or live in rural/remote communities. Similarly, justice
and victim service agencies in jurisdictions that face budget deficits are
likely to face deficits in access to technology and, as a result, access to
information. While revisions in U.S. Department of Justice policies and state
laws related to funding are beginning to change this disparity, an imbalance
in access still exists.
Security of information. Victim confidentiality is a basic tenet
of victim services. Valid fears about technology are most often directly related
to the security of victim information, case files, and other data. The private
sector has responded with innovative applications that utilize encryption,
personal identification numbers, security screens that limit access, and "fire
walls" on the World Wide Web. Yet these approaches must be augmented
by comprehensive education of victim service providers and allied justice
professionals who remain wary of anything that doesn't equate to a confidential
file in a locked file cabinet in a secure room.
The need to maintain "the human touch." While technology
can streamline and better organize the delivery of both services and information,
it can never replace "the human touch." No matter how well applied,
technology is still impersonal to many victims and advocates. A human voice
or personal meeting provides comfort; a computer does not. As such, technological
advances should be considered only a partial solution to meeting victims'
needs. With careful planning and consideration, technology applications can
(and in many cases, should) be augmented by "the human touch" such
- A fully-automated voice response victim notification system added operators
twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to help victims who might need assistance
in accessing notification services and to provide additional information and
referrals to supportive services, upon request.
- Numerous victim-related Web sites incorporate toll-free telephone numbers
in the information and resources provided so that victims can speak to a victim
advocate, as needed.
- More and more Internet sites offer links to further information and assistance
based upon a user's specific interests and needs, including many that provide
direct telephone and in-person services.
Outreach to victims about the benefits of new technologies.
Just as crime victims are beginning to be viewed as "clients" or
"customers" of the justice system, they must be perceived as such
by technology firms and those agencies who purchase their services. The success
of technologies that benefit victims of crime will depend significantly on
victim satisfaction with, and acceptance of, these new innovations.
Outreach can occur on several fronts:
- The development of articles about new technologies for submission to the
publications of national victim service and allied justice organizations.
- Victim-specific pages on the Web sites of technology firms and agencies that
provide any type of victim assistance (such as correctional agencies).
- Involving victims and service providers in an advisory capacity as jurisdictions
consider the implementation of new victim-related technologies.
- Consideration of diversity issues in the research and development phases for
new technologies to provide outreach to victim populations who are differently-abled,
or who speak a language or dialect other than standard English.
- Offering training sessions at national, state, and local victim services
conferences (an approach that is gaining wide acceptance among service providers
and technology firms).
- Seeking victims' input about new technologies as they are being implemented
and refined, through either user groups or surveys.
The more knowledge victims and advocates have about technologies that can
help them, the more likely they are to support efforts related to planning,
implementation, and funding of these technologies.
DEVELOPMENT OF VICTIM-RELATED WEB PAGES
Increasingly, criminal and juvenile justice agencies are developing victim-related
Web pages for their Web sites that offer information about victims' rights
and services. These Web pages are important not only because of their capability
to expand victim outreach and assistance, but also because they effectively
integrate victim services as a core component of the agency's overall mission
In developing victim-related Web pages, criminal and juvenile justice agencies
should involve crime victims, as well as community- and system-based victim
service providers, in planning and designing the page. The following questions
should be considered when planning a victim-related Web page:
- What is the most important information about victims' rights and services
that should be made available?
- Who are our principle "customers" and how can we design a page
that meets their most salient needs in formats that are commensurate with their
various levels of cognitive development, language, geography, and culture?
- How can the Web page be formatted to be "user friendly" and accessible
to all clients.
- What type of electronic linkages (hypertext links) should be built into the
Web page that provides victims with additional information and referral resources?
Basic information that could be included in a victim-related Web page includes:
- General information about the agency and its victim services, including location
(with a map); hours of operation, and all contact information.
- An overview of the agency's mission, vision, goals and objectives specific
to victims' rights and services.
- Summary of victims' constitutional and statutory rights in the criminal and
juvenile justice systems (including notification, restitution, participation,
victim impact statements, protection, and compensation).
- Overview of the criminal and juvenile justice processes.
- "Glossary of terms" most commonly used throughout these processes.
- Answers to "frequently asked questions."
- Specific services available to victims from the agency/organization and how
to access such services.
- Specialized units within the agency--such as domestic violence or juvenile
crime--that includes a description of available services.
- Information about specialized programs--such as "Impact of Crime on Victims"
classes or victim/offender dialogue.
- Victim information-including brochures and handbooks--that can be posted online.
- Calendars of victim-related events, such as commemorative day/week activities,
training programs, and special programs.
- "Feedback forums" that allow Web page visitors to easily send e-mail
communications or requests for further information.
- Listings of employment and volunteer opportunities.
- Hyperlinks to allied criminal and juvenile justice, victim service agencies,
and national information clearinghouses for additional information and referrals.
Four examples of comprehensive victim services Web pages sponsored by criminal
and juvenile justice agencies are:
The "Information Superhighway"
(The following section is derived from the "Promising Strategies and
Practices in Using Technology to Benefit Crime Victims" text, written
by A. Seymour, D. Beatty, and M. Insco, published in 1998 by the National
Center for Victims of Crime, with support from the U.S. Department of Justice,
Office for Victims of Crime.)
APPLICATIONS TO CRIME VICTIMS AND SERVICE PROVIDERS
The "Information Superhighway" has radically changed communications
throughout the world. The speed and scope of human interactions have expanded
considerably. Access to information through the World Wide Web today crosses
jurisdictional, geographical, culturaland linguistic lines. This remarkable
progress holds great implications for victims of crime and those who serve
This section provides a basic overview of the World Wide Web and its applications
to victims, service providers, and allied justice professionals.
CONFIDENTIALITY AND TECHNOLOGY
The issue of victim confidentiality encompasses three primary issues:
- Ensuring safe electronic communications between and among sites.
- Protecting stored data or application information.
- Assuring the authenticity of the user or the server.
Encryption is the primary technology used to protect information as it is
communicated across the Internet. This prevents victim-related or other confidential
information from being observed and decoded as it moves across the public
Internet. Encryption, which is built into most popular browsers, prevents
listening by unauthorized persons. The need for encryption is substantially
diminished by use of a private Intranet or Extranet.
Data stored at a particular site needs to be protected. This is typically
done by using passwords to authenticate user privileges. Privileges to view
or to edit information within an application on the Internet is usually multilayered.
This means that different privileges attach to different users depending on
their authority. For example, a victim might only be allowed to view his or
her own information, while a counselor or other official might need to access
his or her entire caseload. Likewise, the ability to edit the information
might be limited based on the authorization granted to the user.
"Firewalls" also prevent access from outside sources into secure
servers through the Internet. This is required when organizations place their
Local Area Networks, and therefore their information and computers, on the
Authentication of users and servers is important so that information is not
transferred to organizations pretending to be another site. The technology
that accomplishes this feat is called public/private keys. The use of public/private
keys assures users that they are transferring information to the intended
site. For example, the victim, who is preparing to share personal information
with a prosecutor's site can be reassured that the site is authenticated as
the site it purports to be. Likewise, a victim can be assured that on the
prosecutor's site, the user has been verified as the person he/she purports
CONFIDENTIALITY OF VICTIM ADDRESSES AND OTHER CONTACT INFORMATION
A review of Internet resources reveals that there are multiple sources for
personal information, including addresses and telephone numbers, about most
individuals, including victims. There is little, if anything, that can be
done about dissemination of this information. This makes it allthat much more
important to maintain security and confidentiality of court-related data on
the Internet involving victims, as discussed above.
The Internet is generally described as the "network of networks."
The public Internet links hundreds of millions of computers into one global
network. The Internet is made possible by a set of network protocols used
worldwide. This standard makes many applications possible, including e-mail,
the World Wide Web, Telnet, News Groups, FTP (File Transport Protocol), chat
rooms, listservs, video viewers, audio players, database applications, and
a limitless number of small applications called applets. The World Wide Web,
and the many other innovations it has inspired, have propelled the Internet
to unequaled prominence not just in computer technology, but also in modern
Some uses of the Internet that are applicable to victims and service providers
might include the following:
- Victim notification and offender status sites (including sex offender registries).
- Restitution management.
- Victim/witness information.
- The private counseling of victims.
- Virtual victim support groups.
- Offender parole petitions.
- Training manuals for staff.
- Victim and public awareness information.
- The exchange of information related to VOCA and other grant programs.
Unfortunately this popularity creates problems of its own. The very ubiquity
of the Internet exposes public Web sites to attack by hackers. This risk,
in addition to the fact that much of the information an organization needs
to share internally is not appropriate for the public Internet, substantiates
the need for private networks that use the power of the Internet protocols.
Many organizations have used the same powerful and simple methods of the
Internet to create their own private networks, called Intranets. These networks
are used by organizations to share information and applications among their
members such as training manuals and case files. Intranets look just like
the Internet except that they are private to the organization. They can be
used to link multiple divisions or departments of an organization together.
For example, a state-level correctional agency might use an Intranet to share
information about victims, or offender release dates. Typically, access to
an Intranet network through the Internet is severely restricted with the use
of a firewall. A firewall allows only one way access, namely out to
the Internet, not into the Intranet.
Extranets are private networks shared by multiple organizations. An Extranet
uses the same protocols and technology as the Internet. It simply restricts
the network to certain organizations. A possible use of the Extranet might
be to link courts, law enforcement, and prosecutor organizations in order
to share information about victims or court notifications.
Web Browsers have clearly become the dominant application of the Internet.
Not only are they used to read HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) pages, but
they have also become vehicles for virtually every other stand-alone application.
The two dominant browsers (with over 90 percent of the market), Netscape's
Communicator and Microsoft's Explorer, are cases in point. Each browser now
has incorporated e-mail, FTP (File Transfer Protocol), chat facilities, video
viewers, audio players, and video conference/white board software. Perhaps
more important, in the long run, both browsers have the facility to incorporate
multiple applications into their framework using the programming language
DATABASE AND OTHER APPLICATIONS ON THE WEB
The greatest promise of the Internet/Intranet/Extranet may be the ability
to allow universal access to databases and other applications through simple
Web browsers. The advantages of this model are enormous. In the first instance,
such a model significantly reduces the cost and difficulty of application
deployment. It permits the use of very inexpensive computers by users. It
also allows for very facile and painless upgrades of the software from a single
central point. The promise of these now wide-ranging technologies might permit
the seamless and appropriate sharing of information among law enforcement,
prosecution, courts, corrections, victim service agencies and the general
HTML TO DATABASE SCRIPTING
The lowest common denominator of the Web is HTML, a simple scripting language
that has made the Web as we know it today possible. A small group of firms
have extended the use of HTML by using it as a script that will talk to databases.
The power of these simple tools can be substantial. For example, it might
securely permit victims to query and submit information to a prosecutor case
tracking database from the Internet. These tools are also simple to use. They
do, however, experience limitations as a result of the constraints of HTML.
Major attention and effort have been directed to the creation of miniature
applications that load through Web browsers to process data. The primary tool
for this effort is the object-oriented language called Java. The promise of
Java is that inexpensive computers will be able to process data using small
programs instead of the expensive desktop software tools now used. DirectX,
a product of software giant Microsoft, has a similar function. In addition
to significantly lowering unit costs, a major advantage of Java or DirectX
is that it would greatly simplify the deployment of Internet/Intranet/Extranet
solutions. In fact, software updates would be accomplished each time a user
visited the site. This would allow sophisticated and ubiquitous access to
the information behind the Java application. For example, a victim orservice
provider, using a Web browser, might view a spreadsheet (a Java applet) that
shows restitution payments.
The most recent enhancement to HTML is a scripting language called XML. The
first attributes of this new Web protocol are just beginning to emerge from
international standards bodies. XML will significantly extend the power of
the World Wide Web. It is said that XML will give Java the data to work. It
will permit Web pages to contain data that look the same to multiple computer
programs regardless of their location, platform, or origin. For example, a
case file might originate in a police department computer, be submitted to
a prosecutor's database, and continue to a court management system without
In effect, XML holds the prospect of allowing disparate computer systems
in the criminal and juvenile justice systems to use the same information entered
once through a Web browser. It is a major part of the puzzle allowing
a truly integrated justice tracking and notification system, easily accessible
to all with appropriate authority.
RULES NECESSARY FOR THE ACCOMMODATION OF TECHNOLOGY
Courts rule changes are necessary for the full integration of technology into
the court system. Typically, rule changes are necessary to permit the automated
filing of court documents or even the use of faxed documents for purposes
such as automated submission for search warrants. Rule changes can be effected
though local court rule changes or state-wide rule changes. Statewide rules
are typically superior to local rules.
Clear policies are required by justice agencies to establish which types
of victim-related information will and will not be released
and/or shared. Although formulation of these policies does not generally appear
to require legislative intervention, statutes have been used in specific instances.
CASE TRACKING MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEMS
Effective victim notification, restitution, and victim impact information
tools require a case tracking information system as a base for their operation.
Whether it is a local, state, or nationwide system, the first step is to maintain
the case tracking information. It is this case tracking information that often
drives victim information services.
Unfortunately, the case information required by victims usually comes from
different entities within the criminal or juvenile justice system. Inevitably
these organizations store and access important victim information in different
ways. Because there are so few integrated justice automation systems, victim
information must be entered separately by hand and cannot be exported directly
from different automated systems. Technology allowing the integration of data,
while maintaining separate systems in different agencies, is rapidly emerging
(see the discussion of XML above).
SECURE NEWS SERVER
The Secure News Server is computer software that lets users create secure,
private discussion groups for access over the Internet/Intranet/Extranet.
For example, the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) has used its
Secure News Server to develop communities of interest around victim-related
issues and services on the Internet. NCVC's secure news server allows victim
advocates to discuss issues relevant to victims in a secured virtual
environment. Researchers and policy makers can review new legislation and
regulations with a national, regional, or local interest group.
The Secure News Server improves collaboration and communication within workgroups,
across agencies, and between/among remote sites around the country. These
electronic discussion groups enable people to participate in a remote dialogue
by posting and reading messages about topics of interest. Discussion groups
support multiple conversations, or "threads," on a given subject,
displaying postings in the context of the prior discussion. This allows a
reader to follow an entire discussion from its inception, though they may
also join well after the discussion has started.
E-mail on the Internet makes ubiquitous electronic messaging possible. The
popularity of Internet e-mail is second in popularity and functionality only
to World Wide Web services. Anyone who has an e-mail account on the Internet
can correspond and transfer computer files to anyone else on the Internet.
Connection to the Internet requires nothing more than a telephone, modem,
and computer. Standard messaging packages allow users to exchange files by
attaching them to e-mail. This ability, in combination with the universal
connectivity of e-mail, permits collaboration among users anywhere on the
The Listserv is a computer program that automates the broadcast of e-mail
across the Internet. Typically it is used by a discussion group whose members
wish to share e-mail with everyone else in the group. A listserv is generally
an informal ad hoc type of discussion group. As participation increases, it
is often replaced by a News Group. Examples of victim-related listservs are
the Victims' Rights Compliance listserv and the Victim Assistance E-mail Network.
The Victim Assistance E-mail Network--an e-mail based communications medium
reserved for active members of victim assistance organizations, victim assistance
specialists, professionals in related fields, and all interested in the field
of victimology--has developed policies and rules to govern its application.
They have been replicated by other victim-related listservs to enhance both
security and member services, and include the following:
Policies and rules. The Network is designed to--
- Act as an aid to contact and communication between the many public, private,
police, judicial, and governmental victim assistance organizations which exist
worldwide as well as between individuals involved in the field.
- Serve as a bulletin board for announcements of meetings, conventions, seminars,
and related educational opportunities in the victim assistance area.
- Serve as a forum for the discussion of ideas, problems, solutions, techniques,
laws/legalities, and points of advocacy specifically related to this area of
- Allow victim assistance workers to seek peer support or gain new insights
from the experience of others, while respecting case confidentiality and the
right to privacy, which our clients expect and deserve.
Posting privileges. In order to keep discussions on the Victim
Assistance Network on an appropriately professional level, and to help new
members learn what kinds of postings are proper, three levels of membership
have been established:
- Probationary. All new members will be placed on a probationary posting
status. All posts from a person on probationary status are automatically sent
to and reviewed by the Forum manager before they go to the list membership and
may be rejected if deemed inappropriate. Inappropriate posts will be rejected,
not edited. At the discretion of the Forum manager, a probationary member can
be advanced to Full Member, or placed on No Posting status.
- No Posting. The member, due to his or her status as a student or interested
third party, will receive Network messages, but will not be allowed to post
- Full Member. Full posting privileges are granted. Messages posted
are automatically broadcast by the Network system to all other members.
- Maintain a professional tone to your postings at all times; absolutely no
inappropriate language or personal attacks will be tolerated. Intellectual discussion
is encouraged. The occasional disagreement is inevitable, but a professional
demeanor must be kept. Remember, your words are reaching hundreds of victim
assistance scholars and professionals from around the world, including the heads
of state/provincial, federal, government, and international programs. Personal
attacks in any form will be grounds for sanctions, up to and including permanent
removal from the list.
- No outside advertisements other than those of a victim assistance-related
function are allowed.
- Please maintain confidentiality and prevent secondary victimization of our
clients by not relating too much detail. If you wish to discuss a particular
client/case, please do not give details which might identify the client.
- Messages sent to the Network are considered the property of the author. If
you would like to use specific quotes from Network messages in classes, research,
seminars, etc., please get permission from the author of the message.
- The direct forwarding or cross-posting of discussion threads from other forums
to the Victim Assistance Network (and vice versa) is forbidden. Feel free to
suggest new ideas or topics of discussion taken from other forums, and to pass
on factual information from our list such as seminar dates, management concepts,
schedules, etc., but the forwarding of posts or discussion threads wholesale
will not be allowed.
- The following topics are forbidden due to their extremely controversial and
disruptive natures, or because they do not relate directly to victim assistance:
gun control, death penalty, "victims as advocates versus nonvictim advocates."
Sanctions. All postings to the list are monitored. At the discretion
of the Forum manager, anyone deemed violating one or more rules can be subject
to one or more of the following sanctions:
- Reduction to probationary status: A member can have his or her posting privileges
reduced to the probationary level, with all future posts subject to review by
the Forum manager. This sanction can be lifted at the discretion of the Forum
- Loss of posting privileges (no posting): The member can receive messages,
but is permanently barred from posting. This sanction, if used, is irrevocable.
- Removal from the Network: Normally used only in very extreme cases, a member
who is removed from the Victim Assistance Network as a sanction is permanently
barred from rejoining.
- The Victim Assistance E-mail Network requires applicants to complete an agreement
and questionnaire that indicates their willingness to comply with the policies
and rules noted above. For additional information about this Network, or its
model rules and policies, please contact (Randy McCall 2000).
ANONYMOUS E-MAIL SERVERS
Sometimes it is important for e-mail users to restrict knowledge about their
identity. Anonymous e-mail servers permit users to forward e-mail through
their special server, which then removes any indication of the originator's
identity. Such a server can benefit crime victims who need information or
support, but wish to remain anonymous. By the use of an anonymous e-mail server,
crime victims might very candidly share personal information across the Internet
with no fear that their privacy will be invaded.
FTP (FILE TRANSFER PROTOCOL)
FTP is a facility of the Internet that allows users to download computer files
from other sites. It is often used to transfer software or recent updates
to software. FTP abilities have beenlargely incorporated into Web browsers,
thereby making the necessity of separate FTP applications largely unnecessary.
The Telnet utility allows Internet users to log on to remote computers and
utilize them as though they were located locally. Although usually restricted
by security considerations, Telnet allows remote users to utilize the information
from large databases as though it were located on their desktop. The use of
Telnet is largely restricted to advanced Internet users.
ICHAT AND CHAT ROOMS
Ichat and chat rooms are Internet facilities that allow individuals to participate
in online, real-time computer conversations. As one user types messages, they
can be viewed and responded to by others on the channel. Users can go offline
publicly and restrict their conversations to only two participants.
These facilities can be used by victims seeking online counseling or help
from a virtual support group. Like many other utilities, these two facilities
have been largely incorporated into Web browsers.
Accessing Information: Office for Victims of Crime Resource
(The following information was extracted from the 2001 National Crime
Victims' Rights Week Resource Guide, published in 2001 by the Victims'
Assistance Legal Organization, Inc. (VALOR), with grant support from the Office
for Victims of Crime, U.S. Department of Justice.)
VICTIMS' RESOURCES IN THE INFORMATION AGE
The advent of information technologies, especially the enormous growth of
the Internet, has changed the way in which information about crime victims'
issues is being made available to researchers, advocates, and practitioners.
Today, victims and victim service providers can instantly access an enormous
amount of information specific to their needs, including the latest research
findings, statistical reports, program descriptions, grant and funding sources,
evaluations on victim issues, promising practices, and referrals to professional
organizations in the victim-serving community.
For victims and victim service providers, information access begins with
the Office for Victims of Crime Resource Center (OVCRC), a component of the
National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS). Established by the Office
for Victims of Crime (OVC), U.S. Department of Justice, OVCRC is your primary
source for crime victim information. OVCRC is accessible 24 hours a day through
the NCJRS World Wide Web Justice Information Center and Fax-on-Demand where
menus provide information and publications from all Office for Justice Program
(OJP) agencies-Office for Victims of Crime, National Institute of Justice,
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Bureau of Justice Statistics,
and Bureau of Justice Assistance--as well as from the Office of National Drug
Control Policy. In addition tothe Web site, victim assistance professionals
can benefit by taking advantage of various online services, such as the Justice
Information (JUSTINFO) Electronic Newsletter, e-mail inquiries, the
Conference Calender Database, and the Online Ordering Store. NCJRS also has
highly trained information specialists to personally answer questions and
direct individuals to the best resources available. Furthermore, NCJRS offers
allied professionals an opportunity to be placed on their mailing list to
receive up-to-date information via the NCJRS Catalog. Together with
online services, Fax-on-Demand, and personal assistance, NCJRS and OVCRC can
help victim advocates know more to better serve the needs of victims
ACCESSING NCJRS AND OVCRC ONLINE
To contact NCJRS, call 800-851-3420. NCJRS Online can be accessed in the following
NCJRS World Wide Web homepage. The homepage provides NCJRS
information, and links to other criminal justice resources from around the
world. The NCJRS Web page provides information about NCJRS and OJP agencies,
grant-funding opportunities, full-text publications, key-word searching of
NCJRS publications, access to the NCJRS Abstracts Database, the current NCJRS
Catalog, and a topical index. The address for the NCJRS Homepage is http://www.ncjrs.org.
NCJRS Online Ordering System. Publications, videos, and other
materials that pertain to criminal justice, juvenile justice, and drug control
policy can now be ordered at any time. The online store is open 24 hours a
day, 7 days a week.
Justice Information (JUSTINFO) electronic newsletter. This
free, online newsletter is distributed to your Internet e-mail address on
the 1st and 15th of each month. JUSTINFO contains information concerning
a wide variety of subjects, including news from all Office of Justice Programs
(OJP) agencies and the Office of National Drug Control Policy; criminal justice
resources on the Internet; criminal justice funding and program information;
and announcements about new NCJRS products and services. To subscribe, send
an e-mail with the message subscribe justinfo
E-mail: information and help. Users requiring technical assistance
or having specific questions on criminal and juvenile justice topics can send
an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. To place an order for publications,
users may send an e-mail.
OTHER NCJRS ELECTRONIC INFORMATION SERVICES
Fax-on-demand. NCJRS has established a "fax-on-demand"
service that allows the user to obtain copies of selected NCJRS documents
directly through their own fax machine, using a toll-free telephone number.
To access the fax-on-demand menu, simply call 1-800-851-3420, and follow the
CD-ROM and online access to the Abstracts Database. Users with
CD-ROM capability can also obtain the NCJRS Abstracts Database on CD-ROM.
This disc features citations and abstracts of more than 140,000 criminal justice
books, research reports, journal articles, government documents, program descriptions,
program evaluations, and training manuals contained in the NCJRS Research
and Information Center library collection. The disc also contains search software
that supports retrieval, using any combination of words to search individual
fields or all fields globally. The disc can be searched using "free text"
methods, or in combination with the National Criminal Justice Thesaurus. In
addition, the NCJRS Abstracts Database is available on the NCJRS Homepage.
VICTIM-RELATED INTERNET SITES
Crime victims and victim service providers have witnessed a remarkable growth
in the amount of information available to them, through the continued development
of the Internet--especially the World Wide Web. Now, victim-serving agencies
and advocacy organizations have the ability to reach around the corner or
around the world with information about new issues, services, and promising
practices designed to improve the welfare of victims of all types of crime.
In an effort to present the most comprehensive and timely information available
through this vast medium, the Office for Victims of Crime has substantially
revised its World Wide Web homepage. OVC encourages crime victims and victim
service providers alike to visit this comprehensive resource.
Many other agencies and organizations are now providing victim-related information
through the World Wide Web. The following is a list of sites on the Web that
contain information on selected crime victimization topics. Please note that
this list is intended only to provide a sample of available resources, and
does not constitute an endorsement of opinions, resources, or statements made
(Many of the following promising practices were identified through the "Promising
Strategies and Practices in Using Technology to Benefit Victims" Project
sponsored by the National Center for Victims of Crime. Their inclusion in
this text does not construe an endorsement.)
Innovative Technologies and the Information Age Self-Examination
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) has initiated a
campaign to get people to donate their old cell phones for a worthwhile purpose.
The Coalition will refurbish the phones and activate them so that women who
are at risk for domestic violence can use them to call 911 (the only number
that can be called) when help is needed. The criteria for donating a phone are:
(1) The phone has to be in working order; (2) The battery must be included with
the phone; and (3) The charger must also be included. Donors are provided with
a receipt for IRS tax deduction purposes.
- The North Carolina Department of Correction Victim Services has developed
a Web search engine that only searches Web pages directly related to victim
advocacy. Sites that have been entered as part of the search engine include
recognized federal, state, and local victimadvocacy and government agencies.
This allows the searcher to avoid having to look through pages of unrelated
links that come up on a random search on the Web.
- The I-Pass/Unitz case tracking system was developed by the Louisville, Kentucky-based
Center for Women and Families in January 1998. The Center provides a wide variety
of services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, including job
search and retention services. The Center designed a client management/database
to fit the demographics of the victims it serves to track not only vital statistics,
but also incidences of abuse, weapons used, outcomes of court cases, etc.
- The District Attorney Case Management System (DA-CMS) is a case management
application, with a victim services module, for use by Oregon's district attorneys.
The application is an integrated local criminal justice information system that
links law enforcement, jails, district attorneys, courts, and corrections with
each other through a locally integrated database, and with regional and state
partners through gateways to existing external systems. Victim advocates can
track cases from intake through final disposition. A gateway to the state court
system's statewide network automatically provides all event and disposition
information. DA-CMS was developed in 1998 by the Willamette Criminal Justice
Council and is currently being utilized in multiple counties in Oregon.
- The Domestic Violence Inventory (DVI) is an automated (computer scored) domestic
violence offender assessment instrument. The DVI has 55 items, takes 30 minutes
to complete, and has six scales (measures): truthfulness scale, violence (lethality)
scale, control scale, alcohol scale, drugs scale, and stress coping ability
scale. The DVI can be administered in four ways:
Client risk is determined for each of the six DVI scales independently based
on the client's pattern of responding. It has a built-in proprietary database
that facilitates ongoing database research and test program summary reports.
Created by a private company, the DVI is utilized by courts, corrections,
and community-based programs in hundreds of jurisdictions across the United
- Paper-pencil test booklet format.
- On the computer screen/monitor.
- Optical scanner.
- Human (audio) voice.
- In existence since September 1992, the Massachusetts Registry of Civil Restraining
Orders (RCRO) is a first-of-its-kind, statewide, comprehensive database of domestic
violence restraining orders issued by the Massachusetts Trial Court. Containing
over 230,000 restraining orders, the Registry is integrated into the Trial Court's
database of over two million people and 11 million cases. Considered a national
model, this integrated system provides up-to-date criminal, delinquency, and
domestic violence court history information to judges for use in assessing dangerousness
during bail, sentencing, and restraining order decisions.
The RCRO and other components of the Trial Court information systems are
made available to the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Information System
(CJIS) via electronic link. Astrong relationship between the Massachusetts
Trial Court and CJIS ensures that Trial Court data are made available twenty-four
hours a day to state and local law enforcement for arrest and investigation
The Registry, designed to support domestic violence prevention
and enforcement activities, has also supported the development of many new
practices. New domestic violence programs for offender monitoring and victim
assistance have been developed in many local probation offices.
While initially created for criminal justice purposes, this statewide system
incorporates the Superior, District, Boston Municipal, and Family Court
Departments. In addition to Trial Court utilization, the RCRO is used by
jails, houses of correction (prisons), and parole authorities to ensure
that victim safety is maintained during custody and by human and social
service agencies for use in child custody, foster care placement, and adoption
- The Victim Notification Automated System (VNAS) was developed by the Virginia
Department of Corrections (DOC). Part I of the system entails an automated,
toll-free telephone line for victims to call and speak with a staff person between
8:15 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. On evenings, weekends, and holidays,
victims can receive offender status such as parole, location, projected release
date, by using a PIN number to access the automated system. Part II of the system
is a victim notification system that establishes a relational database between
the victim database and offender database that allows letters to be automatically
generated when an offender's status changes. Both applications were developed
for Commonwealth-wide usage.
- BANNER Courts is a case and financial management software for courts of all
jurisdictions in the United States and internationally. It includes case management
for victim/witness information (including notification), and features an automated
payment tracking system that can monitor restitution and child support payments.
It was developed in 1994 by a private company and is currently being utilized
in nine states.
- The Court Ordered Payment System (COPS), developed by the Florida Department
of Corrections (DOC) in 1991, is designed to receipt payments of fines and fees
(including restitution) from offenders, apply the money to the offenders' victims'/payees'
accounts, and quickly disburse checks within 72 hours of the offenders' payments
to the various victims and payees. This is a statewide system that incorporates
prison, probation, parole, and all twenty judicial circuits, so if the offender
transfers anywhere in Florida, the same system is utilized (resulting in no
need for "paper transfer" of records between supervising officers).
The system is also utilized to notify victims and law enforcement of an inmate's
release from prison.
- The Domestic Violence Virtual Conference of Judges CD-ROM, developed by the
Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) in 1996, is a two-disk multimedia, interactive
CD-ROM program that features some of the nation's leading experts in domestic
abuse. Users can make rulings in a hypothetical domestic violence criminal court
case and compare their rulings to those of their colleagues, interview a psychologist
who works with both victims and perpetrators, find statistics on domestic violence,
and take a "quiz" to test their knowledge. The program provides judges and judicial educators with an innovative andaccessible
learning tool that can be used individually or with other judges as an integral
part of continuing education courses.
- The diagnosis of violence-related injuries most often depends on a visualization
of the injuries. In 1997, in response to the need for immediate visual consultations
in cases of child abuse and neglect, the Los Angeles County and University of
Southern California Center for the Vulnerable Child/Violence Intervention Program
(CVC/VIP) developed the first-of-its-kind telemedicine program for providing
immediate diagnostic support to programs including rural clinics and emerging
Child Advocacy Centers and Multidisciplinary Teams.
The telemedicine program is in daily use by satellite programs (High Desert
Hospital and Olive View Medical Center in California; Alaska; and various
Indian reservations). It is currently being expanded throughout Los Angeles
County for use as peer review and continuing medical education. This program
is used by centers with sophisticated technology or by programs that simply
rely on 35mm or digital photography. The CVC/VIP is one of the largest comprehensive
child abuse centers in the United States. The major focus of this program
is to rely on a multidisciplinary team approach to intervene for children
and families where child abuse has been identified as a problem. The CVC
was the pioneer in developing the technology for the photo documentation
of trauma associated with sexual assault, which is currently the standard
of care accepted throughout the world.
- In recent years, several private technology firms have developed and made
available to the general public various software programs, date equipment, and
data systems regarding services for victims of crime, particularly relating
to offender information and tracking. These new products include the following:
- Continuous offender monitoring capability that permits automated real-time
violation notification for offenders and advanced warning for victims (and
potential victims) of crime. This comprehensive system is comprised of offender
equipment, agency equipment, victim equipment, and a central data system.
It has centralized authority at the a data center where the offender's rules
of release and off-limit areas are defined and stored. The system has autonomous
execution because the offender's PTD is loaded with the rules of release
and off-limit areas, and will notify both the offender and the data center
when the offender violates these rules.
Victims of crime can be provided with a notification interface using a pager
and/or phone (cellular or land line). The agency is provided with a remote
computer workstation interface for map displays, rules, administration,
and reports. Law enforcement can also be provided with a remote computer
workstation interface to perform crime scene correlation regarding offenders
on the system.
- Victim information and notification technology that utilizes a centralized
call center with both live operators and automated interactive voice prompts
to provide crime victims and other designated groups with twenty-four hours
a day access to select offender information via the telephone. Callers use
basic offender information such as a name, case or booking number to procure
accurate inmate and case data, and then register using a self-selected PIN
number to receive an automated telephone notification in the event that
the status changes. A computer interface is established between the call
center and on-site agencies such as the local jail, court, district attorney's
office, or corrections/parole agency. Examples of information that can be
monitored through such technology include custody status, court information,
charge information, etc.
- An artificial intuition system that assists case evaluators in making
high-stakes predictions of violence. This is a case management tool that
brings expert opinion and research results to the management of situations
that may escalate to violence. It asks questions and evaluates factors about
a given case, and prompts the user to select from a predetermined range
of answers. Different systems can be used for different predictive challenges, including
situations involving: predicting which domestic violence situations are
most likely to escalate to homicide; screening of threats to senior officials
(governors, members of Congress, mayors, agency heads, etc.) as well as
threats to federal judges and prosecutors; evaluation of cases of possible
violence in the workplace; determination of which abortion clinics are most
likely to be targeted for violence; and determination of which cases of
child abuse are most likely to escalate or reach a lethal level. Additionally,
systems are being developed to help determine the "provability"
of domestic violence cases so that prosecutors can better screen and manage
the cases that are brought to them for review.
1. Describe two benefits of innovative technologies that can help
victims of crime and victim service providers.
2. Describe two barriers to the development or use of technologies
that could benefit victims of crime and victim service providers.
3. What is the World Wide Web?
4. Describe one program or service available electronically on the Internet
from the U.S. Department of Justice.
5. Describe a promising practice utilizing innovative technologies to benefit
victims (either one highlighted in this chapter or one used by your agency
or in your community).
|Chapter 21 Innovative Technologies and the Information Age