How Can I Help Farmworker Victims Become Better Witnesses?
There are many reasons why farmworker victims of sexual violence may be unwilling to report a sexual assault and participate in criminal investigations and prosecutions. One way to reduce some of the barriers and fears is to connect victims with victim witness coordinators and advocates as soon as you make contact. As victims see that you are concerned about their safety and well-being in addition to the criminal case, they may begin to trust you and, in turn, be more likely to assist in an investigation and/ or prosecution.
Join or create a multidisciplinary referral network. Farmworker sexual assault victims may be unable to participate in investigations or prosecutions because of unmet urgent needs. For example, if their children are in jeopardy, if they have no way to support themselves or their family, or if they do not know where they are sleeping that night, they may be unwilling to assist you. Take a few moments to discuss any immediate concerns with the victim and then make an appropriate referral to victim witness coordinators or advocates. Supporting victims’ needs may help victims and the case. Those needs may include:
- Crisis intervention
- Safety planning
- Post-assault health care, such as Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE), Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) testing and pregnancy testing
- Civil, criminal or immigration legal advice
- Privacy considerations
- Health care
- Mental health care
- Spiritual support
- Victim advocacy
- Financial security
- Public benefits
- Job skills training
- English language instruction
- Other language instruction
No single provider can meet the vast needs of farmworker sexual violence victims; therefore, it is essential to have a referral network in place. This network should include professionals and organizations that provide emergency and short term services, transitional services and longterm services. Additionally, support from family and community members may be important; the victim should be encouraged to decide to whom they will disclose information and who they will ask for support. Overall, this multidisciplinary network should strive for shared protocols, uniform intake questions and a quick response. This may appear to be a daunting task if you are new to anti-sexual violence work; however, there are effective networks already in place in many areas that you might locate and join. If you are in an area without an existing network, over time your professional network will grow to include the organizations that can serve victims in ways that you cannot. Having a system and network in place increases your level of service to victims, aids victims’ recovery, and reduces confusion and response time.
Ideally, the network should consist of:
- Rape crisis advocates
- Civil, criminal and immigration attorneys
- Medical professionals
- Mental health care professionals
- Housing advocates
- Farmworker advocates
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission representatives
- State anti-discrimination advocates
- Victim advocates
- Law enforcement official(s)
- Trained interpreters
- Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners
- Family members
- Spiritual leaders to address spiritual needs and, in some cases, the medical needs of individuals.
Refer members of your network to this guidebook and to our other guidebooks specifically written for attorneys and service providers at www.crla.org/svi.
Building a victim support referral network will take time and creativity. For example, rural areas may have fewer providers and they may not be bicultural and bilingual. You may need to reach out to resources in larger metropolitan areas in order to expand your referral network.
Locate linguistically and culturally appropriate services. Finding linguistically appropriate services is central to reducing a major barrier for farmworkers to access services. The more services you find that are provided in victims’ native languages, the more likely they will be to avail themselves of the services. Additionally, be sensitive and open to cultural preferences. For instance, victims may not believe in or use Western medicine and, therefore, may prefer healers from the same culture. Similarly, victims may not accept or practice counseling and therapy, but would prefer to visit a spiritual leader.
Refer victims to civil legal attorneys. Civil attorneys can represent victims’ interests related to privacy, employment, housing, immigration, finances, school and physical safety. They can also be an additional support to the victim by answering questions related to victims’ rights in the criminal justice system and civil litigation. With very rare exceptions, unlike criminal prosecutors, civil attorneys are not required to disclose privileged information to the defense. Be prepared to refer victims to an attorney who can discuss possible civil legal remedies.
- In what ways does my agency follow a multidisciplinary approach?
- In what ways could my agency improve its multidisciplinary approach?
- What referrals do I have in place to meet the needs of farmworker sexual violence victims?
- What additional referrals do I need to have in place to meet the needs of farmworker sexual violence victims?