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Cultural Sensitivity

Within the past few years, there has been more attention and emphasis on training programs related to cultural competence, meaningful access, and implicit bias. The National Center for Victims of Crime has identified gaps in services that commonly affect certain types of victims, and are working to fill those gaps by consulting with subject matter experts in those areas and offering training tailored specifically to assisting such victims. During our work on the Multidisciplinary Responses to Families and Communities in Complex Homicide Cases (“Complex Homicide”) project over the past few years, we have facilitated a number of trainings on these topics, and have gleaned invaluable information to help better serve the entire community of crime victims.


Helping Victims with Limited English Proficiency

As you can see in the infographic below, a significant number of Americans have limited English proficiency (LEP). Many agencies must comply with federal regulations which require them to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access for LEP persons to both their programs and activities. There are a number of factors to consider when determining what “reasonable steps” are, but “meaningful access” is a bit more clear: organizations must provide (1) qualified, timely interpreting; (2) in-language or bilingual service; and (3) translation of vital documents, including forms, orders, notices, signage, and web content/platforms/apps. Developing an effective language access plan and considering how to meet the unique needs of LEP persons is important. For additional information on federal requirements, click here.

Some LEP persons may also be immigrants, and require additional considerations. When working with immigrant victims, do not ask about immigration status, unless the person is seeking immigration or other services in which knowledge of their status is required. Inform immigrant survivors of the increased risks of engaging with formal systems, and conduct enhanced safety planning with immigrant survivors. If needed, refer to local immigration attorneys and/or local family law attorneys. Other referrals that may be even more helpful are informal systems for support and safety in the community, such as: agencies that work with immigrant populations; faith-based organizations; consulates; and other community-based organizations that can offer assistance and support. The following fact sheet contains helpful information on serving immigrant victims of domestic violence and can be useful in assisting other types of victims as well.


Implicit Bias

Cultural competence, which is knowledge in regards to a particular culture or group of individuals, cannot be discussed without considering implicit bias. Implicit, or unconscious, biases are subconscious attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. They also may be social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside of their own conscious awareness. There are conscious steps to help deal with unconscious bias that include the following:

  1. Be honest with yourself and notice what influences your decisions;

  2. Gather data about yourself;

  3. Stretch your comfort zone;

  4. Stimulate your curiosity about others;

  5. Expand your constellation on input.

In addition, a good practical tool when working with victims is to clarify intent versus impact. Many of us have been in situations where our intent did not meet the impact of what we said or did. In such situations, it can be helpful to clarify your intent by asking, “Do you mind if I repeat back what I think I heard you say?” More information and resources on implicit bias can be found here.


Spiritual Humility

Lastly, in order to have cultural humility, we must have spiritual humility as well. Cultural humility is a humble and respectful attitude toward individuals of other cultures and faiths that pushes us to challenge our own biases, and an approach to learning about other cultures and faiths as a lifelong goal and process. Americans have many different religious beliefs; the prevalence of each affiliation has changed, and that trend is expected to continue (see the graphic below). When talking to clients about spirituality, first examine the code of ethics of your profession, and know that you are bound by the policies and procedures of your organization. Spiritually sensitive care may simply require that you be comfortable with grief and actively listen to victims. Learning about specific religious beliefs (e.g. Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and how those beliefs may impact your work (e.g. death and burial practices) can be very helpful in developing a better understanding of your client.

The topics discussed above cover only issues that have been addressed in training seminars during the Complex Homicide project; there are other things to consider in order to be culturally responsive (such as ensuring accessibility for disabled victims), and they will vary based on the community of victims that are served by individual organizations. Cultural responsiveness requires actions taken after learning about a certain culture or group of individuals. One last point: it is critical to avoid making assumptions. Don’t assume all people from a particular cultural group are the same or share the same values, priorities, language or dialect; learn about your client’s beliefs, priorities, and language. Identifying areas where you and the client share similarities can help you establish a trusting relationship. It is good to understand their personal history as well, including past crimes that may have affected them. This information is essential for providing proper resources and will help them to build trust with you. For instance, many members of the Latinx community have fled their home countries due to poverty, gang-related issues, war, and other unlivable conditions. Working with advocates who have knowledge of these traumatic histories, including historical trauma, is vital in helping victims recover.

This information was gleaned from training seminars presented by Saira Estrada, Leo Martinez, Dr. Danine Flemming, Janice Harris Lord, Cantor Sheri Allen, and Dina Malki - we thank them for their insight, and would be happy to put you in touch with them if you are interested in additional information or training!

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