We all have the ability to help victims and survivors of crime. While the specific services or assistance you can offer may vary depending on your role, your knowledge and expertise, or your organization, the basic principles of survivor-centered care can be implemented by anyone.

In keeping with this year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week theme, which “asks all of us—friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues, community leaders, victim service providers, criminal justice practitioners, and health professionals—how we can help crime victims”, for this guide we use the term “victim services” broadly, to mean any efforts an individual or organization takes to assist and support victims and survivors of crime.

A Survivor- or Victim-Centered Approach

First, a note on using the terms “victim” and “survivor”, which are used interchangeably throughout this article. Not all survivors see themselves as a victim and not all victims see themselves as a survivor. Whichever term you or your organization may use, be receptive and deferential to individual victims and survivors and mirror their language and terminology. As the 2018 Wilbanks CEASE Conference keynote speaker Delegate C.T. Wilson said, “I’m not a victim or a survivor. I’m C.T.”

At its heart, a survivor- or victim-centered approach recognizes and honors the autonomy of survivors themselves. A victim-centered approach:

  • Prioritizes the survivor’s wishes, safety, empowerment, and general well-being;
  • Does not generalize, but instead sees every victim as an individual, with their own unique needs, wishes, and concerns;
  • Requires active listening;
  • Refrains from judgment and assumptions;
  • Seeks input from the survivor; ensures that their interests, opinions, and wishes are taken into account in any decisions;
  • Treats survivors with dignity, compassion, and respect; AND
  • Remains mindful of any special considerations for specific populations.

Victim-centered services are specific, appropriate, culturally and physically accessible, and driven by the unique needs of the individual or community impacted by crime or violence. Exactly how you can incorporate these principles into your work with victims will depend on your relationship to each individual survivor and your role or the nature of your work. However, the core values of victim-centered care are universal – the types of decisions made by prosecutors and health professionals, for example, are very different; but both should seek the survivor’s input and take their wishes into account when making a decision. To the extent that a survivor is able to understand the situation and participate in their case and care, survivors should always be involved to the greatest extent possible. Work directly with the survivor. In some situations, such as if the victim is young, elderly, or has a disability, you may need to work with a parent, guardian, or other trusted caretaker, while also ensuring the victim’s voice and choices are heard, respected, and honored as much as possible.

Even if you have good intentions, do not make decisions or take actions on the victim’s behalf without consulting them. Do not make assumptions about how a victim feels or what they need. Rather, encourage the victim to define their needs or problems; help the victim to prioritize them, and work proactively with them to reach the ideal solution while considering acceptable alternative solutions. Effective victim-centered services should empower victims to speak up for themselves; take control of their own lives; and make life decisions without undue influence or control from others.

Be mindful of any special considerations to take into account, without making assumptions. For example, if you are working with a victim who identifies as LGBTQIA+ and has shared that faith-based organizations make them feel uncomfortable, do not provide referrals to faith-based organizations; at the same time, do not assume all LGBTQIA+ victims do not want faith-based services. Remember that while specific population groups may have specific needs, no one individual speaks for their entire population. Always consider barriers to accessing services, including, but not limited to: physical barriers, such as lack of reliable transportation; linguistic and cultural barriers, such as limited English proficiency or cultural values which may affect how victims view themselves and receive services; programmatic barriers, such as a difficult application process to receive services; and attitudinal barriers, such as the perception that children and teens cannot be trusted because of their age.



International Association of Chiefs of Police. 2023. Agency Self-Assessment Tool for Law Enforcement Victim Support.
Refer to pages 6-7 for self-assessment tools on victim-centered, trauma-informed practices.

Resource Sharing Project. 2017. Tips for Active Listening.

National District Attorneys Association, Women Prosecutors Section. 2021. Victim Services and Victims’ Rights: Elevating Victims’ Voices at a Critical Time.

National Victim Assistance Academy. Worksheet 4.2: Possible Victim Impact- Physical, Psychological/Emotional, Financial, and Spiritual Impact.