• December 11, 2019

GUEST VIEW: In efforts to prevent mass violence, don’t discount needs of victims - Odessa American: Guest Columns

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GUEST VIEW: In efforts to prevent mass violence, don’t discount needs of victims

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Posted: Thursday, November 28, 2019 3:00 am

Our leaders are putting every idea on the table in their efforts to prevent mass violence in the wake of shootings in Santa Fe, El Paso, Odessa and other cities. We applaud them for examining all potential solutions in their commitment to keep our communities safe.

As we consider every potential solution, the needs of crime victims also should remain at the forefront.

Recent news coverage has brought awareness to rising substance abuse and mental health challenges for victims of school shootings in particular. At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, students have experienced these problems while test scores have tanked. Students are said to be anxious, depressed and cutting school, according to news reports.

The story is sadly similar in Santa Fe where a growing number of students need support from mental health professionals, and more police and security officers have been called in to cope with increased student misconduct.

Politico’s Nicole Gaudiano wrote, “Once the funerals are over, the TV cameras leave and students attempt to return to normalcy, there have been dramatic turns for the worse in academic performance, behavior and mental wellness.”

In 2019, a new Texas report confirmed the many ways crime survivors are impacted by crime; what they need from the criminal justice system to recover and heal; and how state policy can better align with their safety priorities. The report, “Crime Survivors Speak: Texas Victims’ Experiences with Recovery and Views on Criminal Justice,” is the first-of-its-kind conducted in Texas.

According to the report, 4 in 10 Texans have been victims of crime in the past 10 years and many experience trauma, stress, anxiety and fear as a result. In addition, a majority had trouble sleeping after the incident and more than one-third had trouble with school or work, or experienced physical and medical issues after the incident.

When left untreated, trauma can contribute to long-term health risks, substance abuse, financial and housing instability, loss of employment and other challenges that increase the risk of being victimized again.

Thankfully, Texas offers compensation to support victims of violent crimes and their family members. These funds can help survivors with funeral and burial costs, medical expenses, lost wages, counseling, relocation expenses and other costs not covered by insurance. However, despite the best efforts of the Attorney General’s Office to promote and publicize this important resource, 2 in 3 Texas crime survivors are unaware of the victim compensation program, according to the report.

The Texas study points to several key recommendations for lawmakers and stakeholders regarding changes to help victims and ensure safer communities. One key recommendation: invest in evidence-based services that protect victims and stop the cycle of crime.

A key solution that many states are embracing: trauma recovery centers. Texas also has the opportunity to be a leader by establishing these innovative centers to support crime victims.

Trauma recovery centers focus on a missing piece in traditional victim services: the ongoing and unaddressed emotional trauma that can prevent victims from fully recovering and getting back on their feet. At no cost, they provide comprehensive services to support recovery, including evidence-based counseling, legal advocacy, and assistance with navigating the justice system and access to the victim compensation program. This breakthrough model helps people who have suffered gunshot wounds or been the victim of sexual assault domestic violence, human trafficking and other violent crimes, as well as those who have had a family member assaulted or killed.

Addressing trauma is a critical missing piece in strategies to stop the cycle of crime and improve safety. Investing in trauma recovery is good for crime survivors and entire communities.

There are now 23 trauma recovery centers throughout the country, and more on the way. Trauma recovery centers are a necessary safety solution that stakeholders can unite behind in Texas. We have an opportunity for state leaders, community health officials and crime victims to partner in launching centers that help ensure our communities are safe and healthy. We achieve that when survivors can access the resources and support they need to recover.

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