When a mass violence incident occurs, communities are devastated and lives are upended as they face a painful and uncertain future. While the long-term impact on these communities is no doubt immense, no one is more impacted by these horrific events than the victims and survivors. In unfamiliar territory and in need of help, care and resources, they often require a light in the darkness to assist them in navigating these uncharted and choppy waters. The National Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center in Charleston, South Carolina, provides that light for victims and survivors.
Established in 2017 through an investment from the Office of Justice Programs’ Office for Victims of Crime, the resource center’s mission is to improve community preparedness and the nation’s capacity to serve victims and communities recovering from mass violence incidents through research, planning, training, technology and collaboration.
“The National Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center works with partners across the country – first responders with direct experience, researchers who are studying the impact of mass violence on survivors and communities, and survivors themselves, who can speak as no one else can to the immeasurable pain,” said OJP Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon. “This critical work has put us in a better position to respond to the grave contingencies of mass violence.”
Comprised of researchers, scholars, victim assistance professionals, technical experts and partner organizations, the resource center uses a science-based approach to highlight crime victims’ needs and challenges, while determining the best and most effective ways to address these needs and improve victim mental health services through training and technical assistance. Here are a few examples of tools, resources and forums:
1. Help is available by download for survivors
The center created the Transcend NMVC app for victims of mass violence to offer resources and information on common reactions to mass violence, additional crimes and other highly stressful events. It also includes tools and activities on calming the body, managing distressing thoughts, and promoting recovery if you are currently experiencing problems after being the victim of a crime.
The app can connect mass violent victims, or victims of any crime, with victim survivor services as well as financial, legal and mental health resources. The Transcend NMVC app is a free on-the-go tool that can be downloaded from both the iOS and Android app stores.
2. A guide to help address victims’ needs in judicial proceedings
In an effort to provide information that can be of assistance when supporting victims after a mass violence incident occurs, the resource center partnered with the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina and published the Planning and Implementation Guide: Comprehensive, Coordinated Victim Assistance for Mass Violence Incident Trials.
The guide provides useful information to implement a victim services management plan for professionals who support and address the needs of victims during criminal proceedings. It includes strategies and resources that identify and meet the needs of victims, survivors, witnesses and their loved ones as they go through the criminal justice process.
“Based on the experiences of the Charleston perpetrator, and other mass violence incidents in the past, we wanted to provide a resource for individuals, because these trials and proceedings have a lot of complexities to address,” said Dr. Alyssa Rheingold, director of the resource center’s Response and Recovery Division. “These trials are usually different than typical trials. You can have 50 to 100 people who may want to attend and who have a right to attend criminal proceedings.”
The guide is broken down into three parts – foundations and preparedness, which has information about the uniqueness of mass violence incident trials, along with resources about different justice processes and victims’ rights and services; the planning phase, where communicating with victims and assessing their needs during the pre-trial and investigative stage is done; and the implementation phase at court, where support and services are provided during the actual trial.
3. Multi-state collaborations and exchanging ideas
The resource center facilitates monthly virtual meetings of the Resiliency Center Directors’ Forum, which brings together resiliency center directors to connect with each other for peer support and to share ideas and experiences. Resiliency Centers are places of healing and support that serve as a multi-agency resource and referral center for victims, their families and first responders affected by mass violence in that community.
“There really weren’t any best practices over the past decade as communities were developing centers and implementing services,” said Dr. Rheingold. The Forum consists of 20 Resiliency Centers from 14 states, working collectively to provide a supportive healing environment in their communities. During the meetings, information and ideas are exchanged and strategies are developed to address financial stability, leadership, adaptability and strategic planning for each Resiliency Center.
“This forum not only provides lessons learned, but it’s also a strong support system,” said Dr. Rheingold. “Having a group of people who are working towards addressing their community’s collective trauma of mass violence come together to support one another has been extremely beneficial. They have been each other’s sounding board.”
Serving victims and survivors of crime
This year, the Office of Justice Programs is awarding nearly $9 million to the Medical University of South Carolina to continue the center’s important work by expanding evidence-based victim services to help address the behavioral health needs of survivors.
“By funding a national center, we wanted to create evidence-based resources, tools, and strategies that were culturally appropriate, and trauma-informed and included the wisdom of those with lived experiences,” said OVC Director Kris Rose. “We understood the importance of the center having state-of-the-art technology to expand access and create options for survivors.”
The award will enable the center’s training and site-based assistance capacity, including community-based learning collaboratives that will help strengthen emergency response strategies. It will also support a national conference to bring together experts and stakeholders to share best practices.
The award for the center is a part of the nearly $1.8 billion the Office of Victims of Crime awarded in FY23 to expand access to victim services by investing in programs that provide trauma-informed and culturally responsive services to victims.
Visit the OJP awards website to learn how investments across the country making communities safer: FY 23 OJP Grant Awards | Office of Justice Programs.