New Issue Brief Explores Lack of Victim Services for Young Men of Color

NEW YORK – As grand jury decisions regarding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner spur the national conversation about inequities in our legal system and the role of law enforcement in communities of color in particular, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) has published a new issue brief that provides a relevant, yet largely ignored, context to the discussion by asking what happens to the young men of color who survive violence and trauma.  

To raise awareness of this large but often-overlooked group of victims and the lack of help available to them, Common Justice—a Vera victim service and alternative-to-incarceration program based on restorative justice principles—has released Young Men of Color and the Other Side of Harm: Addressing Disparities in Our Response to Violence. This brief also aims to help foster efforts—both local and nationwide—to provide young men of color with the compassionate support and services they need and deserve.  

“Issues of racial equity in the criminal justice system are not only of concern for defendants,” said Danielle Sered, the issue brief’s author and director of Common Justice. “We must express equal concern—and respond with equal vigor—in addressing the racial inequities faced by victims of crime, many of whom experience the same implicit bias and confront the same barriers that drive inequities on the defendant side. It is our hope that by outlining the challenges and opportunities that exist in serving young male survivors of color we might make a modest contribution to this essential effort.”   

Research cited in the brief indicates that young men of color who have been victims of crime and violence often do not get the help they need. For more than 30 years, the victim services field has developed a system of support for victims of crime, including financial assistance, legal services, advocacy for victims’ rights, and more. Yet few services exist to address young men of color’s specific culture, experiences, and needs, or the crimes they are likely to experience, such as robbery and stranger assault.   

This lack of capacity means that young men of color are less likely to seek and receive support, more likely to live with unaddressed symptoms of trauma, and less likely to recover—which can have significant implications for a wide array of domains, including:

  • Health – Exposure to trauma can significantly increase an individual’s chances of developing a variety of diseases and post-traumatic stress.
  • Education – Responses to traumatic experiences like surviving a violent crime—flashbacks triggered by sounds or smells, trouble sleeping, a sense of danger even in safe spaces, panic attacks—can interrupt a student’s education, contribute to disciplinary concerns, and diminish the chance of academic achievement.
  • Employment – Traumatic experiences can affect an individual’s ability to function effectively or do their best at work, and obtain and retain a job.
  • Safety – Research cited in the brief shows that some people who are victimized and do not sufficiently recover from the experience are more likely to commit violence themselves.
  • Cost – Each of these factors carry not only a human cost, but also a financial one. Without effective services and support, these costs impact social service systems such as law enforcement, hospitals, and public aid.

The brief also identifies significant barriers that prevent young men of color from accessing victim services—social norms that make it less likely that young men will identify themselves as “victims” or be seen as such in our culture, distrust of the justice system in many communities of color based on prior negative experiences with law enforcement, a lack of public and private resources to develop effective services—as well as emerging efforts dedicated to this issue.   
Common Justice is contributing to those efforts by developing a learning collaborative for people and organizations working with young men of color who have been harmed by violence. The collaborative will include traditional victim service programs, youth programs, and others who will identify challenges, share practices and strategies, and develop relationships to support this work. The collaborative’s goal is to develop strategies and responses to address this issue, and to build a field that advances equity, dignity, and healing from harm.   

Located in Brooklyn, NY, Common Justice works with young people 16 to 24 years old who commit violent felonies, and with those they harm. Common Justice aims to reduce violence, facilitate the wellbeing of those harmed, and transform the criminal justice system’s response to serious crime. The program provides participants with a respectful and effective means of accountability, an equitable and dignified avenue to healing, and the tools to break cycles of violence.