Working with victims. Learning to listen and putting your assumptions aside.

Benji Clarke writes about his Community Service with Victim Support, a UK non-profit supporting those affected by crime. 

For my community service, I decided that I would continue volunteering at Victim Support. Not only do I continue to find my work with Victim Support challenging, I also find it extremely rewarding and continue to learn from each interview that I conduct.

To achieve accreditation as a Victim Support volunteer, I did a week-long training program. The program was great preparation for the situations that I would find myself in as a Victim Support volunteer. Training in difficult social issues during the program acted as practice for tackling emotionally sensitive subjects with victims of crime. It is necessary to be relatively comfortable (or at least project confidence) when volunteering, as this help with providing interviews with structure and reassure clients.

Victim Support puts great focus on being a non-judgemental organisation. Therefore, various tasks were based upon identifying stereotypes or assumptions that we may hold. This aspect of the training challenged how I thought about my own views: I consider myself a very open and accepting person. However, The exercises showed that it is almost impossible not to hold some kind of generalisation or assumption about a group of people. The key point was acknowledging these views so that they do not impinge on the ability to treat each person as an individual and each case as unique in a Victim Support role. It also impressed upon me the extent to which stereotypes and prejudice prevent individuals from being happy, successful and engaged community members.

Another aspect of training to be a victim Support volunteer, separate from the training program, was shadowing qualified volunteers. This experience was invaluable to my learning process with Victim Support. I was able to learn from my colleagues, and eventually began to provide my own input when meeting clients under supervision. The shadowing process greatly improved my confidence and interviewing skills.

I have volunteered at least one full day a week with Victim Support, since I joined the organisation. As an accredited volunteer, my main duties included contacting victims of crime and organising interviews; conducting interviews in the office or at client’s homes; and doing advocacy work on behalf of clients. Each of these tasks utilised and built upon various skills.

Interviewing clients was the most challenging and rewarding duty as a victim support volunteer. The skills that I used and learned when interviewing victims of crime were varied and highly transferable. It is key to make clients feel comfortable in an interview. Thus, volunteers must learn how to build up an appropriate rapport and level of trust with clients. It is necessary for volunteers to be able to project confidence and an open-minded attitude, especially at times when a client is making a sensitive, emotionally distressing disclosure. Furthermore, a volunteer needs to be able to use a good, appropriate interview technique to make progress in the interview. The aim of a victim support interview is to identify the needs of the particularly client, this is another important skill. A volunteer needs to be able to recognize and set appropriate goals that will empower victims of crime to recover from their traumatic ordeals. I intend to use all of these skills professionally and personally.

Thus, I have been on a challenging and highly rewarding journey with Victim support. It feels great to be able to contribute to a community whilst undergoing a personal learning process. I look forward to recommencing my volunteering with the organisation upon my return from Washington.