Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos


In this CVR podcast series, we talk with those doing research and serving victims and learn about the work they've done together.

Tell Us About It, Episode 25: Supporting Rural, Remote, and Underserved Survivors in Arizona

A convo with Lynn Jones and Sarah Young PattonDec 05Time: 32:17

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This episode of Tell Us About It features a conversation with Lynn Jones and Sarah Young Patton, partners on a research fellowship project funded by CVR. Lynn and Sarah collaborated on a project to understand and address the victim service needs of rural and Native American communities in Coconino County, Arizona through outposts in Flagstaff, Arizona, Page, Arizona, and the Grand Canyon.

Lynn Jones is a Professor in and the Associate Chair of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northern Arizona University.

Sarah Young Patton is the Associate Director of Victim Witness Services, which provides outreach, advocacy, and support services to Coconino County residents during high crisis situations through holistic and wraparound services.

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Susan Howley: Welcome to Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos, a podcast from the Center for Victim Research with support from the Office for Victims of Crime. On each episode of Tell Us About It, we talk to researchers and practitioners about their work, the tools being built for use in the field, and how we can work together to build an evidence base for victim services. I’m Susan Howley, and today we’re talking with Lynn Jones, a professor at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northern Arizona University and Sarah Young Patton, Associate Director of Victim Witness Services of Coconino County. Lynn and Sara partnered on a research fellowship project funded by the Center for Victim Research. Lynn and Sara, welcome to you both. And can you please introduce yourselves and your role in the project?

Lynn Jones: Yes. Thank you so much. Hi this is Lynn Jones and I was one of the researchers in this collaboration with Victim Witness Services and I’m at NAU, Northern Arizona University.

Sarah Young Patton: Hi and my name is Sarah Young Patton. I’m the associate director at Victim Witness Services for Coconino County and I am one of the project people on this.

Susan Howley: Lynn, can you tell us briefly what this project examined and why you were interested in that?

Lynn Jones: Sure. As a researcher in the area of victimology, one of my interests has always been victim services and how they are delivered. And with my colleague, Brooke de Heer, we have worked with Victim Witness Services in different capacities over the years, both on campus and sending some of our students there. But also our research interests have shown us through the literature that there are some unique needs in rural areas. So in particular we were hoping to work with Victim Witness to help gain a better understanding of what’s happening in this geographically large and diverse area of the state, with a large Native American population as well as the geographic distance that can create some unique situations for victims in this area.

Susan Howley: Sarah, why were you and Victim Witness Services so interested in this project?

Sarah Young Patton: Well, we at Victim Witness Services, we’ve been trying to reach out to some of the more rural remote parts of Coconino County for several years now. So we’re based in Flagstaff, which is the largest population center in the county, and we have satellite offices in Page, Arizona and most recently in the Grand Canyon area. So as we’ve been expanding, we’ve been wanting to make sure that we tailor our services to the region. We realize that we can’t just replicate exactly what we do in Flagstaff in terms of services and programs and other, especially in more rural areas. They just have different needs. So we’ve been trying to figure out how to go about assessing those needs when this opportunity presented itself, so it was kind of perfect in that way. And on top of that, additionally, I had been doing some reading and I recently read some research that had compared advocates’ and survivors’ views of what were the most important or significant services that they either offered or we had received. And the research that I had read had found that while there is some commonality and agreement on what was important, there was also a lot of disagreement. Some of the services that survivors said were most important to them had either just not even made the list of the advocates’ saw as the most important or kind of lower on their list. So I thought that really pointed to the fact that it’s really important to be in touch with the community and with our clients and what their needs are as opposed to the assumptions that we make about what we think that they need.

Susan Howley: So as you both undertook this needs assessment, Sarah, it sounds like you had some – from your reading already – some sense of the the services or exploring the differences and understanding of the needs. How about the barriers? Did you all have an understanding of some of the barriers you wanted to explore or did you just want to leave it open?

Sarah Young Patton: Well, when Brooke and Lynn came to us with this proposal, we definitely talked about some of the different barriers that we thought were being faced in more rural areas. So I think we had assumed that transportation was going to be one of the biggest barriers that we were going to find. I think the research showed something a little different than that which was interesting too. But definitely that’s one of those things. And also as these centers are farther from our main location in Flagstaff, we definitely knew that there was going to be some issues in terms of people actually even knowing that we existed or that these services were even possible in different situations. Especially, we do offer services to victims of all crime, but a large percentage of that are, the more personal crimes like sexual assault and domestic violence, especially I mean in all communities. These are crimes that are often overlooked or people who are victimized may not consider themselves to be victims, and so they may just think that that’s their life and they’re just trying to figure out how to live their lives. And so reaching out as part of an organization that calls themselves Victim Witness Services, if you don’t identify yourself as one of those victims then you don’t know that our services are available to you. So there’s all kinds of different barriers both specific to rural areas but just kind of in general.

Susan Howley: All right. So I think we have a real clear picture of the need for this project. So Lynn, let’s move into the actual work of the research. How did you reach participants? What was your approach?

Lynn Jones: I first will start by saying that we had to learn quite a bit about these two communities. And so we – my co-researcher Brooke and I – we spent a day in the Grand Canyon and a day in Page with the victim advocates in those locations and we talked to them. I wouldn’t call it a formal interview. We kind of shadowed them, asked them questions, learned a bit about the work that they do, but also just being in the community, we really got a feel for the remoteness. I mean these are places that we had been before, but never with an eye to really look at them in terms of victim services or people who live there. They’re both popular tourist destinations, so we had visited those communities. But just being there and seeing the location, the building, where the victim advocate sits, the proximity of that office to other things in the community, other places in the community, whether it’s other community services or the center of the community in terms of where people might go shopping or where the tourist sites might be. So that was really helpful just to get us started talking with the advocates. And then from there, we worked with the advocates to help us create this survey instrument. And as I said previously, we wanted to create a customized survey for each location for a few reasons. One in the Grand Canyon, there is the unique situation of housing being tied to employment at the Grand Canyon and so we wanted to be sure that we were asking questions or including something some way to get at that as a potential barrier or how the community members might view that and talk about that. And the advocate in the Grand Canyon was able to help us create a scenario that we actually used in our instrument about how people might respond or what they might do in a situation in which maybe their victimization would create an issue in terms of housing, for example if they had to leave housing to seek services or shelter. So that was very helpful. And then in Page, we have a closer proximity to Native American participants and so we wanted to similarly make sure we were building in some questions there. To say a little bit more about Page, we also knew that we needed to build some rapport and maybe customize the survey in terms of how we asked questions and gain access to those members of the community. And so we worked, again with the advocate there, to locate community meetings that included a lot of people who then might be able to help us distribute the survey or just explain the survey. And again, the advocates were great in helping us to identify common areas in the community where we might distribute the survey. And I haven’t said this previously, but we had both a paper and pencil version of the survey as well as an electronic, Qualtrics version of this survey that you could access on a phone or just scan a code and it would open up the survey electronically. So we did a lot of outreach in the community via those advocates. They helped us distribute the paper and pencil surveys, as well as post some of the postcards around that had the scannable code. Each advocate had a drop box in their office, and it’s my understanding that the advocate at the Grand Canyon also put drop boxes to hand in the survey in a number of other locations that she knew were common or central locations that people regularly would walk by or be able to easily drop off a completed survey. So that was one thing that the advocates helped us with. We also, in order to reach participants and just make sure that our response rate was up, we returned to the communities multiple times to just help hand out more surveys ourselves. We stopped in some additional locations, such as the public library, the community college branch, health clinics, any place that we could think of that would be a place where you might just find community members going about their ordinary business of the day.

Susan Howley: Well it sounds like that was a lot of strategic effort to get participation. What were some of the challenges you faced as you went through all this?

Lynn Jones: I think I would say that just the challenge of getting the response rates up and I think that’s a challenge in any survey. But with this type of research or doing this needs assessment to help Victim Witness Services, the biggest challenge I think was trying to do some targeted outreach. We wanted to hear from a variety of individuals in those communities. And so I’ll just give an example. In Page, there are a lot of churches and the victim advocate there was suggesting that we try to distribute to some of those churches. And while we did do some of that, we knew that that might not capture the wide range of community members and so we had to think creatively about some other locations where we might get a little bit of diversity, both in terms of age and employment, but also you know race, ethnicity, gender. And just try to get a range of people who maybe had some victimization experience, as well as those who maybe had not but still had opinions about victim services. So that was probably the biggest challenge was just to think about what those different community locations could be. But the advocates were great help in really facilitating that.

Susan Howley: Sarah, Lynn has talked a lot about the importance of the advocates at each of those sites. How did you work to get them engaged and what were your observations about the benefits to the project of having the advocates so involved?

Sarah Young Patton: I think the local advocates, I mean from what Lynn was saying and from our experience, were pretty essential to getting responses to this survey. I think also were super helpful in framing the questions out there, framing the challenges. We were fortunate in both of these advocates. The one in Page, she’s been in that community for over 20 years. She’s been with our agency for about three years but before that she’d worked as an advocate for 17 years previous to that. So she has a lot of connections throughout that and really knows that community pretty well. So I think she was really good in not only making suggestions and helping hopefully Lynn and Brooke frame their questions but also getting buy in from the community. With her as a representative, I think she can – it’s a small town, she can walk into a room and pretty much everybody knows who she is and she knows all of them. And so asking people to participate in the survey, it wasn’t these crazy strangers from Northern Arizona University or from Flagstaff coming into Page and saying hey do this. It was one of their own in some ways. And I think with Bethany too, she’s been in the Grand Canyon area for about four or five years now I believe. So she’s fairly familiar with that community and she’s also just super thoughtful and very intentional about what she does. So I think she was really helpful in terms of framing those questions and then again also getting buy in from the community. And I know for her, especially, she was brand new to that position. I think we had literally opened up that office three months before this whole project got started. So she was super energized and gung-ho in terms of wanting to make sure that as she was setting up that office that it was being done in a way that was, as I said, super intentional but also very responsive to the needs of her community.

Susan Howley: Lynn, what was it like for you as a researcher to work so closely with victim advocates as opposed to a university based research assistant?

Lynn Jones: It was a great experience. I think both of them, as Sarah indicated, were very thoughtful and very helpful to provide that collaborative insight into what’s going on in their communities, what the different needs might be, but also not making huge assumptions. They were really open to learning from us as researchers, as well, about well maybe we don’t want to ask the question this way. And there was a bit of back and forth where we would present our ideas maybe from a research perspective and then they could share with us their ideas about maybe the wording of questions or some other things that their community members or their clients might also want to see included in that survey. And so they were more so informative and really caring about their communities and wanting to see the impact of this research and this needs assessment to really make a difference for them. And so we just had such a great positive experience with them.

Susan Howley: Now Lynn, you talked about – well both of you talked about – wanting to ensure that you had the voices of Native American victims as part of this project. And I know that with tribal research, there can often be extra steps, especially if you are trying to do any research on the reservation. Now here, you weren’t specifically trying to research what was happening on the reservation but with the tribal members that were living outside the reservation and in the community. Did you take any steps to help ensure that you were being inclusive and culturally sensitive?

Lynn Jones: Yes absolutely. So our first step was to work with our IRB, the institutional review board for research here at Northern Arizona University, and we just wanted to make sure that the project we were designing, did it constitute research? And they were able to clear this project that as a needs assessment, which is really considered part of a program evaluation for Victim Witness Services, as something that did not formally constitute research. But at the same time we knew that Native Americans would be included in our efforts, both in terms of outreach and targeting people to get a variety of responses. But we wanted to make sure their voices were heard and, as you indicated, to be inclusive and culturally sensitive. And so what we did in our outreach – starting with the advocates and they’re helping us think about the questions or think about the way we might want to ask for information about victim experiences or victim services, understanding awareness, things along those lines. They gave us some ideas but we knew that that would maybe not be sufficient. And so we worked with the advocate in Page in particular and she helped us take our draft survey instrument and questions to a community meeting that had some Native American community members who were in different leadership positions in some different service agencies and they were able to give us feedback on both the wording of the questions, the format of the questions, so you know how to ask the questions, what to ask specifically. They gave us suggestions about the vocabulary we were using and to come up with some alternative wording that might be understood in a different way. They also helped us to understand that we might want to add more open-ended questions where individual tribal members would like to explain their answers. So that just filling out a multiple choice type of response without having the chance to explain or provide more context. That was something that was really valuable in terms of our understanding of how to design the survey instrument itself. That also helped us, I think as Sarah indicated, to build rapport. So even though the advocates themselves are very well known and established in the communities, they didn’t know us as researchers and they didn’t know why would NAU want to come in and ask these questions. And so just that process of including community members in the design of the survey instrument helped us build rapport and establish some of that trust so that hopefully community members would then be willing to fill out the survey and answer our questions.

Susan Howley: So it sounds like the stakeholder involvement was really time well spent for this project.

Lynn Jones: Yes absolutely. A lot of legwork, but I think really, really important.

Susan Howley: Now let’s turn to the findings. Sarah, you mentioned earlier that you expected to find that transportation was a bigger barrier but it wasn’t as significant as you thought it might be. Did any of the other findings surprise you and what else did you find?

Sarah Young Patton: That was, as you mentioned, that was kind of the biggest surprise to me, that transportation wasn’t higher on the list of needs or things that people were looking for help with. The other things that did come up, I don’t think any of them were particularly surprising necessarily. In some ways, it was good to have our thoughts about these areas reinforced, like we weren’t coming completely out of left field. It reinforced what we had already been thinking and also what Lynn referenced before in terms of there has been a lot of research done on rural communities in terms of needs special to those areas. So, it will definitely be very useful going forward.

Susan Howley: Lynn, as a researcher, what about the findings struck you?

Lynn Jones: I think we know from the literature that having awareness of services can be an important step for help seeking behavior. And I think it was not surprising that there were some lack of awareness among the community members, that they were maybe not as sure what was available or what specific services were available. But I think the disconnect between knowing that services are available, but then not knowing what to do next, not knowing how to use them or having maybe no idea where to start if you are victimized. That was kind of an interesting finding to me that, again, could be something that we could explore a little bit more with some additional research about when there is awareness but then not knowing what to do next. Are there ways that we can further support victims in that way? I think, again as Sarah indicated, not so surprising some of the things that we learned from our Native American respondents. That there is maybe a distrust or a desire for more culturally appropriate responses, maybe having individuals who are tribal members themselves that are some of the service providers. Those are things that are not surprising to us, but again, as Sarah said, kind of reinforced some of I think what our understanding was. And then maybe one more thing I’ll say that we know in rural areas, there is often some concern among victims about reporting because of that it’s a small town and everyone will know or they don’t think their confidentiality or their privacy will be protected, and that was evident in our findings. But even at kind of a step further was the feeling shame and feeling embarrassed was also I think interesting to see.

Susan Howley: So Sarah, now that you have had this data about the needs out there and the barriers, how does Victim Witness Services intend to use these findings and who will you share them with?

Sarah Young Patton: Well there’s kind of two tracks to that. There is on the one side, in terms of as we move forward and look at our programs and services that we already have available and when we look at building on them or shifting them, we definitely will be looking at doing more outreach, more community education, that kind of thing to make sure that when something does happen to someone, when someone is victimized, hopefully someone – if not themselves – someone in their circle will remember who we are and say hey isn’t there that agency, they said they do this that or the other thing. What about getting in touch with them. And also maybe trying to develop some other avenues to find us. We are an independent nonprofit agency, which means that we are able to offer all of our clients’ confidentiality. We don’t require that they report crimes if they’ve been victimized in order to receive our services, which is nice in some of those situations that Lynn was talking about where people are reluctant to report but they still need services. So we are available for those people. But the second track, of course is also in terms of funding our agency. As an independent nonprofit, we’re heavily reliant on grants. And I’m the primary grant writer for Victim Witness, so I know that I wrote something up the other day that included reference to this research project. Just stating that that we’ve been doing some research in our rural areas and these are some of the needs that we have found and this is what we want to do moving forward with programs. So it’s going to be super helpful in a variety of ways. But in terms of who we share it with, I think we’re going to share it first of all with everybody at the agency, make sure that all of our advocates know what this has found. But also share it with anybody who is interested, all of our funders, but also in the community. And with our community partners so that when we’re working in these different communities, we couldn’t be doing it by ourselves, so we have partners in both areas and here in Flagstaff. And so making sure that this informs conversations around gaps in services and who wants to fill what gap where. That kind of thing.

Susan Howley: That’s great. So it has immediate practical effects.

Sarah Young Patton: Most definitely.

Susan Howley: Lynn, from a researcher angle – and you’ve talked a little bit about this already, but how do you hope to use these findings or build on them in the future?

Lynn Jones: I think we will continue to work with Victim Witness Services to maintain this collaborative relationship that we have, and so anything that we can do to help them continue to conduct research or use research to advocate for their clients and their organization, that’s definitely an interest that Brooke and I have, and we’re available to support Victim Witness Services as needed or desired. And I think also we plan to present this research at an academic conference, and hope to publish I think highlighting some of the key findings, some of which we discussed today. And that’s our immediate plan. I think highlighting the unique rural and culturally appropriate services that are desired by community members, as well as some of the more nuanced findings that maybe were not yet referenced in the academic literature.

Susan Howley: Do the two of you have any advice for colleagues in other rural areas who might be interested in conducting their own needs assessment? Sarah why don’t we start with you from a service provider standpoint.

Sarah Young Patton: I mean I think definitely having that community buy-in in terms of, if you’re already in that community, how do I put this? I think any communities, but especially rural communities, where everybody knows each other and if you’re a stranger in their midst, it’s very obvious, doing this kind of research is really important to do, as Lynn was talking about how she and Brooke went back to the same community on more than one occasion. It wasn’t just a drop in, hey here’s a survey, thanks for your help, see you in a couple years. They want people to, when they go in, to actually be genuinely interested and genuinely invested in their community. And so going back on a repeated basis, doing the consultation with community members in terms of what do you think about this survey, is there anything better, how can we phrase this in a way that’s more understandable or use different language or consulting with them. Really reinforcing the idea that they’re the experts in their own lives, they’re the ones who can tell us what they need. Us going in and saying, hey we think you need this is not very useful. But so collaborating with them and showing that true investment. Also just to circle back a little bit on how we’re going to use this, I think definitely we’d be more than happy to continue partnering with Lynn and Brooke. They’ve both been great to work with, now and in the past. And I think going forward, personally I’d be interested in doing something like conducting focus groups in these areas so they get a little bit more of the qualitative information and go beyond these surveys and try to really get the stories from individuals to see what we can do out there.

Susan Howley: Lynn what about you? From a researcher perspective, what advice would you give your colleagues?

Lynn Jones: Sure. I think one of the things that really helped this project is that Brooke and I were not new to Victim Witness Services. So even while maybe we’re new to these communities, we had quite an ongoing, established relationship working with Victim Witness Services in various ways. And so creating a collaboration that is built on something that’s already in place I think made it really quite helpful. And then, as I’ve said previously, we relied so much on the advocates from Victim Witness Services in these two locations. And so to not just go in as a researcher from the outside with an expectation that you even know everything that you’re going to ask. We really were open to evolving and changing and adapting to the things as we learned them, from both the advocates and then the second layer of involving community members themselves, and in particular, Native American community leaders, in the design of our instrument. And so that I think really helped the research project be successful. I think also the outreach that we did, I would absolutely give that advice to other colleagues, other researchers looking into researching rural areas, whether it’s on victims services or something else, that you have to be creative but you also have to work with individuals in those communities to maybe learn about how to best capture the experiences of people living in those communities. And to do your best to fit yourself into that community as opposed to making assumptions about, well this research design is the way we have to do it. So that was something that was very helpful. And again I think being open and figuring out who your best collaborators can be, as well as doing targeted sampling in order to really give voice to those that are most underrepresented in research.

Susan Howley: Well Lynn and Sarah, I want to thank you for sharing this terrific example of a strong researcher-practitioner partnership that had some real practical payoff and also lays the groundwork for future work. So thank you so much for your time today.

Lynn Jones: Thank you.

Sarah Young Patton: Thank you very much.