Methods: The study’s methodology involves two related components for research inquiry. These include the following: 1) a critical legal review of existing legislation created to serve victims, and 2) a comparative case study of two socio-demographically different communities that have varied resources, histories, and levels of violence and victimization. In these communities both semi-structured in-depth interviews and focus groups occurred with survivors of violence, victim service providers, and community stakeholders such as law enforcement, funeral homes, and religious institutions. All interviews and focus groups (N=86 and N=12, respectively) use a constructivist grounded theory approach to learning about participants’ understanding and experiences with community violence, victims’ services and protections, facilitators and barriers to addressing harm, and the policies that guide, help, or hamper these processes and affect the experiences of survivors of violence and their families.
Results: Analysis reflects that poor, African American and Latinx victims in urban neighborhoods who have been impacted by gun violence experience little protection or support under the existing policy framework in support of victims in Illinois. State policies are consistently interpreted by both formal stakeholders (law enforcement, social service providers) and informal stakeholders (funeral homes, religious institutions) in ways that bar access to victim services and supports for survivors of community violence, particularly those with previous involvement in the criminal legal system.
Conclusion and Implications: The study highlights the gap between needs of victims and accessing services by examining how victims and community stakeholders interpret state legislation and resources intended to provide aid. Implications are discussed related to the contextual, ecological, and historical dynamics surrounding acts of violence, and how both social service providers and victim advocates must move beyond individualistic interpretations of violent crime that provide limited explanatory frameworks for differential access to crime victim services among victims of violence.