Designing the process of victim survey administration involves consideration of a number of questions.
9.3 Survey Administration
The first question to answer is which agency will administer the survey.
Option 1: The survey could be directed by the prosecutor’s office and administered by the office’s victim/witness unit.
Option 2: If a victim advocacy organization or police department is already administering a survey, consider how these agencies/organizations might share, or take on, added survey responsibilities. Advocates could encourage victims to complete the survey, explaining the importance of victim voices for improving services. The police department may be able to contribute data analysis and calculation of outcome measures.
Regardless of who administers the survey, it is crucial for all involved partners to coordinate efforts to ensure that victims are receiving a single survey that enables them to provide feedback on all or most of the professionals they interacted with during the criminal justice process. Avoid duplication of effort, which burdens both victims and agencies.
Summary of Survey Design Principles
- Keep the survey short to reduce respondent burden and encourage responses.
- Keep the wording of the questions clear; focus on only one topic per question.
- Write questions targeted to a 3rd-5th grade reading level so as to not overly complicate content.
- Ask victims to rate satisfaction on various topics of interest.
- Elicit additional feedback about any negative ratings.
- Include a final question asking victims for their suggestions to improve the process.
- Translate the survey into languages spoken by a substantial portion of the victim population. Victims with limited literacy may need to be interviewed in person or via telephone (preferably by an advocate or victim-witness coordinator rather than law enforcement or prosecutors).
- Use clear fonts and colors to create an attractive survey that encourages victims response.
- Ensure the survey, whether print or online, adheres to accessibility guidelines.
- Seek assistance from allied professionals, including victim advocates, to ensure questions are victim-centered and trauma-informed.
If possible, bring data analysis professionals or IT staff into the survey design process. In lieu of administering a paper and pencil survey, which requires separate data entry steps, consider using an online survey program, such as SurveyMonkey or Qualtrics. Doing so can significantly reduce the staff time needed to develop the survey, administer it, and export data for analysis. Seeking IT input from the beginning of the survey process can significantly increase the efficiency of data collection.
TIP: Make IT part of the team from the beginning! IT can help reduce survey administration burden.
The survey should be distributed to each victim shortly after the case is resolved. Resolved cases include any dispositional outcome (e.g., sentencing after guilty plea or trial; trial verdict of not guilty; dismissal of case by the prosecutor’s office, etc.).
Ideally, victims should also be re-surveyed about 6-12 months thereafter to assess the quality of post-resolution services and to reassess their overall experience with the criminal justice system. As a practical matter, though, this can become quite expensive, particularly since locating victims for follow-up will cost time and resources. These surveys may not be practical except when funds are available for special studies.
TIP: Emphasize to victims the importance of completing the survey for improving the handling of future sexual violence cases. Aim for a 40% response rate.
Ensure the following to maximize the successful implementation of the survey.
- Access help as needed. Establishing the survey process will likely require outside assistance (g., to review wording of questions and to set up the tabulation procedures). In addition to an available IT professional, faculty or students from nearby colleges or universities may be available to help. Once survey processes are established, conducting the survey can become a routine task. However, partners should ask an outside expert to review the survey process at regular intervals for data quality control to ensure it reflects current best practices and research.
- Establish procedures to protect respondent anonymity and/or confidentiality. Surveys should not require victims to use their names or case numbers, and online surveys should allow for anonymity. Survey findings should be reported only in the aggregate (g., as the “percentage of respondents that rated the respectfulness of the staff as excellent or good”). Reports from individual surveys, particularly in smaller jurisdictions, might the identity of the respondent to be deduced based on the timing of the survey’s submission. Always inform victims of the procedures being used to protect their anonymity and/or confidentiality.
- Emphasize to victims – verbally and/or in writing – that completion of the survey is completely voluntary and that their willingness or unwillingness to participate will not affect their ability to continue receiving services.
- Work with victim advocates to encourage survey completion. Advocates also could be asked to help administer the survey to victims, with the prosecutor’s office bearing the cost of such assistance.
- Distribute the survey (or survey link, if online) and request a response as to whether the victim is willing to take the survey. If they are, send reminders via mail, email, or phone (calls or text); whichever the victim prefers. Respect victims’ privacy and only distribute the survey via their preferred method of communication.
- Offer multiple ways to complete the survey. The survey administration method may need to be a mixed-mode approach, such as use of a combination of paper and pencil surveys, online surveys, and/or telephone interviews. Ask victims their preferred mode of survey administration when explaining that they will be contacted. Online surveys through programs such as SurveyMonkey or Qualtrics will be the most cost-efficient option, and can be responded to via smartphones. However, some victims may be more comfortable completing a paper version or answering questions directly through an in-person interview (g., when there are literacy issues).
- Ask all victims for their participation in the survey, rather than only a sample of victims. This will enable the partners to obtain more reliable and complete information.
- Acknowledge that certain categories of victim populations may be unavailable for survey, such as those who cannot be located (g., migrant workers, people without homes). Identify such limitations when reporting survey findings. Where possible, ask such victims if they would be comfortable completing a survey in the prosecutor’s office or advocate’s office. Set up a space in the office that ensures privacy and confidentiality.
- Set up a process for analyzing and reporting the data. The primary purpose of the victim survey is to provide understandable and useful information to guide decision-making for improved sexual violence response. Arrange for an IT or other analytic professional to analyze the data, usually in the form: “percentage of victims that responded favorably (or unfavorably) to [specific survey item].”
- Develop clear and accessible formats for reporting the findings. Disseminate regular reports on the findings to all partners. This has been an often-neglected step in implementing performance management systems.
- Identify a person responsible for examining each outcome report, identifying findings that warrant attention, and reporting that information to the relevant individuals. Chapter 10 on data analysis suggests several ways to examine the outcome information to make full use of the information.
- Track response rates. Seek to achieve a 40% response rate or better (percentage of victims completing the survey during a particular reporting period). Higher response rates mean more reliable and credible information about victim perceptions of the system’s response. Exhibit 9-2 below contains a number of suggestions for increasing victim response rates.
Sample Survey for Sexual Violence Victims
The following is a sample survey with sample questions. Each jurisdiction can, of course, construct its own survey.
A transmittal letter, or introductory chapter if the survey is online, should accompany the survey explaining that it is completely confidential (or anonymous, depending on how it is administered) and voluntary – participation or lack thereof will not affect ability to receive services or help.
Based on your recent experience, please provide your overall rating of the help you received:
Response scale: excellent, good, fair, poor, or N/A (not applicable).
- The services I received from [name advocacy agency] were (excellent, good, fair, poor, or N/A).
- The services I received from [name SANE program/medical personnel] were (excellent, good, fair, poor, or N/A).
- The contacts I had with the police were (excellent, good, fair, poor, or N/A).
- The contacts I had with staff from the victim/witness unit of the District Attorney’s Office were (excellent, good, fair, poor, or N/A).
- The contacts I had with prosecutors from the District Attorney Office were (excellent, good, fair, poor, or N/A).
- Overall, I felt that the help I was provided was (excellent, good, fair, or poor).
Ratings of the Services Provided by Each Organization
Response scale for each of the following questions: strongly disagree, disagree, undecided, agree, strongly agree, or N/A (not applicable).
- I felt respected by staff from [name advocacy agency].
- Staff from [name advocacy agency] helped me feel safe.
- Staff from [name advocacy agency] gave me needed information about my case.
- Staff from [name advocacy agency] provided services when I needed them.
SANE Program/Medical Personnel:
- I felt respected by staff from [name SANE program/medical personnel].
- Staff from [name SANE program/medical personnel] helped me feel safe.
- Staff from [name SANE program/medical personnel] gave me needed information about my case.
- Staff from [name SANE program/medical personnel] provided medical services when I needed them.
Police Officers and Detectives:
- I felt respected by the police.
- The police helped me feel safe.
- The police gave me needed information about my case.
- The police provided services when I needed them.
- I felt respected by the prosecutor.
- The prosecutor helped me feel safe.
- The prosecutor gave me needed information about my case.
- The prosecutor referred me to services when I needed them.
Victim-Witness Advocacy Unit in the Office of the Prosecutor:
- I felt respected by the victim-witness advocate.
- The victim-witness advocate helped me feel safe.
- The victim-witness advocate gave me needed information about my case.
- The victim-witness advocate provided services when I needed them.
Overall, how was justice served?
- Justice was fully served.
- Justice was partially served, but the outcome of the case was satisfactory.
- Justice was partially served, but the outcome of the case was unsatisfactory.
- Justice was not served at all.
What suggestions do you have for improving the handling of sexual violence cases that might help future victims?
Suggestions for Increasing Victim Response Rates
The safety and well-being of victims throughout the criminal justice process is a major concern in sexual violence cases. Prosecutors and their partners should regularly assess how successful they have been in providing quality services to victims.
Comprehensive assessments require information obtained through victim surveys. However, a common concern with such surveys is how to encourage victims to complete the survey so that the aggregate results provide reliable information. Below are suggestions for increasing the number of responses to the survey:
- Notify victims in advance that they will be asked to provide feedback on the quality of their treatment and of the services they were provided. They should also be informed that the survey is completely voluntary, the information they provide will be confidential, and their decision to participate will not influence how their case is handled or what the outcome may be, nor the services they receive. If the victim indicates the they are willing to provide feedback, indicate to the victim when they will be asked for feedback.
- Emphasize to victims that the survey is an opportunity to express their opinions and concerns about the process, and that their response will help improve case handling for future victims. Express gratitude and appreciation for considering the survey request. Personalize the request when possible. This is an opportunity for victims to confidentially express any complaints or lingering concerns about the process or their experience.
- Guarantee confidentiality. State up front that victims’ responses will be seen by very few individuals who will not have information identifying them. The survey will be used only to generate aggregate statistics for the purpose of improving the criminal justice response. Make it clear that responding is completely voluntary and that participants can decline to answer any questions they do not wish to answer.
- Work with victim advocates to encourage survey completion. Advocates could be asked to help administer the survey to victims, with the prosecutor’s office bearing the cost of their assistance.
- Confirm the victim is willing to participate in the survey as well as the victim’s contact information. Ask if the victim is willing to be contacted for a survey and how they would like to be contacted. The file will already include cell phone numbers, landline numbers, addresses, and names and phone numbers of relatives or friends who are identified as confidants. Confirm the contact information. This will help reduce the number of victims for whom the available contact information is incorrect.
- Offer victims a choice in how they complete the survey, such as by mobile device, telephone, mail, or in-person at the prosecutor’s office or advocacy organization. Ask each victim their preferred mode of response.
- For mailed surveys, provide a pre-stamped and self-addressed envelope.
- Translate the survey into languages spoken by a substantial portion of the victim population.
- Keep the survey short, perhaps two pages. This information is not for a research or evaluation study, which often requires a great deal of information. The survey can be short and to the point, with few open-ended questions. The open-ended questions that are included should ask victims to explain any “fair” or “poor” responses and to make any suggestions for improving services. These questions should be placed at the end of the survey so they do not discourage a victim from moving through the remainder of the survey content. Alternatively, an online survey might include a pop-up, open ended comment box for responses that report dissatisfaction.
- Make the wording of the questions as clear as possible to avoid frustrating the respondent and ultimately preventing respondents from completing the survey. Ensure that the respondent will understand the intent of each question. Include only one idea per question.
- Make the survey attractive and accessible. For example, use questions that only require respondents to check off which of a small number of responses best represents the quality of their experience. Use some color, but keep the design simple. Allow ample space for the questions. Use attractive and easily readable fonts and font sizes. For paper surveys, use high-quality paper. For open-ended questions (ones that ask for explanations as to why some service was not satisfactory or ask for suggestions for improving the services) allow adequate space for the respondent to answer.
- Provide multiple reminders. Once a victim has indicated that they are willing to complete the survey, provide reminders (no more than three), to those victims who have not returned the survey. Provide a visible, easy way to opt out of further requests for those victims who do not want to be bothered by reminders. Attach the survey (or link to the online survey) each time. Allow a week or two between reminders.
- Combine the survey with an after-care follow-up to ask how the victim is doing and whether further assistance is needed or desired. (Because advocates generally want to follow up with victims, such an approach may encourage advocates to assist with administering the survey).
- Consider providing a low-cost incentive to those victims who provide a complete survey. One incentive may be providing respondents with a copy of the latest survey report. It could also be small-cost items, such as bus/rail passes or entry into a raffle for a $100 gift card. Another option may be to reimburse the cost of the respondent’s transportation if a victim takes the survey at one of the partner’s facilities (such as an advocacy agency).
- Seek response rates of 40% or higher. Very low response rates, under 20%, should not be considered reliable.
- The organization that is seen as the least threatening/intimidating to potential respondents should administer the survey. Victims may be more receptive to filling out a survey administered by an advocacy organization, as opposed to a police department or a prosecutor’s office.