Evidence-based solutions to identified communication barriers
Using Silverman, Kurtz, and Draper’s (2013) research, in this section we explore a range of evidence-based solutions to address problems of communication between professionals and victims. These solutions are designed to ensure that appropriate levels of information are provided to victims and can be properly processed and retained by recipients.2
As set out in Table 6.1, victims in Australia have the right to receive information about trial processes in a general sense, as well as information about the progress of their case, including information about the charges laid, scheduled hearings, and outcomes, including decisions made concerning acceptance of a guilty plea. In essence, this means that victims are entitled to information about how the criminal justice system operates, starting with the role of the prosecution agency, defence lawyer, and judge. They must be informed prior to each court date of what the hearing might entail, followed by the outcome of hearings as they occur. They must also be informed about their right to submit a victim impact statement, including information about how and when it might be used.
A consideration throughout this should be whether the information is communicated to victims in a form that can be easily understood and processed, both at the time of the communication, as well as later. Silverman, Kurtz, and Draper (2013) have provided a number of strategies to assist medical professionals to impart comprehensible information to patients. These strategies, discussed below, are equally applicable to justice professionals working with victims and include the accessible communication of information verbally and effectively conveying information using visual methods.
Effective verbal communication skills
Silverman, Kurtz, and Draper (2013) have recommended a number of strategies to ensure that verbal information is conveyed effectively. These require professionals to:
- 1. assess the recipient’s starting point prior to giving information, by determining the amount of information or knowledge the recipient already possesses in relation to the subject matter, prior to providing any further information;
- 2. give information in small, ‘assimilable chunks’ (2013: 24). The professional must ensure that information is given in small amounts, to enable the recipient to hear and process each piece of information before further information is provided;
- 3. check the recipient has understood the small chunk of information and use their response as a guide to how to proceed before providing any further information;
- 4. repeat information if the recipient has not understood;
- 5. reduce or eliminate the use of jargon; and
- 6. ask the recipient what other information might be helpful.
Combined, these strategies should ensure that victims are able to comprehend the information presented to them verbally. For example, victim Laura complained that the justice professionals she encountered seemed to ‘assume that others understand the system enough to understand what is going to happen next’. This situation could have been avoided if the first strategy' listed above had been used. By determining Laura’s prior understanding of the justice system, the professionals who worked with her could have avoided the assumption that she understood more than she did and, consequently, could have provided Laura with appropriate levels of introductory information. Further, by avoiding the use of jargon, the justice professionals who worked with Rachel could have avoided the confusion that she experienced when ‘they were saying all these words and I just didn’t know [what they meant]’.
Consequently, we recommend that, based on the above-described strategies, verbal communication skills training should be conducted with justice professionals to improve their communication when working with victims of crime.