Crime Victim Institute is Research Arm for Texas

The Crime Victims' Institute provides a voice for victims through its research on a wide variety of issues, including the Texas Crime Victim Compensation Fund, victim participation in plea bargains, victim's rights, stalking, victim impact statements, identity theft, restitution, intimate partner violence, hate crimes, and victimization of college students, immigrants and the elderly.

"We do not work directly with victims," said Dr. Glen Kercher, director of the Crime Victims' Institute, located at the George J. Beto Criminal Justice Center. "Our mandate is to conduct research. We are involved in information sharing with victim service providers and the news media. We also provide evidence based policy recommendations for legislators, judges and police officers."

Created by the Legislature in 1995 and originally assigned to the Texas Attorney General's Office, the institute was moved to Sam Houston State University in 2003. While there are other Crime Victim Institutes throughout the country, this one is unique because it has a legislative mandate to investigate emerging issues and study what is happening with victims to address policy change.

"The institute examines issues of importance not only to crime victims but to the professionals who work in the trenches and need this valuable feedback," said Nancy Ghigna, director of Victims Assistance for the Montgomery County District Attorney Office and a member of the Institute's Advisory Board. "The consequences of victimization lasts a lifetime. The institute is comprised of individuals who are dedicated to making a difference for crime victims today and tomorrow."

The institute has three full-time faculty and four graduate students. Each year, professors at Sam Houston State University College of Criminal Justice conduct research relative to the mission of the Institute. Among their most recent released reports are elder abuse, intimate partner violence and victimization and illegal behavior.

Based on data from the 2005-2006 Texas Crime Victimization Surveys, Dr. Victoria Titterington of the SHSU College of Criminal Justice found that more than one in five seniors over the age of 60 had been the victim of personal or property crime. Titterington recommended that crime prevention education, peer counseling and service provider training could help aid these victims.

Two studies were conducted on intimate partner violence, one on the intergenerational transmission of violence and one on assessing the risk for this type of crime. A study by Dr. Cortney A. Franklin, also an assistant professor at SHSU College of Criminal Justice, found that children who witnessed violence by adult caregivers are at risk for becoming an adult victimizer.

Dr. Kercher authored a paper on assessing the risk of partner violence and compared a number of instruments that had been developed to assess future danger to victims. This report is germane to both agencies and prosecutors.

Among the new research that has begun is:

  • A study on Internet dating will assess the risks and benefits of meeting people online. Venues such as Facebook, My Space and Craigslist will be used to recruit participants to complete a survey.
  • The use and effectiveness of interlock devices in cases involving driving under the influence.
  • A study on the choking game, an activity that restricts blood flow to the brain and produces a "high" among participants.

The institute strives to further its research agenda by applying for federal grants.

Two important issues that the Crime Victim Institute has presented to the Texas Legislature are research brief on allowing victims to participate in the plea bargaining process and recommendations on ways to finance the Texas Crime Victims Compensation Fund, which helps pay for medical and moving expenses, time lost from work and mental health counseling.

The institute frequently collaborates with outside groups on their research, including the Texas Council on Family Violence, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the Montgomery County Women’s Center, to name a few.

Kercher is part of state and national groups, including the Texas Attorney General Task Force on Human Trafficking, and the Victim Services Coalition. He often presents his findings at national conference.

Member of The Texas State University System