Oregon DOJ’s 2021 “Community Conversations” Series Underway

June 14, 2021
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The Oregon Department of Justice is seeking input from communities impacted by inequity to help improve services and access to justice for crime victims and survivors. The third annual Community Conversations, which began June 2nd and runs through July 30th, are comprised of 21 online listening sessions focusing on the experiences of diverse communities.

“Sadly, we know that many Oregonians, in the course of their day or night, do not feel safe and secure,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. “In fact, the communities that experience the highest victimization rates are the same ones that face the greatest barriers to support. These Community Conversations, now in their third year, are making a vital difference in our efforts at the Oregon Department of Justice to dismantle and overcome those barriers.”

A significant barrier identified by survivors and advocates is a lack of providers offering culturally responsive services to diverse communities. To address this gap, DOJ’s Crime Victim and Survivor Services Division (CVSSD) last year awarded DOJ’s first round of culturally specific Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants. The division has since awarded more than $5 million to 12 community-based organizations across Oregon.

In 2020, the Community Conversations, coordinated by the DOJ’s Crime Victim and Survivor Services Division and the Bias Response Program, drew more than 1,000 participants. DOJ summarized the input they received in a report, “Opening Pathways to Justice and Improving Support for Communities Impacted by Inequity,” and pledged to follow up on a number of action items identified by survivors and advocates.

CVSSD fund coordinator Benjamin Bradshaw said a major takeaway from last year’s sessions was a pervasive experience among survivors of being disbelieved and feeling dehumanized by victim service providers and law enforcement.

“For a survivor of assault or another crime to sense they are being judged or disregarded by a responder is incredibly traumatizing. If a survivor doesn’t fit the responder’s idea of how a victim should look or act, the responder may not believe the survivor is credible. And that’s a problem,” Bradshaw said. “When people face this kind of explicit or implicit bias from the very people who are supposed to help them, they may choose not to report a crime. They may believe they have nowhere to turn for help.”

In response, CVSSD is instituting a training program for leadership of all victim services programs funded by the DOJ. The summer-long training series will ensure the leaders at agencies who provide these crucial services have a better understanding of bias and the impact of racism, ableism, transphobia, and other systemic inequities on the communities they serve. Future training sessions will include all victim service agency staff, including, importantly, the direct service providers.

Bradshaw said DOJ has made numerous other changes as a result of community feedback, including

  • Removing Social Security Number questions from the forms DOJ uses to process service claims
  • Creating a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) subcommittee of the Crime Victim and Survivor Services Division advisory committee
  • Exploring program enhancements to increase equity, cross-cultural training, diversity, inclusion, and access to services for victims and survivors

Community Conversations participants will also hear an update on the implementation of Oregon’s hate crime law. The law, passed by the 2019 Legislature, defined hate crimes and bias incidents in Oregon statute, instituted a Bias Response Program including a Bias Response Hotline (1-844-924-BIAS, dial 711 for Oregon Relay, online at StandAgainstHate.Oregon.gov), and set forth specific requirements for law enforcement officers who respond to reports of hate crimes and bias incidents.

“In 2020, DOJ’s Bias Response Hotline received 1,100 reports,” said Johanna Costa, who coordinates the state’s Bias Response Program. “These were largely reports of race-based bias, and, overwhelmingly, of anti-Black bias. People from all protected classes, including sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, religion, national origin, and race and color have contacted the hotline to report being targeted in their homes, at work, and out in their communities, including parks, stores, and even while driving.” Costa said that to date this year, the hotline has already received 700 reports, a 450% increase in reporting from last year.

Next month, the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission will issue its annual report summarizing the Bias Response Hotline data, Oregon law enforcement hate crime data, and prosecution information, and will make recommendations on how the state can improve reporting and response to bias.

The Community Conversations are free and open to the public. Sessions run from 1-3pm on the dates indicated below. To join any future session, click this Zoom link or call 1-669-254-5252. Registration is required, but attendees may choose to participate anonymously.

  • Muslim Communities Monday, June 14
  • People Experiencing Houselessness Wednesday, June 16
  • Asian Communities Monday, June 21. Mandarin and Vietnamese interpretation will be provided
    Black/African American Communities Wednesday, June 23
  • Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Communities Friday, June 25
  • American Indian and Alaska Native Communities Monday, June 28
  • North African and Middle Eastern Communities Wednesday, June 30
  • People of Color Communities Monday, July 12
  • Undocumented and Migrant Farmworker Communities Wednesday, July 14. Spanish interpretation will be provided
  • Immigrant and Refugee Communities Friday, July 16
  • Slavic and Eastern European Immigrants and Communities Monday, July 19. Russian interpretation will be provided
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing Communities Wednesday, July 21.  ASL and Closed Captioning will be provided
  • Blind and Low Vision Communities Friday, July 23
  • People with Disabilities Communities Monday, July 26
  • People with Mental Health Disabilities Communities Wednesday, July 28
  • Victims who are Incarcerated, Formerly Incarcerated, or Justice-Involved Friday, July 30