Improving Justice for American Indian and Rural Victims of Crime Through Community-Engaged Research

Date01 May 2021
Published date01 May 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2021, Vol. 37(2) 192 –211
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986221999859
Improving Justice for
American Indian and Rural
Victims of Crime Through
Brooke A. de Heer1, Lynn C. Jones1, Bethany Larsen2,
Jennifer Runge2, and Sarah Young Patton2
Community-engaged research can be effective in directly improving justice for
individuals and communities, and to guide policies and practices. Given the challenges
to accessing some populations of interest, such as with rural victims of crime,
community-engaged approaches provide a means to support ethical and culturally
competent research that can improve justice in a meaningful way. In this article,
we discuss a collaborative research partnership between academic researchers and
a victim service agency that sought to connect rural victim advocacy with a data-
driven research methodology for improved justice delivery in two communities with
differing rural dynamics. Researchers and practitioners can benefit from recognizing
the unique, yet varied, victimization experiences within rural communities, and an
understanding of this variability among rural victims and contexts can inform justice
practice. We provide best practice recommendations from both researcher and
practitioner perspectives for the successful implementation of a project that serves
victims in the community and through policy. Implications for justice-related policy
and practice for rural and American Indian crime victims are discussed.
rural victims, community-engaged research, victim services, American Indian victims
1Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, USA
2Victim Witness Services of Coconino County, Flagstaff, AZ, USA
Corresponding Author:
Brooke A. de Heer, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Northern Arizona University, P.O.
Box 15005, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA.
999859CCJXXX10.1177/1043986221999859Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justicede Heer et al.
de Heer et al. 193
Barriers to research with underserved victim populations exist throughout the research
process, including challenges related to community accessibility, cultural consider-
ations, and dissemination of findings to improve service provision and affect policy. In
addition, research that focuses on marginalized victims of crime, including rurally
located and American Indian1 victims, is less frequent than research considering vic-
timization of the general population in more populous and centrally located environ-
ments. This is why community-engaged approaches by victim service practitioners
and researchers can be an effective tool for supporting underserved victim populations
and promoting translational research. The purpose of this article, and the research
project described herein, is to explicitly promote the value of collaborative partner-
ships between victim service practitioners and researchers and to identify how such
collaborations can best include underserved victim populations. Such collaborations
bridge the gap between research and practice by using research-driven and inclusive
methodologies whose outcomes improve service delivery to vulnerable victim popula-
tions and communities.
The many types of community-engaged research create a continuum (Goodman
et al., 2017), with community-based participatory research (CBPR) representing the
full extent of community-engaged research. Community-engaged research has gained
significant traction in many fields in recent years because of its collaborative, inclu-
sive approach and its ability to produce mutually beneficial outcomes for everyone
involved, among other things (Israel et al., 1998). As Minkler and Wallerstein (2003)
explain, CBPR involves collaboration between community partners and researchers
throughout the research process to capitalize on all parties’ relative expertise and to
value the unique contributions of the different stakeholders. CBPR often identifies an
important issue within the community and applies an educational and social action
perspective to improve community health (Wallerstein & Duran, 2006). Similarly,
translational research aims to deliver research outcomes to the intended populations
and to inform meaningful policy reform (Laub & Frisch, 2016; Woolf, 2008). These
collaborative methods link research and practice, often in ways that best address the
unique contexts and culture in a particular community. With this understanding, com-
bining community-engaged and translational research approaches for underserved
victim populations effectively supports these communities and connects victim advo-
cacy, research, and policy.
Particularly important to the project described herein, community-engaged research
must demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the unique populations that are
involved. Tribal nations have a long, tragic history with Western research practices
that resulted in collective trauma and distrust of the research process and researchers
that fail to consider the implications that the work may have on individuals or com-
munities (Battiste, 2016; Brave Heart et al., 2011; Smith, 1999, 2012). Smith (1999,
2012) describes how research foundations are derived from imperial value and knowl-
edge systems, thus not representing indigenous people’s perspectives or experiences
and exploiting them for professional gain. By using a community-engaged approach
that prioritized cultural sensitivity, American Indian community member feedback and
involvement, and translatable, meaningful outcomes that benefit the community, the

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