Petra Vitousova, Bílý Kruh Bezpečí (BKB)

CASE STUDY: Mobilizing a volunteer-based support network for the victims of violent crime in the Czech Republic

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Organizational Vision

Bily Kruh Bezpeci (BKB) offers comprehensive counseling and aftercare for the victims of violent crime. BKB organizes care that is customized to fit the circumstances of the individual victim. Services include psychological counseling, information, referrals, legal services and assistance with interacting with the police. The goal is to provide the victim with the necessary services and information so that he or she will be able to make rational decisions and choices regarding legal and personal options.

The innovation resides in the fact that all these services are provided through volunteers. BKB is the first of its kind in the Czech Republic, both in its focus on the needs of victims and its path-breaking use of volunteers. Though many Czechs mobilized as volunteers for the environmental movement, volunteerism in other social areas is still uncommon.


Citizen Base Strategy

BKB seeks out volunteers who meet one of the following two criteria: Individuals who are trained in crime law, crime prevention, crime psychology; Individuals who are trained in psychology.

Petra finds that the most difficult challenge is to find volunteers who are trained. As more and more people hear about the center, more people want to volunteer. But it is important for sustaining the quality of BKB’s services that all volunteers be experts. This means turning away many and accepting only the professional volunteer.

Because of her criteria, Petra pursues a targeted approach to recruitment. She publishes advertisements in target magazines, such as those for lawyers or police officers. She lectures to her target audiences, accepting invitations to police academies, universities, and lawyers’ associations. She sends specific letters to Associations of these same professions.

Three years ago, BKB did its first survey on volunteer motivation asking its volunteers why they give free time, and why they have stayed with the organization. All volunteers responded with the following three reasons:

  1. Volunteers were unhappy with the situation of victims of violent crimes.
  2. Volunteers love working with the team. The personal relationships developed between the volunteers are very important. Given their professions, volunteers often spend their days in opposition to one another. There are many examples of prosecutors and defense attorneys spending their day arguing against each other, but are able to come to BKB and work together to solve a problem.
  3. Volunteers love the opportunity to learn new skills and the constant trainings involved.
All volunteers must go through an intensive training program at least once a year. BKB builds on this training with quarterly meetings of the volunteers across the country. The training orients volunteers to the organization, its working principles, and how the volunteers can assist. It also bridges the area between crisis intervention and crime law. As the volunteers are experts in either area, but not both, this bridge is very important. Understanding how the two can be used together generally deepens a volunteer’s commitment. It also gives them additional skills applicable to their professional careers.
BKB currently manages 130 registered volunteers, who serve 2800 individuals. This allows the organization to operate personal consulting services to victims of violent crimes in six locations across the Czech Republic. BKB’s volunteer structure also ensure the sustainability of its volunteer force.

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How It’s Working

Petra’s targeted volunteer approach is also having implications for improved national policies. “This is becoming easy for us,” says Petra, “since our volunteers are outstanding lawyers who can write the law well, and have the right connections to have it heard. Additionally, our volunteers are effecting [policy changes] by using examples of our clients that prove that the existing law is bad. We have the credibility of the police and justice system, so we are now being invited to critique new laws.”
 
“It is just now that politicians are talking about victims of crime,” substantiates Kobouvova. “This never happened before. We have been contacted by Parliament and politicians to comment on laws. We were actually invited to the offices to discuss them. We have initiated lots of change at this level.”

 

Petra Vitousova was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.

This article was originally published on 15 August 2017

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