An Informal Homicide and Multicultural Questionnaire

Michael R. Tramonte, Ed.D., NCSP, B.C.E.T.S., F.A.A.E.T.S.


INTRODUCTION

 

Culture is akin to being the observer through the one-way mirror; everything we see is from our own perspective. It is only when we join the observed on the other side that it is possible to seeourselves and others clearly--but getting to the other side of the glass represents many challenges (Lynch, 1992, p. 35).

Violence committed against and committed by the youth of America is increasing every day. In alarming rates, young people are turning to violence to resolve their problems. One of their conflict resolution solutions is homicide. The tragic reality of several high profile shootings involving multiple victims in our US schools supports the premise that children are swimming in a "culture of violence."

With the increasing diversity of the United States population, there is a growing awareness of the need for culturally specific responses to help survivors of homicide victims (family members, close friends, neighbors, schoolmates, and members of the community). If mental health professionals are to provide and link culturally sensitive support systems to homicide victim survivors, they first need to be aware of their own possible cultural biases and the fact that others have widely varying responses to trauma. Secondly, they need to identify and validate the cultural background of the victim and survivors in order to provide culturally appropriate services. To be effective, mental health specialists need to employ a cross-cultural perspective in their service deliveries.

COMMONLY REPORTED CULTURAL BIASES

Mental health professionals in providing sensitive and caring intervention services, need to be aware of the ten most frequently encountered examples of cultural bias about multicultural counseling and development. For the intent of this article, the ten will be only identified but not discussed. According to Pedersen (1987), the misconceptions are: (1) Normal Behavior Is Universal; (2) Emphasis on Individualism; (3) Fragmentation by Academic Disciplines; (4) Dependence on Abstract Words; (5) Overemphasis on Independence; (6) Neglect of Client's Support Systems; (7) Dependence on Linear Thinking; (8) Focus on Changing Individual, Not System; (9) Neglect of History; and (10) Dangers of Cultural Encapsulation.

THE BACKGROUND FOR THE INFORMAL QUESTIONNAIRE

To help mental health professionals understand how to intervene with homicide survivors in a multicultural setting, the following information has been abstracted from Irish, Lundquist, & Nelson (1993); McGoldrick, Pearce, & Giordano (1996, 1982); Mitchell & Everly (1995); National Victim Center (1992); Ogawa (1998,1990); Poland & McCormick (1999); and Young (1998, 1994). In addition, the author's presentations in this area, experiences with assisting homicide survivors in a large multicultural public school community and experiences working with the American Red Cross have also been integrated into information within this questionnaire.

The questionnaire is organized into four categories: (1) Community and Cultural Influences; (2) Survivors' Characteristics; (3) Criminal/Juvenile Justice System; and (4) Crisis Intervention/Therapy. Some of the contents within the classifications occasionally overlap. Each of the headings also has subcategories. The areas are arranged into a question format that mental health specialists can use as a starting point for (a) cultural awareness and (b) trauma intervention after a homicide. Prior to crisis and during intervention following a homicide in a multicultural setting, mental health professionals are encouraged to ask themselves the following questions and to seek answers to provide culturally sensitive service deliveries to homicide survivors:

AN INFORMAL HOMICIDE AND MULTICULTURAL QUESTIONNAIRE

(1) COMMUNITY AND CULTURAL INFLUENCES

LIFE AND DEATH

  • attitude toward death - What are the community's beliefs and rituals toward death?

  • life and death – Does the culture perceive life and death as polarities or as one process?

  • life-death intermediate state – Do survivors believe in an "intermediate state" between life and death where the spirits of deceased loved ones are seen or sensed by them and are released and free for reincarnation?
  • bereavement and funeral practices – How does the culture, and especially the survivors, mourn a death and specifically, a homicide?


CULTURE AND COMMUNITY

  • history - What are the cultural literary, folklore, myths, traditional ceremonies and creative expressions? What is the meaning of various oral and written traditions and cultural expressions?

  • type of community - Is the family and community open or closed?

  • society - Is the society patriarchal or other?

  • context cultures – Have the survivors been socialized in a high context culture (where much of the meaning is determined by the context and where the survivors are more sensitive to nonverbal messages), or have they been brought up in a low context culture (where little of the meaning is dependent on the environment and where verbal messages are elaborate and specific?).

  • code of silence – Is there a code of silence among members of a minority group which prevents them from sharing information with outsiders?

  • community values - Are community members discouraged from reporting crimes?

  • gender roles - How do cultural expectations control the role of females in reporting or responding to crime?


INDIVIDUAL OR GROUP

  • self-image - Do survivors judge themselves as individuals or as a member of a group? Are social relationships and group loyalty stressed more than individuality?

  • intragroup differences – Are the survivors perceived as displaying certain cultural characteristics of their ethnic group as well as seen as manifesting individual behaviors different from the group?

  • obligations - Are there obligations to the group and/or community that take precedence and must be carried out?


STIGMA

  • society's reaction – Does the culture accept, reject, or stigmatize the survivors?

  • stigma - Is the family and/or community stigmatized by the murder?


FEAR

  • violent reprisals - In crime infected neighborhoods, is the survivor or witness vulnerable to fearful violent reprisals?

  • retaliation - If a murder was committed by a person of another ethnic background, do the survivors fear repercussions against its people by the other culture?


NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION

  • communication – Do survivors communicate detailed verbalizations, or do they display sensitivity to nonverbal messages?

  • cultural behaviors – Do the survivors avoid displays of emotions and conduct that may appear too aggressive, critical, or confrontational, and do they preserve dignity and respect by an ethic of modesty, an economy of physical intrusions into the space of another person, and sensitivity toward disturbing others by one's words and behaviors?

  • respect – Have the survivors been socialized to show respect through limited eye contact, deference, and silence?

  • proxemics – How much physical space do the members of a culture allow between themselves and others? Do they physically get close, or do they stand at a distance?

  • chronemics – How do the members use time? Are they time conscious, or are they not? Do they require rituals before they get down to business, or do they get right to the task at hand as hurried Westerners do?

  • haptics – Do the members use touch as a means of communication, or do they avoid it?


PRIVACY

  • humility – Are the survivors culturally humble and therefore uncomfortable with any public demonstration that conveys that their own suffering is greater or more serious than that of others?

  • limelight shun – Do survivors avoid the limelight and the attention from the mass media?


TRAUMA

  • type of threat – What does the culture define as a traumatic threat?

  • interpretation – How does the culture influence the survivors' interpretation of a traumatic event?

  • religion – How do religion and/or spirituality impact the survivors' understanding, interpretation, and reaction to trauma?

  • expression and response – How does the culture influence how individuals and communities express traumatic reactions?

  • holistic approach – Is trauma interpreted by culture as afflicting the whole person and not just one aspect of an individual's life?

  • group suffering - What have the survivors' social group suffered in the past, what traumas has it endured, and what is it suffering at present?

  • idioms of distress - How do the survivors communicate subjective discomfort associated with their cultures?

  • cultural time out – Do survivors respond passively, mimicking a depression, but are really culturally manifesting "time out" to deal with the stressful situation?

  • health – How does culture define healthy pathways to new lives after trauma?


(2) SURVIVORS' CHARACTERISTICS

REACTIONS OF SURVIVORS

  • symptoms and pain - What do the survivors label as symptoms and pain, and how do they communicate them?

  • meaning and suffering - What is the survivors' meaning (interpretation) for the homicide and the aftermath of suffering?

  • secondary victimization – Are survivors experiencing symptoms of secondary traumatization from the agencies existing to assist them, and do they show signs similar to those of their loved one who was murdered?

  • acute stress disorder reactions – Are the survivors expressing any acute stress symptoms? Are you aware of the cultural idioms?

  • other stressors – Were the survivors experiencing other life changes that were going on at the time their loved one was murdered? What is their past history with death and other major losses?

  • resiliency - Are the survivors resilient?

  • impact of homicide -What is the emotional, physical and financial impact of the homicide on the survivors and on the immediate and extended family structure, including adherence to past obligations and future relationships?

  • fear and vulnerability – Are survivors fearful of further psychological or physical assaults from others?

  • complicated mourning – Are the survivors unable to mourn, are they grieving too long, or are they unable to reach grief resolution?


COMMUNICATION

 

· language - Are the survivors able to communicate effectively with service practitioners, or are interpreters needed?

· non-verbal behavior-kinesics - What are the survivors' non-verbal cues and body language, body statements, gestures, and covert expressions of moods and feelings?

PRIVACY AND CONCERN FOR OTHERS

 

· reluctance to share intimacies - Are the survivors reluctant to share private and shameful matters with others (cultural strangers) and hesitant to come forward?

· shame - Are the survivors concerned with privacy and confidentiality that causes them to keep things to themselves, to avoid sharing what they know with authorities, to refrain from bringing shame on their families and communities, and to refuse therapy?

· preventing discomfort - Have the survivors been reared to avoid causing discomfort or trouble for someone else?

RESPONSIBILITY AND GUILT

 

· "if only I had" - Do the survivors accept unrealistic responsibility for the homicide? Is there self-blame?

· "guilt of the survivors" – If the survivors experienced the same trauma but lived, do they feel guilty that they survived and that their loved one(s) didn't?


FOCUSED ATTENTION ON THE HOMICIDE AND/OR ITS AFTERMATH

 

· search for details – Are the survivors searching endlessly for all of the details of the victim's death: what happened, when, how, where, who did something to someone, and the unanswerable why?

· anger – Are the survivors' rage at the assailant an unending preoccupation, and do they want to destroy the murderer and see him/her suffer?

· fixation - In their minds, are the survivors stuck at the crime scene, the cemetery, or the criminal justice system?

· loss of control – Do the survivors feel that the law enforcement and criminal justice system are controlling their lives?

· flashbacks – Are the survivors experiencing flashbacks to the memory of receiving the death notification or to the memory of, or an imagined picture of, the crime itself?

· the media - How do survivors react when viewing information about the murder in the mass media?


(3) CRIMINAL/JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

POLICE AND CRIMINAL/JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM INVOLVEMENT

 


· distrust - Is the community distrustful (suspicious) of the police and other authority?

· unfairness - Do survivors fear they will be treated unfairly by police and prosecutors?

· intruders - Are police and outsiders viewed as intruders rather than peacemakers and helpers?

· authority - Are the survivors taught not to question authority even when a crime has been committed?

· released on bail - Do survivors fear reprisals and lack of police protection from criminals on bail?

· concerns - Do survivors fear their needs will be overlooked in favor of court trial techniques, legal issues, and evidentiary concerns? Do they fear exposure to intimidation or disparaging regard by the majority culture?

· home visits - Do the survivors feel more at ease at home to answer questions than in a school, a police station, or court?


PAST TRAUMAS INFLUENCING THE SURVIVORS' PERCEPTION OF THE CRIMINAL/JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

 

· perceptions - Are the perceptions towards the criminal justice system based upon the survivors' experiences with it in their native land?

· refugees - Are the survivor refugees who experienced certain forms of interrogation, torture, or violence in their homeland, fearful or resistant to procedures which appear similarly intrusive in our criminal justice system?

· first contact – Are the mainstream authorities aware that the nature of their first contact with the survivors may either confirm or dispel suspicion regarding how the survivors feel they will be treated?

· apprehension - Are the survivors overly concerned about being incarcerated or hospitalized?

BARRIERS TO COMING FORWARD AS SURVIVORS OR WITNESSES

 

· looked upon as suspects - Are the survivors looked upon as suspects, which sometimes may be the case?

· illegal status - Will illegal aliens fear to come forward as survivors or witnesses for fear of being deported?

· underreporting of crimes - Do lack of knowledge, how to report, and to whom to report influence an underreporting of crimes?


SERVICES FOR SURVIVORS

 


· outreach programs – To help survivors, is the criminal justice system developing appropriate language, interactive skills, and comprehensive outreach programs to serve multicultural populations?

· native language – Are the survivors provided interpreters and written materials in their native language?

· restorative justice – Is restorative justice, responsive to the needs of victims, survivors, offenders, and the community as equal citizens being used as a new paradigm instead of the traditional model which is just responsive to the state?

(4) CRISIS INTERVENTION/THERAPY

TAKING FIRST THINGS FIRST

 

· ethnocentrism – Are you aware that your ethnocentrism (the belief that your race or culture is the standard by which all others must be evaluated and judged) is not the guide that should be used with minorities?

· request permission – Did you request permission from the survivors to communicate with them and also to become involved in other activities in their lives?

· fundamental needs – Are you focusing on the survivors' fundamental and everyday, basic needs first since intervention may be more helpful when focusing on immediate problems and practical solutions than on psychosocial intervention?


CULTURAL HELPERS

 

· cultural doorkeeper – Have you identified a friend or colleague who is a respected insider in the culture and who can help make connections with the culture?

· survivors as guides – Are you allowing survivors to direct you through cultural protocols, and are you following their directions?


CULTURAL SOCIAL SYSTEMS

 

· asking for help - Do survivors ask for help or shy away from it and accept other means in the culture for healing, such as spirituality, religion, shamans, folk wisdom, healers, superstitions, luck, acts of God, the spirit world, and supernatural powers?

· the spirit world – Are survivors allowed to express their belief in the spirit realm, which some ethnic groups accept as a faculty for discernment and not as a deficit, --without having the validity of their belief in the spirit world questioned or diagnosed as pathological?

· definition of well-being - Do survivors turn inward, not for personal benefit as in therapy, but for other reasons such as through meditation, asceticism, or self-reflection to restore harmonious relationships?

· religion - How do religious beliefs and support systems influence the survivors' attitudes toward crime, trauma, and mental health concerns?

· help outside the family - Is outside family or community assistance allowed?

· elastic households - Are there community members ready to step in informally to take care of the survivors' personal or economic circumstances?

· kin-structured networks - Are there close and supportive relationships among the individuals within a family and community regarding daily living and crises?

· social supports - Do survivors have adequate support systems as well as economic and legal resources?

FEARS

 


· fear - Do the survivors fear and distrust mental health professionals and clinics as a way of controlling them through misdiagnoses, institutionalization, and medication?

· medication – Are you cognizant of the reluctance of some survivors to verbalize underlying fears and conflicts as well as to seek symptom relief by medication?

THERAPY

 


· therapy - Are the survivors oriented toward psychological therapy, or is disturbed behavior in the culture viewed as the result of a lack of will, supernatural causes, or physical illness?

· type of therapy - Which modality of treatment will you use? Individual, group, mutual peer support, or other?

· the NOVA and CISD models– Are you familiar with the National Organization for Victim Assistance's (NOVA's) Group Crisis Intervention design as well as the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) paradigm (the Mitchell model)?

 

· therapist-client relationship – Are you of the same or different background of the survivors?

· therapeutic orientation – Are you keeping in mind that Western European-based cultural values of normality that govern our structure toward minorities and that govern our interpretation of trauma and suffering may not be appropriate for survivor intervention?

· transcultural therapy – Are the counseling methods used culture-specific and readily transferable between cultures?

· trust – Did you establish trust with the survivors? Murder causes survivors to lose trust in the world that is no longer predictable and secure.

· various cultural interventions – Are you including any of the following interventions: reduction of isolation, relaxation techniques, meditation, education about crisis and trauma reactions, re-framing the crisis in culturally relevant terms, helping the survivors to develop control, or other?

· expressive arts – Are you allowing the survivors to express themselves through artwork, language arts activities, music, drama, and/or bodily-kinesthetics?

· being present – Are you readily available and compassionately present to the survivors to help in any way possible?

· processing – Are you asking survivors to share their story?

· migration experiences - If the survivors were refugees and experienced previous oppression, are you aware of their trauma story that has been imprinted on their memories?

· suicide potential – Are you assessing the survivors' risk for possible thoughts of suicide?

· intrusion caution – Are you careful not to ask intrusive questions?

· family members - Should family members also be involved in therapy?

· expressing empathy – As an intervener, as appropriate, would you say, "I am so sorry that this has happened to you;" "I can't imagine how difficult that must have been for you;" and/or "It must have been upsetting to (hear, feel, smell, see, taste) that?"



ENTERING THE CULTURE OF THE SURVIVORS

 

· appropriate clothing – Are you wearing respectful clothes in order not to offend the survivors?

· being respectful – Did you say, "hello," "good-bye," and "thank you" in the survivors' own language?

· access rituals – Are you available to participate in access rituals such as ceremonies, food contexts, and religious services?

· rituals and routines – Are you aware of the survivors' scheduled times for eating, dressing behaviors, and day to day routines in order not to disturb their lifestyles?

· cultural obligations – Do the survivors have cultural other-directed obligations that need to be known if they are to be helped adequately?

· body language – Are you sensitive to cues of body language and are you aware that nonverbal communication in our culture can be interpreted differently in and by another ethnic group?

· apologizing – Are you willing to apologize if you enact a cultural faux pas?

EDUCATING THE SURVIVORS ABOUT WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE FUTURE

 

· trigger events - Are the survivors aware that they will re-experience crisis reactions during holidays and anniversaries and also that they will go through them during the criminal investigation and prosecution process?

· literature – Are you providing the survivors with literature in their language to help them cope with their loss of their loved one?

· media – Have you prepared the survivors for the media intrusion?

TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF

 

· personal health – Have you been eating well, sleeping, exercising, and taking breaks from your intensive crisis intervention?

· debriefing – Are you willing to participate in a debriefing after helping others?


CONCLUSION

Mental health personnel need to provide caring, sensitive, cross-cultural competent and responsive service deliveries. They need to intervene and to link homicide survivors to support systems. Also, they need to remember how diversity influences intervention in an ethnic context. The informal questionnaire is only a starting point for cultural awareness and for intervening after a homicide. It may need to be revised in the future. For now, the questionnaire can be helpful to mental health professionals and others to gain self-insight and to provide compassionate services to trauma survivors and to others impacted by the trauma.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Everly, G. S. Jr., & Mitchell, J. T. (1995). Critical Incident Stress Management: The Basic Course Workbook. Ellicott City, MD: International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc.

Irish, D. P., Lundquist, K. F., & Nelsen, V. J. (Eds.) (1993). Ethnic variations in dying, death, and grief. Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis.

Lynch, E. W. (1992). Developing cross-cultural competence. In E. W. Lynch & M. J. Hanson (Eds.), Developing cross-cultural competence (pp. 35-61). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

McGoldrick, M., Pearce, J. K., & Giordano, J. (Eds.) (1996). Ethnicity & family therapy (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford.

McGoldrick, M., Pearce, J. K., & Giordano, J. (Eds.) (1982). Ethnicity & family therapy. New York: Guilford.

National Victim Center (1992). Multicultural victim service considerations. Vol. 1 (33). National Victim Center. Ft. Worth, TX:

Ogawa, B. (1998). Color of justice: Culturally sensitive treatment of minority crime victims (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Ogawa, B. (1990). Color of justice: Culturally sensitive treatment of minority crime victims. Sacramento, CA: Office of Criminal Justice Planning.

Pedersen, P. B. (1987). Ten frequent assumptions of cultural bias in counseling. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 16-24.

Poland, S., & McCormick, J. S. (1999). Coping with crisis: Lessons learned. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Tramonte, M. R. (1999). Homicide Crisis Intervention in Multicultural School Settings. A paper presented at the National Association of School Psychologists' Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, on April 8th.

Tramonte, M. R. (1998). Intervening in school-related violent deaths in a multicultural setting: Linking support systems for students and families. A paper presented at the National Association of School Psychologists' Convention in Orlando, Florida, on April 17th.

Tramonte, M. R. (1997). Developing death and multicultural awareness as well as intercultural communication skills: A school psychologist's proactive response to school-related death. A paper presented at the National Association of School Psychologists' Convention in Anaheim, California, on April 3rd.

Young, M. A. (1998). The community crisis response team training manual. Washington, DC: National Organization for Victim Assistance.

Young, M. A. (1994). The community crisis response team training manual. Washington, DC: Office for Victims of Crime and the National Organization for Victim Assistance.

 

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