ROAR: A Lifeline for Survivors of Crime in Baltimore City

October 23, 2023

In the heart of Baltimore City, the Rebuild, Overcome, and Rise Center (ROAR) at the University of Maryland Baltimore has been steadfastly working since 2019 to offer a lifeline to survivors of crime. Their mission is clear: to provide holistic, client-driven services that not only help survivors recover from their trauma but also influence systemic responses to crime. The ROAR Center’s approach, deeply rooted in community-based violence intervention and prevention, seeks to address the shortcomings of traditional law enforcement and incarceration, promoting public safety and overall well-being.

A Multi-Disciplinary Approach

The ROAR Center recognizes that survivors of crime face complex challenges. To address these difficult barriers and bridge the gaps among the criminal justice system, social services, and healthcare, the organization has assembled a diverse team of professionals that include attorneys, paralegals, social workers, therapists, and a community health nurse manager. This interdisciplinary approach ensures that survivors of crime receive a comprehensive set of services, ranging from legal support and counseling to nurse care management.

A significant portion of the ROAR Centers clients are family members of homicide victims and gun violence survivors. The organization understands the immediate needs of these survivors and takes action. The ROAR Center’s attorneys are available to meet survivors right at the hospital, addressing pressing legal concerns and ensuring their rights are safeguarded as they receive medical treatment. The organization’s support doesn’t end with legal support. At the ROAR Center, staff also help address survivor’s mental and physical health as well as their overall quality of life.

A Departure from Traditional Responses

In the United States, the default response to a crime is to call the police and hope for a successful prosecution leading to imprisonment. However, this one-size-fits-all approach often falls short of addressing the unique needs and wishes of survivors. Survivors of crime, in Baltimore City and across the country, are disproportionately members of marginalized and under-served communities who are often left out of policy making decisions and who have suffered the most egregiously from over-policing and over-incarceration, thereby making that default response particularly undesirable. Research indicates that many survivors desire services not only for themselves but also for the person who caused them harm. Victims of crime and violence might not know where to seek help and/or distrust the criminal justice system. The ROAR Center’s trauma-informed, survivor-led approach focuses on healing and holistic services. 

Lydia Watts, a Bloomberg Fellow and executive director of ROAR, acknowledges the persistent need for organizations like the ROAR Center. She reflects on the vision of a day when her job might no longer be necessary saying, “I have been working with survivors for over 30 years. At times it feels overwhelming and all so unnecessary. I long for a day when my job no longer needs to exist”

A Vision for the Future

In recent years, Baltimore City has made crucial investments in community violence intervention and hospital-based violence intervention programs. These investments have sparked discussions about the seamless continuum of services for those at risk of causing or becoming victims of violence. The ROAR Center, Lydia believes, can be an active participant in these discussions, contributing to the vision of a comprehensive violence intervention and prevention ecosystem.


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