Why We’re Here

Young Black woman gazing out a window with a serious expression.

ROAR was launched in 2019 by the University of Maryland Baltimore in response to the intolerably high frequency of violent crimes in Baltimore City, the overwhelming barriers to resources for survivors of these crimes, and the frequent mistreatment of survivors by the Baltimore City criminal justice system.

An epidemic of violence in our city

Baltimore City –  like so many cities across the United States – suffers from an epidemic of community violence, a widely recognized public health concern.

  • Baltimore City’s homicide rate is 10 times the national average.
  • Violent crime is the leading cause of death for young adults in Baltimore.
  • The overall crime rate in Baltimore City is 148% higher than the national average, and violent crimes in Baltimore City are 390% higher than the national average.

Cycles of community violence

As reported by the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, many victims of community violence suffer from repeat victimization. In urban settings, researchers estimate that up to 41 percent of patients treated for violent injury are reinjured within five years. Victims of violence face not only physical injuries but psychological and emotional disturbances associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and substance use disorder. An estimated 28 to 45 percent of victims of crime suffer from PTSD, a condition that can cause lasting physical and mental health challenges including fear, hypervigilance, and emotional detachment. Being the victim of violence also increases the likelihood of engaging in violent behaviors against others.

Systemic inequities, mistreatment, and distrust

Many survivors of violent crime in Baltimore City avoid all contact with local law enforcement, even to report a crime or seek help. Despite reform efforts by the Baltimore City police department (BPD), long-standing cultural attitudes, policies, and procedures within the criminal justice system continue to compound trauma and reinforce survivors’ deep distrust and frustration with law enforcement.

As a result, most violent and property crimes are not reported, and most of the crimes that are reported are not solved. The closure rate—meaning an arrest has been made or the case cannot proceed for some reason beyond the control of the police—is extremely low in Baltimore City, hovering around 32% for homicides, compared to the national rate, which is between 50% and 60%.

Meanwhile, crime victims and their families have been left without assistance. They often suffer from physical, emotional, and safety concerns resulting from the crime. Many are unable to work or parent as they did before. Survivors have felt uninformed of their rights, intimidated, ignored and punished by a criminal justice system they don’t understand. Services available elsewhere are often scattered, forcing survivors to recount their painful stories multiple times and navigate complex systems alone.

What we hear from survivors:

The police won’t even return my calls. I don’t know what is happening with the investigation. I tell them over and over again that I am not safe. They don’t care about me or my family.”

ROAR Client

I’m a victim. The victim advocate won’t even listen to what I need.”

ROAR Client

I know my son mattered, why don’t the police treat his murder as if he matters?”

ROAR Client

Mistreatment of survivors by Baltimore police

In 2021, the Justice Department issued an incriminating report describing a wide variety of ways that crime victims are mistreated by Baltimore City’s criminal justice system. It found that in their desperate attempt to curb violence, police often use coercive tactics with victims such as handcuffing them to hospital beds, denying visitors, funding, or relocation services, or confiscating their cell phones, wallets, driver’s licenses, and other property. 

The report states, “…people impacted by violence, particularly gun violence, often feel pushed or threatened into giving information, not on their own terms, and then are not meaningfully protected from very real threats to their safety when they do …. As a result, people often become conditioned to expect as victims and those caring for them that if they are poor and Black, they will most likely be treated more as a perpetrator than a victim by BPD …. The response to those impacted by violence often has a direct and lasting impact on their lives, for some even greater than the underlying victimization itself. This response (or lack thereof) reverberates into communities, impacts healing, and influences the delivery and effectiveness of victim services.” 

The report further states, “…actual changes in outcomes will not be possible if not accompanied by courageous self-reflection, deep, and widespread understanding about the impact of trauma, systemic inequity, the importance of collective healing, and a foundational shift in attitudes and relationships between BPD and the residents of Baltimore who are at greatest risk of harm.” 

The report recommended, “…stakeholder meetings with key partners in violence reduction and with specialized knowledge and roles in the enforcement of these rights (e.g., HVIP Program Administrators, The ROAR Center)…. Mayor Brandon Scott agreed, stating, “We know that this is something that will make a real difference in the well-being of our residents and our communities.” 

The report concluded that the Baltimore Police Department’s (BPD)’s treatment of gun violence survivors undermines its efforts to rebuild community trust and, in turn, solve more cases.

Treating survivors with dignity and respect

The ROAR Center was created to listen to survivors’ unique needs and provide integrated support in a respectful, non-judgemental environment. ROAR works on the front lines, empowering victims of violent crimes to enforce their rights and create their own paths toward justice and healing.

Where cities are seeing success, they’re generally investing in a balanced approach that includes policing but…also supports community-based approaches.… They have recognized the need for enforcement but also emphasize prevention and intervention.”

Thomas Abt, founding director of the Center for the Study and Practice of Violence Reduction at the University of Maryland

Our approach helps disrupt the cycle of violence, over-incarceration, and hopelessness about violent crime. By educating the community about their rights and raising awareness about the impacts of trauma, we promote safety through respect and empowerment.

The ROAR Center serves as a model not just in Baltimore City but anywhere violent crime is a problem. We can look at the roots of violence and see how they come from deep layers of systemic racism, disregard, and trauma. We can begin to heal those layers and reduce violence by building community trust and providing respectful alternatives.