Victim Services

Catherine Elizabeth Kaukinen. 21st Century Criminology: A Reference Handbook. Editor: J Mitchell Miller. 2009. Sage Publications.

Violent victimization is often a traumatizing and life-changing event. Research has clearly identified a number of consequential social, behavioral, physical, and mental health outcomes associated with the trauma of violent crime and fear of revictimization. Researchers have also pointed out that violent crime victims are likely to suffer from depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, negative self-perceptions, and other internalizing problems. Physical and sexual abuse in childhood, in particular, heightens the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts, and increases the risk for a variety of antisocial behaviors, substance abuse, aggression, and violent offending in adulthood that may later impact adult wellbeing. It is therefore clear that the impact of violent crime, for the victims of crime, is a tremendous individual as well as social burden. An additional indicator of the injurious consequences of violence is the use of medical, gynecological, mental health, and social services by violent crime victims. Miller, Cohen, and Wiersema (1996) have estimated the cost of interpersonal crime to be $105 billion annually in medical costs, lost earnings, and public programs dedicated to victim assistance.

While Miller et al. (1996) note the importance of these tangible economic losses, they point out that they do not address the full consequences of violent crime. They suggest that when pain and suffering and lost quality of life are taken into account, the “real cost of crime to victims” is an estimated $450 billion annually. An analysis of mental health providers suggests that violent crime victims account for approximately 25% of all psychologists’ client bases and upwards of 40% of all treatment hours (see Cohen & Miller, 1998). They also estimate the cost of providing psychological and mental health treatment to violent crime victims to be over $9 billion. Appealing to various community sources of support after experiencing a violent victimization is suggested to be an important avenue for victims recovering from their trauma and dealing with the shortand long-term impact of violence. The utilization and receipt of network and community support, in the form of medical and emergency care, mental health services, counseling, and advocacy, may therefore assist in alleviating the negative effects of violent victimization, serving as a social safety net upon which victims may rely. Social and community support may also be considered an asset for victims dealing with the aftermath of violent crime to the extent that it promotes the preservation or recovery of valued resources. It is therefore evident that the directing of financial and personnel resources to the victim component of the crime problem and the provision of social and mental health services will assist victims in dealing with the shortand long-term consequences of crime and violence. The services currently available to victims address a number of tangible impacts of violent crime including victims’ rights within the criminal justice and medical systems; the physical and mental health outcomes; financial and legal costs; and the continued day-to-day impact some types of violence have on victims such as those who have experienced sexual assault, child abuse, and intimate partner violence.

A social and academic interest in the lives of violent crime victims reflects the changing role and importance of victims in the public imagination, public policy, lawmaking, criminal justice, and social service provision in recent decades. Prior to the 1960s, both the criminal justice system and the human and social service system largely ignored the plight of victims, instead focusing on the causes and nature of crime and the rehabilitation or punishment of offenders (see Wallace, 1998). The victims of crime have therefore gone largely unrecognized in public discourse and within the criminal justice system (see Elias, 1992). More importantly, until the last several decades, the impact of criminal victimization had not been a focus of public concern. Instead, the victims’ role in crime was largely filtered through their role as witnesses within the criminal justice system. Beginning in the late 1960s and taking hold in the 1970s, academic research, the medical community, and law enforcement’s concern and actions taken for victims of crime began to expand. The research, activism, and legislation helped to identify and highlight the toll of violent crime in terms of the social, physical, mental health, and financial consequences of victimization. This public concern owes much of its impetus to the actions and advocacy of grassroots organizations that organized and mobilized to offer victims the tangible assistance and support they needed in the way of shelters, crisis care, advocacy, and representation within the criminal justice system.

Services for and Rights of Violent Crime Victims

The creation and growth of the victims’ rights movement, reflecting an expansion of the feminist and civil rights movements, led to the provision of services to victims and an extension of their rights within law and criminal justice (see Office for Victims of Crime, 2004). Changes within the criminal justice system and the wider collective experience of crime, which include a heightened fear of stranger crime, changes in the day-to-day activities of households, increasing evidence of public disorder, and increased media interest and dramatization of crime, have led to dramatic changes in the way victims of crime are responded to. These changes reflect and reinforce widespread concern about victims and public safety, the ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system, and the politicizing of crime issues and crime victims. The evolution and implementation of services for violent crime victims may therefore be viewed as reflecting the history of the victims’ rights movement (see Office for Victims of Crime, 2004).

The victims’ rights movement has shaped the definition of victimization and the types of crime events that warrant concern for those victims affected by crime and violence. An examination of victim services through the lens of the victims’ rights movement over the last four decades provides a systematic view of how victims have evolved in the public imagination and how victim services have developed and evolved. The evolution of social, mental health, and legal services, and the advocacy for victims over the last 40 years, may be seen as moving from financial compensation programs, to social service initiatives, to the development of federal legislation for the victims of violent crime that works to ensure stability of funding for services for victims and their rights within the criminal justice system.

1960s: Medical Definitions of Victimization and Law Enforcement Involvement

Some of the first concerns for the victims of crime focused on child victims. One of the earliest definitions of child abuse was suggested by physician C. Henry Kempe. In his benchmark paper, “Battered Child Syndrome” (Kempe, Silverman, Steele, Droegemueller, & Silver, 1962/ 1984), he defined child abuse as a clinical condition with medical injuries that resulted from a physical assault. As early as the 1960s, pediatric radiologists began exposing the injuries experienced by infants and children and subsequently reported these victimizations to law enforcement officials. After involvement by the medical community, laws were passed in 1962 prohibiting parents from abusing their children. During this same time, mandatory child maltreatment reporting laws were passed by every state. Today, every state has mandatory child maltreatment laws and in some states—North Carolina, for example—this extends to all citizens who have knowledge of abuse.

After the early 1960s, there was a dramatic increase in the demand for child protective services. Some of the services provided by these agencies included assistance for children and families, foster care placement for abused children, support for youth making the transition to adulthood while living in foster care, and placement of children in adoptive homes. Today, there are close to 3 million referrals made yearly to state-level protective service agencies, involving more than 4.5 million children. In dealing with the impact of child abuse, more than 350 communities have established children’s advocacy center programs. These centers permit law enforcement officers, prosecutors, child protection workers, victim advocates, and therapists to interview children in a single, child-friendly location rather than in several intimidating environments. Child advocacy programs also provide holistic multidisciplinary case management to children during various stages of therapeutic treatment and criminal justice intervention.

1970s: Grassroots Advocacy and Victim Compensation Programs

The earliest assistance and services for the victims of violent crime came in the form of victim compensation programs. The first program of its kind was established in California in 1965 through that state’s Victims of Violent Crime Act. This act provided for “reimbursement to persons who, as a result of a violent crime, have suffered a monetary loss due to a physical or emotional injury not covered by another source” (California Attorney General’s Office, 1998, p. 21). In addition, the act allowed for the reimbursement of medical and hospital bills, loss of income, loss of support, funeral and burial expenses, rehabilitation or retraining costs, counseling and therapy, and attorney fees. It also required that members of law enforcement inform victims about the availability of state compensation funds and the location of the local victim/witness assistance center where they could file for a reimbursement. In outlining the need for such a service and provision to victims, California State Senator Eugene McAteer made a convincing case to then Governor Edmund G. Brown by stating the following:

The State of California spends millions of dollars for the maintenance of prisoners in penal institutions and the furnishing of dental and medical care, while the victimized persons and their families must bear any medical or dental expenses on their own and may suffer addtional economic hardship from temporary or even permanent loss of employment. (McGagin, 2005, p. 2)

Similar victim compensation programs were subsequently adopted in New York and Massachusetts during the late 1960s. These programs were developed in recognition of the tremendous financial burden placed on the victims of violent crime. They included financial reimbursement for victims in which compensation administrators often became advocates for victims of violent crime. Today, every state has a victim compensation program, but California continues to be a leader in victim compensation, providing the largest outlays of awards.

It is important to note that to benefit from such programs, victims are required to make contact with the criminal justice system and report their victimization to the police. Given that the majority of victims, particularly victims of sexual violence and domestic assaults, do not report their victimization to the police, the receipt of compensation is often limited to a narrower group of violent crime victims. In addition, while many victims would benefit from these programs, they were not met without resistance given the potential cost of such programs. Today, the majority of the money for these programs comes from offenders via fees and fines charged against those convicted of crime, as opposed to public tax dollars.

The 1970s may be largely characterized as reflecting the hard work and dedication of grassroots organizers. Both rape survivors and battered women commonly founded programs, crisis centers, and shelters for victims; worked to organize coalitions; and provided opportunities for the growth of activism. The advocacy taken on the part of victims included the development of the first battered women’s shelter for female domestic violence victims, established in 1974. The network of shelters then spread across the United States. Today, there are over 2,000 shelters and direct services offered to women leaving violent and abusive intimate relationships.

Shelters most often offer temporary and transitional living programs for women and their children who have experienced family and intimate partner violence. Agencies may also offer women and their children an apartment for an extended period of time during which they receive counseling and assistance. Shelters often have programs designed specifically for children who have witnessed violence and abuse. This may include group and individual counseling, education and play-therapy services, along with case management services. It is important to note that roughly half of the residents in domestic violence shelters are children. Domestic violence agencies may also offer programming for batterers in the form of workshops and group therapy for both men and women. Some agencies offer outpatient services including support groups, vocational counseling and job training, outreach to high schools and the community, court advocacy, and mental health services or referrals. Finally, many agencies have funding for women dealing with the economic reality of leaving a violent relationship, including locating temporary shelter, if none other is available, and putting women and their children up at a hotel for a few days. While the operation of shelters initially was focused on (and continues to focus on) assisting women in leaving abusive relationships, it soon became part of the battered women’s movement, working to reduce the incidence of family violence. The actions taken by those involved in the shelter movement include educating the public and law enforcement officials, advocating for victims, and working for legislative change and funding of domestic violence programming.

During the 1970s, grassroots organizations also worked to assist sexual assault victims in dealing with the trauma of rape and drew public attention to the issue of violence against women more broadly. The work and actions taken by these small, grassroots feminist groups led to the development of the first rape crisis centers in 1972. The primary purpose of the centers was to counsel and assist women who had been raped, offering them assistance, information, and advocacy in medical settings, the criminal justice system, and court proceedings. As part of the feminist movement, rape crisis centers also served the purpose of empowering women and politicizing violence against women. The initial funding of rape crisis centers was largely erratic, but over time these centers have been funded by hospitals, universities, and local governments. Today, rape crisis centers across the United States offer comprehensive medical, mental health, and legal services to victims of sexual violence, as well as sexual assault awareness and prevention education, and advocacy. The actions taken during this time period helped to direct attention to rape survivors and led to the impetus to change the criminal justice system and laws to facilitate prosecution and encourage women to report their experience of sexual violence to the police.

By the 1970s, formal programs for crime victims also expanded to include a wider array of victim assistance programs, including the development of criminal-justiceand law-enforcement-based victim assistance programs. The important role of law enforcement in the provision of services to victims is evident in the organization of the first “Victims’ Rights Week,” in 1975, by Philadelphia District Attorney F. Emmett Fitzpatrick. The National Organization for Victim Assistance, founded in 1975, is an organization of victim and witness assistance programs and practitioners, criminal justice agencies and professionals, mental health professionals, researchers, former victims, and survivors committed to the recognition and implementation of victim rights and services. Its primary mission is now to promote the rights of and services for victims of crime and crisis through national advocacy, direct services to victims, supporting the activities of victim service professionals, and forging relationships between members. With respect to the provision of services, the National Organization for Victim Assistance’s contact with victims, primarily via its national hotline, leads to service referral, counseling, and advocacy for the victims of crime.

During the 1970s, a number of coalitions formed to attend to the issue of violence against women. In 1978, as part of a United States Commission on Civil Rights, women’s advocates came together in Washington, D.C., to form the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). The primary mission of NCADV is to engage in leadership within communities to help bring an end to violence. To that end, NCADV engages in educational programming, policy development, and coalition building, and supports the provision of direct services for battered women and their children. During this same decade, the National Organization for Women (NOW) formed a task force to examine the problem of domestic violence and wife battering. These grassroots movements may be seen as the starting point for research, shelters, hotlines, abolishment of the marital rape exemption, and mandatory arrest policies. Minnesota led the way in criminal domestic violence interventions with the development of probable cause (warrantless) arrests for domestic assault.

Finally, the 1970s saw some of the first federal legislation related to victimization with the U.S. Congress passing the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. Through this act of Congress, federal funding went to states to support a variety of programs and criminal justice interventions including education and prevention, criminal justice interventions, and direct treatment and services for victims. As with other legislation, there was concern over its financial impact and some discussion over whether the funding would benefit offenders.

1980s: Medical, Legal, and Legislative Action

Whereas the provision of services to the victims of crime in the 1960s and 1970s reflected activism, the 1980s was a period of medical, legal, and legislative action to ensure the institutionalization of victim services and assistance. This includes the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, which recognized the plight of crime victims and placed a national focus on expanding crime victims’ rights and services. During the 1980s, a growing interest in the trauma and mental health impact of violent victimization led to the development of innovative models of crisis intervention and community approaches to collective trauma experiences. The first Crisis Response Team was deployed by the National Organization for Victim Assistance to attend to a situation in Edmond, Oklahoma, in which a postal worker killed 14 fellow employees and himself. Within a day, experienced crisis interveners arrived to attend to the needs of the community as a whole, not just the individuals directly affected by the tragedy. Today, Crisis Response Teams are composed of mental health specialists, victim advocates, public safety professionals, and clergy members. Once these teams arrive at the site of a community crisis, the team engages in a variety of activities. These include assisting local decision makers in identifying the individuals and groups at greatest risk for experiencing trauma, the training of local service providers and caregivers to attend to the needs of traumatized victims after the Crisis Response Team has left the scene, and leading the group crisis intervention that assists victims in coping with their distress.

The 1980s also brought new legal services to the victims of crime. Through civil litigation, crime victims may be able to file lawsuits against perpetrators and responsible third parties for the damages the victims suffered as a result of the crime. The Victims’ Assistance Legal Organization and the National Crime Victim Bar Association are two such organizations dedicated to facilitating civil actions brought by crime victims. In a continued effort to protect child victims, legislation passed in 1984 included the Missing Children’s Assistance Act. After the act was passed, a clearinghouse and national resource center was established (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). The primary purpose of the center is to assist in finding missing children and offer services to victimized and exploited youth. To date, the Center has handled more than 1 million calls.

During the 1980s, there began the first political and public discussion in favor of a federal “Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights.” This included a recommendation to amend the Sixth Amendment to guarantee that “the victim, in every criminal prosecution, shall have the right to be present and to be heard at all critical stages of judicial proceedings.” This would later, in 2004, become the Justice for All Act. Other major legislation and federal action included the Federal Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, which brought “fair treatment standards” to victims and witnesses in the federal criminal justice system; the United States Department of Justice creating the Office for Victims of Crime; and deposits into the Federal Crime Victims Fund totaling $133 million. This was also a period of major reforms with respect to intimate partner violence.

Finally, the 1980s may be viewed as a turning point in the country’s focus on victims with respect to public policy, program implementation, and public awareness. An example of continued grassroots advocacy was the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) during the 1980s. The actions taken by MADD helped to create the impetus for impaired-driving laws across the United States and enhanced penalties for drunk drivers who kill children.

1990s: Continued Advocacy, Direct Service Provision, and Legislative Action

The actions taken in the name of victims in the 1990s continued to reflect advocacy and the direct provision of services to victims. The decade saw the inception of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which attends to almost a quarter of a million phone calls each year from the victims and survivors of intimate partner violence, concerned family members and friends, and victims advocates. The anonymous and confidential calls are answered by advocates who offer support and assistance to those who have experienced violence in an intimate relationship. The services offered include crisis intervention, safety planning, information about domestic violence, and referrals to local service providers.

During this decade, researchers continued efforts to examine the plight of victims and evaluate social and criminal justice interventions and programs. This includes the implementation of mandatory arrest policies for domestic violence victims and the evaluation of their efficacy for protecting victims. The 1990s was also a decade of continued and more diverse legislation to change the circumstances faced by crime victims. There were a number of contributions of research to practice, as reflected in the work done by domestic violence researchers examining the efficacy of mandatory arrest policies, domestic violence courts, and batterer interventions. While the findings are often mixed on whether mandatory arrest policies reduce revictimization, most states have adopted either a mandatory or pro-arrest stance on domestic violence.

There were also a number of advances made in responding to the trauma experienced by crime victims, including the expansion and deepening of services to the varied victim populations. There continued to be a worldwide movement to articulate the rights of victims within the criminal justice system and attempts to develop interventions to enforce those rights. During this time period, for example, many states incorporated victims’ rights into their state constitutions. There was also a growing sensitivity to the varied experience of crime victims and the extensive consequences of violence. For example, there was recognition of the lack of sensitivity to victims of sexual assault during medical evidentiary examinations. This led to the development of sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) programs. The SANE programs addressed the waiting time for victims of sexual violence, and the lack of training and experience of those working with sexual assault victims during forensic examinations.

The increased sensitivity to the diversity and experiences of violent crime victims also led to important state and federal legislation expanding what had traditionally been viewed as crime. Some examples include the Hate Crime Statistics Act, the Church Arson Prevention Act, and anti-stalking laws and legislation. The 1990s was also a decade of growing interest in the welfare of children as victims of crime. This led to a host of legislation meant to protect children including “Megan’s Law,” the National Child Sex Offender Registry, the Child Protection and Sexual Predator Punishment Act, and enhanced sentences for drunk drivers with child passengers.

In 1990, the Victims of Child Abuse Act established rights and services for child victims. The act was amended in 1993 to provide funding to support local children’s advocacy centers and to set up regional training centers to assist communities in establishing interagency teams to respond to child abuse cases. Continued concern for the child victims of crime through the late 1990s included the adoption of the “Amber Alert” system. This system began in 1996 and was formalized in 2003 when television broadcasters teamed with local law enforcement to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children.

During the 1990s, presidential and congressional acts to address crime and victimization included the signing of the “Brady Bill” and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which carried a number of provisions including one outlining the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This act would authorize more than $1 billion in funding for programs to combat violence against women. By the end of the 1990s, the Federal Crime Victims Fund deposits totaled a record $985 million.

2000s: Federal Legislation and the Diversification of Services

Whereas the 1990s reflected varied federal legislation addressing a number of diverse victim issues, the decade of the 2000s may be viewed as the consolidation of federal action for victims in the passing of the Justice for All Act in 2004 (a statutory alternative to the Federal Crime Victims’ Rights Amendment), and the provision of financial resources to combat crime and help the victims of crime. The year 2000 saw the passing of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and record funding for domestic violence and sexual assault victims. The passing of the VAWA authorized $80 million annually for direct sexual assault prevention and education grants, $875 million (over 5 years) for battered women’s shelters, $25 million for the one-time funding of transitional housing programs, and $25 million to address violence against older women and women with disabilities. Finally, reflecting the expansion of technologies used by offenders to victimize their victim, the federal government also expanded federal stalking statutes to include stalking on the Internet.

The decade may also be seen as suffering from a failure to take federal action to recognize the rights of victims in the same way the U.S. Constitution protects the rights the of accused. With support from both Democrats and Republicans, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Federal Victims’ Rights Amendment to ensure basic rights to victims nationwide. However, the Congress failed to approve the amendment. As an alternative, the Justice for All Act was passed in 2004, providing substantive rights for crime victims and legal mechanisms to enforce those rights.

Victims and a Federal Constitutional Amendment

The move to enact federal legislation to protect the rights of violent crime victims and in particular an amendment to the United States Constitution has a long history and support from both liberals and conservatives. On June 25, 1996, President Bill Clinton voiced his position on such proposed legislation:

I have supported the goals of many constitutional amendments since I took office, but in each amendment that has been proposed during my tenure as President, I have opposed the amendment either because it was not appropriate or not necessary. But this is different. I want to balance the budget, for example, but the Constitution already gives us the power to do that. What we need is the will and to work together to do that. I want young people to be able to express their religious convictions in an appropriate manner wherever they are, even in a school, but the Constitution protects people’s rights to express their faith.

Two hundred twenty years ago, our Founding Fathers were concerned, justifiably, that government never, never trample on the rights of people just because they are accused of a crime. Today, it’s time for us to make sure that while we continue to protect the rights of the accused, government does not trample on the rights of the victims.

Until these rights are also enshrined in our Constitution, the people who have been hurt most by crime will continue to be denied equal justice under law. That’s what this country is really all about—equal justice under law. And crime victims deserve that as much as any group of citizens in the United States ever will. (Office of the Press Secretary, the White House, 1996)

Almost 7 years later, on May 9, 2002, President George W. Bush voiced similar support for the victims of crime. In a speech at the Department of Justice, President Bush gave his support to a federal constitutional amendment for violent crime victims:

The victims’ rights movement has touched the conscience of this country, and our criminal justice system has begun to respond, treating victims with greater respect. The states, as well as the federal government, have passed legal protections for victims. However, those laws are insufficient to fully recognize the rights of crime victims. Victims of violent crime have important rights that deserve protection in our Constitution. And so today, I announce my support for the bipartisan Crime Victims’ Rights Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. As I mentioned, this amendment is sponsored by Senator Feinstein of California, Senator Kyl of Arizona—one a Democrat, one a Republican. Both great Americans.

This amendment makes some basic pledges to Americans. Victims of violent crime deserve the right to be notified of public proceedings involving the crime. They deserve to be heard at public proceedings regarding the criminal’s sentence or potential release. They deserve to have their safety considered. They deserve consideration of their claims of restitution. We must guarantee these rights for all the victims of violent crime in America.

The Feinstein-Kyl Amendment was written with care, and strikes a proper balance. Our legal system properly protects the rights of the accused in the Constitution. But it does not provide similar protection for the rights of victims, and that must change.

The protection of victims’ rights is one of those rare instances when amending the Constitution is the right thing to do. And the Feinstein-Kyl Crime Victims’ Rights Amendment is the right way to do it. (Hearing Before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary on the 2002 Victims’ Rights Amendment, 2002)

Although the proposed amendment had 24 cosponsors, including a majority of the members of the subcommittee, and it had also been endorsed by President Bush and by Attorney General Ashcroft, it failed to pass. As a statutory alternative, as mentioned above, the Justice for All Act of 2004 was enacted to protect crime victims’ rights.

The Justice for All Act accomplishes a number of major goals. As noted by the Office for Victims of Crime (2004),

The Act adds new victims’ rights and modifies some of the existing rights. Most notable is the new right of victims to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding involving release, plea, or sentencing. The Act also requires prosecutors to advise victims that they can seek the advice of an attorney with respect to the rights established by the Act. Although the Act does not provide grounds for a new trial, it allows victims to file motions to reopen a plea or a sentence in certain circumstances.

For purposes of the Act, a victim is “a person directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a federal offense or an offense in the District of Columbia.” This language expands the definition of victim in the “Services to Victims” section of the Victims of Crime Act, which allows such services only for those who suffered “direct physical, emotional, or pecuniary harm.”

Some of the specific elements of the Justice for All Act are to amend the federal criminal code to grant crime victims specified rights, including a number of rights that relate to victim compensation and the criminal justice process. The specific rights include (1) the right to be reasonably protected from the accused; (2) the right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding or any parole proceeding involving the crime, or of any release or escape of the accused; (3) the right not to be excluded from any such public court proceeding, unless the court, after receiving clear and convincing evidence, determines that testimony by the victim would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding; (4) the right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding; (5) the reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the government in the case; (6) the right to full and timely restitution as provided in law; (7) the right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay; and (8) the right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy (Office for Victims of Crime fact sheet, http://www.ovc.gov/publications/factshts/justforall/content.html#3).

Financing Victim Services and Improving Service Delivery

While the stability and amount of funding for services for the victims of crime have changed over the past 40 years, the focus in terms of the “crime problem” continues to be on the punishment and treatment of offenders. Consider an example: Since 1982, there has been a 620% increase in the funding of jails, prisons, and offender treatment. In the year 2005, the United States spent over $60 billion on the maintenance and operation of the correctional system (U.S. Department of Justice, http://www.ojp.gov/bjs/glance/exptyp.htm).

At the same time, programs designed to directly provide services and assistance to the victims of crime are highly underfunded, often grant-based, and frequently required to annually reapply for continued support (See Elias, 1992). Most often, the funding of services reflects federal distributions to states in the form of victim assistance grants. The magnitude of the funding of victim services is described as follows, by the U.S. Department of Justice:

During FYs 1999 and 2000, OVC [Office for Victims of Crime] distributed more than $608 million to states through VOCA victim assistance grants ($238 million in FY 1999; $370 million in FY 2000). States sub-granted these funds to criminal justice agencies, social service agencies, private nonprofit agencies, and American Indian tribes to support direct services to victims of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, drunk driving, elder abuse, and robbery; family members of homicide victims; and victims of other violent crimes. The services provided include crisis counseling, therapy, shelter, information and referral, help in filing compensation claims, and advocacy support. Between FY 1999 and 2000, VOCA funds supported some 4,000 programs across the country and reached more than 6.4 million crime victims. This represents a 15-percent increase in the number of victims served since the previous biennium. (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/welcovc/reporttonation2001/chp2.html)

While federal and state funding for victims has increased in recent decades, even those criminal justice initiatives that incorporate issues specific to victims’ rights often depend for their funding on fines and victim surcharge fees collected from offenders.

In addition to increasing the funding of victim services, federal and state governments and social service providers have worked hard to improve the implementation and delivery of services. This has included significant changes and improvements within the criminal justice system to better assist the victims of crime. A 2001 report by the Office for Victims of Crime notes the following:

States and sub-grantees have made and continue to make major strides in several key areas in working with crime victims. First, significant improvements are being made in the criminal justice system response to crime victims. Specialized domestic violence courts, community policing, automated notification systems, registries of protective and restraining orders and of sex offenders, and standardization of sexual assault evidence collection all support services to victims and increase offender accountability. Second, the need for and value of collaboration with other disciplines, agencies, and systems is recognized. Protocols are now in place for domestic violence and sexual assault cases and for criminal crisis response. Criminal justice officials and community-based advocates coordinate activities and, with increased training, both fields are more aware of the responsibilities of the other. Finally, states are increasingly expecting persons who serve crime victims to be trained and, in some instances, certified. Some states have developed standards for programs that receive VOCA funding. Several states have annual statewide conferences and others are implementing state victim assistance academies. (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/welcovc/reporttonation2001/chp2.html)

The area of domestic violence is an excellent example of the integration of service provision, increased training of criminal justice officials and social service providers, and coordination of justice officials and community-based organizations. For example, specialized domestic violence courts have served to integrate the screening, referral, and monitoring of criminal cases. These courts are dedicated to dealing with felony or misdemeanor domestic violence crimes, and they have been supported by federal STOP Violence Against Women funds. Some notable improvements in the treatment of domestic violence through the implementation of these courts include the training of court officials to promote the consistent and efficient handling of cases and on-site victim advocates. These victim advocates serve as the primary contact to victims, creating safety plans and coordinating housing, counseling, and other social services. They also provide victims with information about criminal proceedings and special conditions contained within their orders of protection. These courts have also employed resource coordinators and implemented technology that assists in maintaining links between service providers and court officials, providing information on the status of victims and offenders, and holding agencies accountable for accurate and prompt reporting.

Diversity of Services for the Diverse Population of Violent Crime Victims

Social services, victim programs, and crisis centers were largely devised to deal with female victims of intimate partner violence and sexual assault and as such may not reflect the needs of all crime victims nor accommodate the types of coping strategies typical of male victims (see Wallace, 1998). Yet, over the last 40 years there has been increased public attention to the diversity of victims of crime, and this has translated into a number of services to attend to the needs of this population.

In the early part of 2000, the federal and state governments directed an initiative to attend to previously underserved victims of crime. Victim assistance programs received increased funding and began to direct resources to victims of elder abuse, child exploitation, child witnesses to domestic violence, cybercrime, hate crime, and stalking. Attention has also been directed to tailoring programs to previously underserved populations including immigrants, visible minorities, and rural and disabled victims. This includes improving programs to be more culturally relevant to the populations they serve, physically accessible, and in close geographic proximity to the victims of crime.

An example of the recognition of the diversity of victimization includes the legislation, advocacy, and services for the victims of hate/bias crimes, which have been important milestones within the evolution of victim services. The Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 and the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act are notable in that they laid out the definition of bias crimes and extended federal law to allow state and local authorities to take advantage of federal investigative resources and personnel in bringing cases based on state law. Yet, it has been the advocacy of local service agencies that has most often assisted victims of crime motivated by bias, which less often comes to the attention of law enforcement. Since the late 1980s, local community organizations have run 24-hour crisis lines and have offered victims referrals to attorneys, counselors, and therapists. These agencies have also served as court advocates for victims who press criminal charges. Prevention and education are also at the forefront of victim services within the hate crime arena. Some of these projects include training residents how to protect themselves from the risk of violence and providing training for local law enforcement on how to respond to hate crime incidents.