What You Can Do if You Are a Victim of Crime
This is one experience that one does not plan for, is not prepared for, has no knowledge of who or where to turn. --A crime victim quoted in the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime Final Report, December 1982. Crime victimization is a frightening and unsettling experience for the millions of Americans whose lives it touches each year. As recently as 1972, almost no services were available to help crime victims or their survivors repair the damage done to their lives and property or contend with the often traumatic and frustrating ordeal of prosecuting an offender. Today, however, due largely to the dedicated efforts of advocates, lawmakers, and individual victims of crime, a tremendous range of services and resources have been designed to help victims obtain justice and healing.
The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), the U.S. Justice Department agency that advocates for the fair treatment of crime victims, wants you to know that if you or someone you love is a victim of crime, you have rights; you can get help; and you can work for positive change.
You Have Rights
A majority of States have amended their constitutions to guarantee certain rights for crime victims. Typically, these include:
- the right to notification of all court proceedings;
- the right to participation in court proceedings related to the offense;
- the right to be reasonably protected from the accused offender;
- the right to have input at sentencing (in the form of a victim impact statement); and
- the right to information about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, and release of the offender.
In addition, most States, by statute, have established certain guarantees regarding restitution and other services. If you are a victim of or witness to a crime, these rights apply to you. Information about these rights may be obtained through your local victim-witness assistance program (usually located in the prosecutor's office) or your State Attorney General's office.
You Can Get Help
Literally thousands of programs now exist in the United States that provide services and sanctuary to crime victims. These programs are located within both government agencies and private, nonprofit, or charitable organizations. Services provided through these programs are of two general types-- compensation and assistance.
Crime victim compensation programs reimburse victims for crime-related expenses such as medical costs; mental health counseling; funeral and burial costs; and lost wages or loss of support.
Crime victim assistance programs provide a range of services including crisis intervention; counseling; emergency shelter; criminal justice advocacy; and emergency transportation. Although this type of help is usually provided to individuals, in certain instances entire communities may be eligible to receive assistance when a multiple victimization occurs.
Financial support for many of these programs is provided through the Crime Victims Fund administered by the Office for Victims of Crime. This fund contains money derived from fines, penalty assessments and bond forfeitures from convicted Federal offenders--not taxpayers--and is distributed among the States and territories annually on a formula basis.
Information about compensation and assistance can usually be obtained through your local prosecutor's office or may be provided to you by your local law enforcement agency when you report an offense.
You Can Work for Positive Change
The progress that has been achieved in improving the treatment of crime victims is due largely to the efforts of untold thousands of individuals who have turned their victimization into a force for positive change. Victims and survivors of victims of homicide, rape, child abuse, domestic violence, and other serious offenses have transformed their experience into a vehicle for ensuring that victims of similar types of crime are afforded true justice, meaningful assistance, and compassionate treatment before the law. Many of these victims and survivors have volunteered their own time and resources to such worthwhile activities as creating and staffing programs, conducting legislative advocacy, working in shelters, answering crisis hotlines, and speaking on victim impact panels.
Similar opportunities exist in virtually every community throughout our country. Your time and commitment will help ensure that this progress is not lost and that new ground can be broken as we move toward greater justice and healing for all victims of crime.
Information About Victims of Crime
If you have been the victim of a crime and are seeking information or referrals on victims' rights, services, and criminal justice resources, the following organizations may be of assistance to you:
- Childhelp USA/Forrester National Child Abuse Hotline (800) 422-4453
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) (800) 438-6233
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (800) 843-5678
- National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (800) 729-6686
- National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect (800) 394-3366
- National Criminal Justice Reference Service (800) 851-3420
- National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-7233
- National Fraud Information Hotline (800) 876-7060
- National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) (800) 897-8794
- National Victim Center (NVC) (800) 394-2255
- Office for Victims of Crime Resource Center (OVCRC) (800) 627-6872