Executive Summary

New Directions from the Field: Victims' Rights and Services for the 21st Century challenges the nation to renew and refocus its efforts to improve the treatment of victims of crime. It is the first comprehensive plan regarding how the nation should respond to crime victims since the 1982 President's Task Force on Victims of Crime identified the American justice system as "appallingly out of balance," and made 68 recommendations for how rights and services for crime victims in this nation could be substantially improved. New Directions highlights the progress and the momentous changes that have taken place across our nation's justice systems and in the private sector since the release of the 1982 report. It identifies hundreds of innovative public policy initiatives and community partnerships that are revolutionizing the treatment of crime victims in America today, and it recommends improvements that still need to be implemented on behalf of crime victims.

Today only a fraction of the nation's estimated 38 million crime victims receive much-needed services such as emergency financial assistance, crisis and mental health counseling, shelter, and information and advocacy within the criminal and juvenile justice systems. This report presents more than 250 recommendations targeted to nearly every profession that comes in contact with crime victims-from justice practitioners, to victim service, health care, mental health, legal, educational, faith, news media, and business communities-and encourages them to redouble their efforts to enhance victims' rights and services.

New Directions reflects views from a broad cross-section of the criminal and juvenile justice, allied professional, and victim service fields. Contributors to this report include crime victims themselves and representatives of the agencies and organizations that serve them. Hundreds of individuals across the country proposed recommendations for this report by participating in public hearings; submitting background papers on diverse victims' issues; serving on working groups with representatives from law enforcement, prosecution, and corrections agencies as well as the judiciary; and participating in focus groups with allied professionals. All who contributed to this report hope that it will serve as a catalyst to a dynamic and far-reaching discussion about how our nation can improve its response to victims of crime, and that it will precipitate practical steps toward making the ideas presented in this report a reality.

New Directions was developed by the field, and its recommendations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Justice Department or the Office for Victims of Crime. In addition, all of the recommendations may not represent the views of every contributor, as over 1,000 individuals provided input into this document.

Organization of New Directions

As an update to the 1982 Final Report of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime, New Directions follows the format established in the original report in setting forth its recommendations. It begins with a discussion of important public policy issues affecting crime victims, and each section that follows discusses how individual justice agencies and allied professionals can implement these, as well as other, important initiatives.

Additional topics and issues have been added as a result of the tremendous growth in the field and in response to new problems that have emerged during the past 15 years. As in the original report, each section of New Directions contains individual chapters designed to serve as stand-alone documents that present recommendations for specific issue areas or professions.

Section I

New Directions in Victims' Rights

For many years, victims of crime were virtually invisible in the laws and policies that govern our justice systems. To the extent victims of crime had a role in the justice system, it was narrow; to the extent victims had rights, they were few.

Section I, New Directions in Victims' Rights, reviews the nation's progress over the past two decades toward establishing state and federal rights for victims of crime, including a proposed federal constitutional amendment to guarantee those rights. It also presents recommendations from the field for ensuring that victims' rights, including fundamental rights for victims of juvenile offenders, are expanded and enforced within the American justice system.

Tremendous strides have been made to enact victims' rights laws and deliver services to victims in the United States. Few movements in the history of this nation have achieved such success in igniting the kind of legislative response that victim rights activists have fostered over the past two decades. In the early 1980s, state laws addressing victims rights, services, and financial reparations numbered in the hundreds. Today, there are more than 27,000 crime victim-related state statutes, 29 state victims' rights constitutional amendments, and basic rights and services for victims of federal crimes.

Nevertheless, serious deficiencies remain in the nation's victims' rights laws as well as their implementation. The rights of crime victims vary significantly among states and at the federal level. Frequently, victims' rights are ignored. Even in states that have enacted constitutional rights for victims, implementation is often arbitrary and based on the individual practices and preferences of criminal justice officials. Moreover, many states do not provide comprehensive rights for victims of juvenile offenders. In tribal, military, and administrative proceedings, the rights extended to victims differ dramatically or do not exist at all. Many victims, including victims from diverse cultures and those with disabilities, are not informed of their rights nor given the opportunity to participate in criminal and juvenile justice proceedings.

In New Directions in Victims' Rights, the field strongly recommends that the enactment and vigorous enforcement of consistent, fundamental victims' rights should be a priority for the 21st century. The first recommendation from the field is for the passage of a Federal Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment to establish a basic level of rights for crime victims in every state. These include the following fundamental rights:

The report strongly recommends that these fundamental rights should be established and enforced not only in the criminal justice system, but also for victims in all juvenile justice, military, tribal, and administrative proceedings. As a first step toward this goal, New Directions recommends that the federal government, states and tribes review their victims' rights laws to determine if these fundamental rights are extended to all crime victims.

This report also reflects the view of the field that states and the federal government should address the lack of implementation of many victims' rights laws by establishing effective enforcement mechanisms for victims, including victims' rights compliance programs. It recommends that audits of local, state and federal compliance with victims' rights laws be conducted frequently by justice agencies and independent auditors to determine the reasons for noncompliance and how enforcement of victims' rights can be improved.

Finally, a system of comprehensive services requires dedicated resources. A major step toward that goal was the enactment of the 1984 Victims of Crime Act, which established a creative federal funding mechanism that relies on the collection of fines and penalties from convicted federal offenders rather than federal tax-based appropriations. That amount varies, however, and may not be enough to ensure consistent and comprehensive implementation of victims' rights laws and needed services. Many criminal justice officials and victim advocates continue to assert that there is a lack of comprehensive services in every community for victims of crime resulting in part from inadequate funding. New and creative sources of funding must be identified to ensure the implementation of rights and quality services for all crime victims.

Section II

New Directions for Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Agencies

When a person is harmed by a criminal act, the agencies that make up our criminal and juvenile justice systems have a moral and legal obligation to respond. It is their responsibility not only to seek swift justice for victims, but to ease their suffering in a time of great need. Section II, New Directions for Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Agencies, discusses the critical role that each agency within the justice system-law enforcement, prosecution, judiciary, and corrections-must play in implementing and enforcing victims' rights and in improving the overall treatment of crime victims within our nation's justice systems.

Chapter Two, New Directions for Law Enforcement, addresses law enforcement's role as the frontline of victim assistance. As the first responders to reported crimes, law enforcement agencies must ensure that victims are treated with sensitivity and provided with essential information and emergency assistance. This chapter addresses innovations including law enforcement-based victim assistance units; on-scene crisis units where specially trained counselors and law enforcement officers respond together to victims; and multidisciplinary programs that have been launched in hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the nation to respond to the needs of child, elderly, domestic violence and sexual assault victims. A number of recommendations for the law enforcement community are advanced by the field. For example, law enforcement agencies should adopt community policing philosophies that are both victim and crime prevention oriented. The field also recommends that law enforcement agencies establish policies and procedures for the provision of legally mandated victims' rights and services such as notifying victims of the status of an investigation, arrests, and pretrial release of suspects in their custody. In addition, compliance with victims' rights policies and procedures should be included as a standard in officers' performance appraisals.

Chapter Three, New Directions for Prosecution, addresses our nation's prosecutors. Today, prosecutors are recognizing that to most effectively prosecute a case, the victim must be part of the process. The chapter highlights programs such as special prosecution units for child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence; victim/witness assistance programs that provide comprehensive information, notification, advocacy, and support to crime victims; and community prosecution initiatives. This chapter also contains several recommendations that specifically address the prosecutor's role in informing, consulting with, and notifying crime victims. For example, because the overwhelming majority of felony cases are resolved through plea agreements, the field recommends that prosecutors consult with victims on the terms of any negotiated plea. The field also recommends that prosecutors confer with victims of violent crimes before declining to file charges. Other recommendations for prosecutors include the need to notify victims in a timely manner of public court proceedings and to advocate for their rights to be heard regarding bail decisions, continuances, sentencing, and restitution. The field also recommends that prosecutors and leaders of victims' organizations develop protocols for ensuring appropriate notification and consultation in cases involving large numbers of crime victims.

Chapter Four, New Directions for the Judiciary, addresses the pivotal role that judges play in the justice process. The judiciary has initiated many victim-sensitive problem-solving efforts such as specialized drug courts; domestic violence courts; community courts that handle "quality of life" misdemeanor crimes; unified family courts that handle all problems relating to the family including criminal, civil, and juvenile matters; and courts designed specifically for child victims. The report recommends that as leaders within the justice system, judges should ensure that victims' rights laws are fully implemented. New Directions recommends that judges should advise victims of their rights as routinely as they advise defendants of their rights and should facilitate the input of crime victims regarding proposed plea agreements. In addition, judges should permit the victim to present a victim impact statement before imposing a sentence, and courts should utilize communications technology (audio/video) to facilitate victim communication. The field also recommends that judges manage their cases and calendars to make victim involvement as feasible as possible, and that they order full restitution from offenders to help compensate victims for the harm they have suffered.

The last chapter in this section, New Directions for Corrections, encompasses the adult and juvenile justice agencies responsible for the incarceration, detention, supervision, and surveillance of those accused or convicted of committing crimes. Over the past decade, the basic philosophy of correctional agencies has undergone radical change. Traditionally, correctional agencies viewed their role as limited to punishing and rehabilitating offenders. Today, serving crime victims is also widely accepted as an important part of the mission of many correctional agencies. This new role is reflected in their governing laws and internal policies and procedures, as well as in the attitudes of correctional personnel. More work is needed in this area, however. The field recommends that adult and juvenile correctional agencies open channels of communication with the community and with crime victims; that correctional agencies designate staff to provide information, assistance, and referrals to victims of crime; that they place a high priority on ensuring the protection of victims from inmate intimidation, threats, physical or other harm from offenders under their supervision; and that they inform victims of any change in the status of offenders that would give them access to victims or the community. To increase offender awareness of the consequences of their actions, correctional agencies for both adult and juvenile offenders should use victim impact panels and conduct courses on the effects of crime on victims.

New Directions for Criminal Justice System Agencies emphasizes the need for all criminal and juvenile justice personnel to ensure that the voices of victims are heard throughout the criminal justice process so that justice agencies are able to develop effective, victim-sensitive policies and programs. Education for these professionals should include presentations by victims about their justice system experiences. Crime victims are the "customers" of that system, and the agencies that interact with victims have an obligation to ask them to evaluate whether their needs are being met.

Section III

New Directions for Victim Assistance and Allied Professionals

Members of many different professions work directly with crime victims or come into contact with them on a daily basis. In addition to victim service providers, primary among these are professionals in the health care, mental health, legal, education, faith, business, and the news media communities. New Directions for Victim Assistance and Allied Professionals describes the important roles that these professions can play in assisting victims. It identifies areas where services for victims of crime can be enhanced and highlights the innovative promising practices that each profession has developed to improve victim services.

Chapter Six, New Directions for the Victim Assistance Community, addresses the very broad and diverse victim assistance field, including local, state and national programs. The chapter traces the roots of the victim assistance movement from the first state victim compensation program in the United States established in 1965 and the early victim assistance programs of the 1970s, to the full-fledged advocacy and service field that today is dedicated to meeting the physical, financial, and psychological needs of victims and their families. More than 10,000 victim assistance programs exist across the country, including over 2,000 that assist battered women, over 2,000 rape crisis centers, as well as countless other community-based and justice system-based programs that serve child victims, survivors of homicide victims, drunk driving crash victims, and others. These are extraordinary accomplishments for a movement that started less than three decades ago.

Yet for many victims in America, adequate services are still not available. Crime victims with disabilities, who are victimized at an unusually high rate, have great difficulty accessing services to meet their needs. Many victim assistance programs lack the ability to communicate effectively with deaf or blind victims, and most service providers are not trained to communicate with victims with cognitive or developmental disabilities. Criminal justice and other victim service providers are often not equipped to meet the needs of victims from diverse cultures or victims who speak languages other than English. As a result, these victims are not informed adequately of the services available to them or of their rights in the criminal justice system.

In this chapter, the victims' movement seeks to define a comprehensive system of victim services for all crime victims that includes immediate trauma and emergency response, short- and long-term psychological counseling, shelter, and advocacy throughout the criminal, tribal, military, and juvenile justice systems. It addresses the issues facing specific types of victims-including victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, gang violence, white collar crime, bank robbery, hate and bias crimes, survivors of homicide victims, elderly victims, and drunk driving crash victims-and makes recommendations for meeting their needs. Other recommendations in this section include conducting needs assessments; developing standards for victim assistance; providing basic training and continuing education for all victim assistance providers; and developing a national commission to establish certification and accreditation standards for victim advocacy and assistance.

The next chapter in this section, Chapter Seven, focuses on New Directions for the Health Care Community. In 1985, the Surgeon General declared violence in America to be a public health emergency. Today, this emergency has reached epidemic proportions. U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 1.4 million individuals injured by interpersonal violence in 1994. Each year, gunshot violence costs $4.5 billion in medical expenses alone. This chapter discusses creative initiatives that have been taken by the health community to reduce violence and to provide assistance to crime victims. Hospitals are reaching out to rural victims through telemedicine, to victims of gang violence through violence prevention programs, and to victims of sexual assault through sexual assault nurse examiners programs. However, many challenges still remain. Recommendations in this chapter include encouraging all medical professionals to adopt protocols for responding to domestic violence, child, elderly, and sexual assault victims developed by their professional associations and to provide professional education programs on crime victims issues.

Intense feelings of anger, fear, isolation, low self-esteem, helplessness, and depression are common reactions to victimization. Chapter Eight, New Directions for the Mental Health Community, addresses the many short- and long-term mental health problems that can result from experiencing trauma including acute and post-traumatic stress disorder. Major advances have been made in furthering our understanding of crime-related psychological trauma and the best ways to provide treatment to crime victims. This chapter outlines a number of multidisciplinary programs which have been developed to address the mental health needs of crime victims. Recommendations encourage the mental health community to develop linkages with crime victim compensation, victim assistance programs, and criminal and juvenile justice agencies to ensure that victims have access to adequate crisis and mental health treatment at each stage of the justice process. They also address the continuing need for research on the mental health consequences of victimization and treatment of crime-related psychological disorders, as well as the importance of education and training for mental health professionals in providing appropriate mental health treatment to crime victims and their families.

Chapter Nine, New Directions for the Legal Community, addresses the role of lawyers serving in positions outside the justice system in private law firms, corporations, law schools, and government, who frequently come in contact with crime victims through their work. Attorneys and the organized bar associations to which they belong have worked to improve access to the justice system for crime victims by providing pro bono legal assistance to crime victims through community outreach and legal advocacy programs. The field encourages state and local bar associations to follow the lead of the American Bar Association, and many state and local bar associations, in establishing victim committees and to strongly support continuing legal education on crime victims' issues.

Chapter Ten, New Directions for the Educational Community, examines the pervasive problem of crime on school and college campuses, as well as how the educational community can assist crime victims. Our nation's schools provide the richest opportunity to teach children about victims' rights and services and crime prevention strategies. Education on these issues should begin in grade school and continue through college and graduate school. On many college campuses, where sexual assault and other crimes affect large numbers of students, information about these crimes and prevention strategies is rarely incorporated into classes or student activities beyond student orientation. Many victims turn first to their friends for assistance, and it is critical to educate those most likely to be called upon for advice. Since the release of the 1982 report, attention to school violence has greatly increased, and scores of programs have been developed to protect the safety of students, teachers, and administrators. The recommendations in this chapter focus on the continuing need for schools and universities to establish comprehensive programs to assist students, faculty, and staff who are victimized by crime or who witness violence. In addition, the report calls upon all school districts, colleges, and universities to design and implement a standardized system for documenting, analyzing, and reporting crimes to law enforcement. Equally important, New Directions encourages colleges and universities to establish undergraduate and graduate programs with a concentration in victims' rights and services, as well as to develop specialized education and training programs for faculty, administrators, and staff on crime victim issues.

In times of crisis, many individuals turn to clergy and leaders in the faith community for spiritual guidance, support, and information. Chapter Eleven, New Directions for the Faith Community, encourages faith community leaders to recognize that the victim, no less than the victimizer, is in need of aid, comfort, and spiritual ministry. It reviews the range of faith-based victim assistance programs that have been developed over the past decade, including providing shelter for battered women and camps for abused children. Training on victims' issues for those in the faith community is recommended as a priority so that they are better able to recognize signs of violence, understand critical issues of confidentiality, and make appropriate referrals for services.

Chapter Twelve, New Directions for the Business Community, addresses the importance of this community's response to crime victims. Employers have begun to recognize that it is good business to offer employees a full spectrum of assistance programs to help them deal with problems, including criminal victimization, that affect job performance and the safety of the workplace. Employee assistance programs are now routinely offered in many workplaces. Many employers and unions are implementing policies to prevent violence in the workplace and to assist employees who become victims. This chapter highlights innovative private sector approaches to improve the response to victims of workplace violence, including monetary and in-kind donations to individual victims and community victim services, and memorable programs that the television industry has produced to increase public awareness about crime victims' issues, particularly in the area of child abuse, sexual assault, gun violence, stalking, and domestic violence. The field recommends that all workplaces educate their employees about victimization and its impact.

The final chapter in this section, New Directions for the News Media Community, addresses the longstanding tension between the public's right to know versus the victim's right to privacy. The media's coverage of many high-profile cases and emerging crimes has contributed to positive changes in public policy, such as recognition of the need for community notification of sex offenders and anti-stalking statutes. News coverage has also helped to change public attitudes about the seriousness of violent crimes such as drunk driving and rape. But the media can have a negative impact on individual lives when victims are thrust, often unwillingly, into the media limelight in the aftermath of crime. This chapter encourages the media to adopt guidelines for sensitively covering victims' issues, such as protecting the privacy of sexual assault and child victims.

Section IV

New Directions in Financial Recovery

The costs to crime victims for medical expenses, mental health counseling, and lost wages alone are estimated at $105 billion annually. The fourth section of this report, New Directions in Financial Recovery, addresses the three major avenues that victims can pursue to recover their financial losses due to crime: compensation, restitution, and civil remedies.

The first chapter of this section, Chapter Fourteen, New Directions for Crime Victim Compensation, addresses the great progress that has been made to establish victim compensation programs in every state and to expand program benefits. Crime victim compensation programs pay for expenses such as medical care, mental health counseling, lost wages, funeral expenses, and crime scene cleanup. In 1996, state compensation programs paid approximately $240 million to more than 110,000 crime victims nationwide. The recommendations from the field in this chapter suggest that the circle of victims who qualify for compensation should be widened, and barriers that may prevent victims from applying for compensation, such as mandated time limits for reporting to law enforcement or submitting a claim, should be removed. Additional recommendations for compensation programs address issues such as improving claims management, expanding benefits for crime victims, and utilizing technology to facilitate program initiatives.

Chapter Fifteen, New Directions for Restitution, addresses restitution, which can be ordered in juvenile and criminal courts to hold offenders financially accountable for their crimes against victims. This chapter calls for mandatory, full, and consistent restitution orders nationwide. In addition, the field suggests all justice systems should establish more effective restitution programs that require coordinated efforts among officials across the entire justice system to increase restitution collections.

The final chapter of this section, New Directions for Civil Remedies, addresses the potential financial remedies that crime victims can seek through the civil justice system. Recommendations focus on informing victims and victim service providers of the legal rights of crime victims to pursue reparations through the civil justice system. Victims should be provided with information regarding their options within the civil justice system as another means of holding offenders accountable.

Each chapter in this section also addresses the importance of education and training for all who serve victims, as well as victims themselves, about these potential avenues of financial recovery. In addition, the section explores the use of technology, which offers exciting possibilities for improving claims processing and restitution collections so that crime victims no longer will be forced to wait several months or even years to receive critical financial support.

Section V

New Directions for Child Victims

Each year in America, millions of children directly experience or witness violence in their homes, neighborhoods, and schools. The impact of such crime and violence on our nation's youth is undeniably profound. Section V, New Directions for Child Victims, addresses the unique needs of young victims and outlines the legal rights and protections that have emerged at the federal and state levels for child victims of physical and sexual abuse, exploitation, abduction, and other types of crimes. It reviews the long-term impact of crime on child victims and presents examples of programs and services that have been developed across the nation to address their health and mental health needs, and to help them through the criminal justice process in sensitive and comprehensive ways. Much needed services include children's advocacy centers, court-appointed special advocates, and other multidisciplinary approaches.

This section also contains a number of recommendations to improve services for child victims, to develop training programs for all professionals who come into contact with child victims, and to enhance data collection and research initiatives in the area of child victimization.

Section VI

New Directions in International Victim Assistance

Individuals throughout the world-in large urban cities and in small villages-face problems with crime and violence, and much can be gained from examining the unique approaches to addressing the rights and needs of crime victims that have been undertaken by diverse communities and nations. Increasing numbers of people travel and live abroad, and are victimized in countries where they may be unfamiliar with the language as well as the legal and social service systems. Crimes such as international terrorism and commercial sexual exploitation of children are well documented, highlighting the need for countries to look beyond their national boundaries to share information and assist victims.

The final chapter of this report, Chapter Eighteen, discusses global issues facing the field of victim services today and briefly highlights approaches that have been taken in other countries to address crime victims' needs. In addition to serving their own victims domestically, many countries are participating in international collaborative efforts to improve the rights and treatment of crime victims worldwide. Recommendations in this section include improving services to American citizens who are victimized abroad and foreign citizens who are victimized in the United States, as well as continued collaboration and reciprocity in the provision of victim services worldwide.


The victims' movement owes its beginning and many of its accomplishments to the activism of crime victims and their families and supporters. Many crime victims have struggled not only to survive and heal after their own victimization, but also to bring much-needed legal reforms, financial relief, and services to other victims. In charting New Directions, the field emphasizes the importance of recognizing the needs, desires, and potential contributions of crime victims themselves. Victims' voices must remain a powerful guiding force in developing new directions.

Since 1982, a substantial number of the 68 recommendations in the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime Final Report have been enacted and implemented due in a large part to the efforts of crime victims. These accomplishments include the Victims of Crime Act in 1984, the landmark Crime Act of 1994, the countless state statutes that strengthen victims' rights and hold offenders accountable to their victims, and the 29 state victims' rights constitutional amendments.

Throughout this report, the field urges representatives of justice agencies, including law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, and corrections administrators, to recognize the important role that crime victims play in helping to guide public policy. Justice and allied professionals must also realize that crime victims are an essential resource in developing and participating in victim assistance, training, and crime prevention programs. Community activism and service are often part of the healing process for many crime victims. Their contributions to groups that provide support for other crime victims and to programs that provide education about the impact of crime and how to prevent victimization in the future have been invaluable.

The many contributors to this report hope that communities around the country will benefit from the many "promising practices" and recommendations highlighted throughout New Directions, and that the dialogue on improving the response to victims continues in a spirited and visionary fashion. The Office for Victims of Crime is committed to facilitating this dialogue and to assisting communities everywhere with implementing innovative, comprehensive programs that provide victims with even greater opportunities for justice and healing.

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