Top of Fact Sheet Image

Initiatives for Improving the Mental Health of Traumatized Crime Victims


For most victims of crime, the psychological wounds endure long after the physical wounds have healed. Victims of crime may suffer intense fear, shock, and terror in the course of their victimization, followed by feelings such as anger, anxiety, depression, social isolation, and helplessness. These responses may be triggered in other victims who have witnessed the injury or death of a family member or friend. Survivors of prolonged, repeated victimization, such as abused children and battered women, may develop severe mental health problems. While not all crime victims need or will even benefit from mental health services to deal with the psychological and emotional aftermath of victimization, there are many crime victims who need specialized mental health services to help them begin and continue the healing process. Traditional mental health providers include psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, clinical mental health counselors, and marriage and family therapists. For many victims, the support, understanding, and counseling provided by groups such as pastoral counselors from the clergy or traditional healers from Native American cultures are extremely beneficial.

The 1982 President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime challenged the mental health community to lead the way in developing and providing treatment programs for victims and their families and to develop training for mental health practitioners that gives them the understanding and skills to sensitively and effectively treat crime victims. Although most victim advocates and other professionals within the criminal justice system are not mental health practitioners, the services and support that they provide to victims are vital to their psychological recovery. However, the needs of crime victims frequently extend beyond the capabilities of the victim advocacy community, and professional mental health counseling is needed. Recognizing signs of psychological trauma, inter-acting sensitively and effectively with victims suffering from psychological and emotional distress, and making appropriate, timely referrals to mental health providers are critically important skills for victim assistance providers.

OVC Funding Support of Mental Health Services

OVC recognizes that victim assistance providers need to have the knowledge and skills to respond sensitively and effectively to crime victims, and that mental health services should be available to victims who need this assistance. OVC also supports strong collaboration between victim assistance providers and mental health practitioners. OVC administers the Crime Victims Fund, which was established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA) to support services to crime victims throughout the country. Each year, OVC distributes substantial VOCA formula grant funding to State victim assistance and compensation programs to ensure that lifeline services for victims, including crisis counseling and specialized mental health assistance, are available and accessible. OVC also directly administers VOCA discretionary grant funding to support innovative, national scope training and technical assistance initiatives that will expand and improve services to crime victims, including specialized training on the mental health assistance needs of crime victims for both victim advocates and licensed mental health providers.

Victim Compensation Programs

All 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands have established crime victim compensation programs, and all will reimburse victims of violent crime for mental health counseling that is related to their victimization. The States have broadly defined violent crime to include offenses such as rape, robbery, assault, child abuse, sexual molestation, domestic violence, and drunk driving. Forty-five States will compensate survivors of homicide victims for costs related to mental health counseling, if the victim was not engaged in criminal activity that contributed to the death. The eligibility requirements and maximum awards vary from State to State, but in all States compensation is paid only when other financial resources, such as private insurance or offender restitution, do not cover the loss. During Fiscal Year (FY) 1997, State compensation programs reimbursed victims almost $43 million for mental health related expenses. This compensation can be an invaluable resource for those victims who do not have health insurance or when their health insurance does not include coverage for mental health benefits.

A list of the limits for mental health counseling benefits for each State is in the box to the right. The extent of coverage is subject to change and is determined by State, not Federal, statute. Specific questions on eligibility and benefits should be directed to the staff at the State agency that administers the crime victims compensation program in that State. The National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards has developed a directory of State compensation programs, which lists the State agency that administers the victim compensation program in each State along with a description of compensable expenses covered by the State. This directory can be accessed on the OVC Web site under the section Help for Victims.

Victim Assistance

All States and Territories receive an annual VOCA victim assistance grant to supplement the State funding available to support victim assistance agencies. Each State then awards VOCA funds to local community-based organizations to provide services directly to crime victims. In 1997, VOCA assistance funding supported almost 2,800 organizations throughout the nation, many of which provide mental health services such as crisis lines or counseling as part of their continuum of services for crime victims. A listing of every organization in each State that received VOCA funding in 1997 is available on the OVC website under the subsection, Help for Victims.

Mental Health Counseling Benefits

VOCA Discretionary Grant Programs

Using the VOCA discretionary funding, OVC supports several national scope training and technical assistance projects that focus on enhancing the response of various practitioners to the mental health needs of crime victims.

Building Skills for Sexual Assault Responders
Sexual Assault Resource Services

This project will develop a comprehensive training and technical assistance package for sexual assault victim advocates and counselors to improve their skills and abilities to serve sexual assault victims. A major focus will be the promotion of personal recovery and healing of victims. The grantee will conduct pilot testing in Minnesota in August 1998 and in Colorado in September 1998. During the second phase of the project, the grantee will modify the curriculum based on feedback from the pilot testing and will conduct a series of regional training workshops for sexual assault responders.

Traumatic Grief: The Synergism of Trauma and Grief
Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia (AVP)

This project will develop an empirically tested model of traumatic grief that captures the unique experience of victims of violent crime, and more specifically, of survivors of homicide victims. AVP will develop a multi-disciplinary training curriculum designed to foster more consistency in services for victims of violent crime and to give practitioners the specialized knowledge and skills needed to work effectively with crime victims.

A Multimedia Approach to Reduce Distress and Court Attrition Among Physically Injured Crime Victims
National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center (NCVC), Medical University of South Carolina

The NCVC is developing a brief intervention program for injured, hospitalized crime victims, consisting of a two-part video and accompanying brochure. The materials will focus on educating victims about the criminal justice pro-cess and reducing their psychological distress. To support sensitive, effective use of these products in hospital settings across the nation, the grantee will develop supplemental training materials for medical personnel. NCVC will also follow victims after their discharge, to track the effectiveness of the program in reducing the psychological trauma of victims and increasing their participation in the criminal justice process.

Victims of Mentally Ill Offenders
Ehrenkranz School of Social Work, New York University (NYU)

This project addresses the issues of under served victims of mentally ill offenders who frequently do not receive
the basic rights and services that are afforded other crime victims. The issues that will be addressed include a deter-mination of the specific rights and range of services afforded to victims of mentally ill offenders, identification of problems and barriers, recommendations for needed changes, and development of guidelines for more equitable and consistent treatment in these areas. NYU will draft a national-scope assessment report, conduct three focus groups in New York City, Washington, DC, and Chicago, and produce an indepth report that will serve as an action plan for OVC and the field, and that will be published as an OVC bulletin.

Available Resources

Resources may be ordered from the OVC Resource Center at 1-800-627-6872, using the inventory number, beginning with NCJ, listed at the end of each description below.

Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Crime Victims (Videotape)
National Crime Victims Research Center (NCVC), Medical University of South Carolina

This video presents a blend of clinical and practical mental health expertise that addresses the major types of short- and long-term crime-related psychological trauma of victims, the factors that are related to victims’ healing and recovery, and how the criminal justice system can address the needs of traumatized crime victims. NCJ167235.

Victim Empowerment: Bridging the Systems -- Health and Victim Service Providers
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR)

PCAR’s curriculum focuses on ways to foster cooperation and collaboration between victim services and mental health providers, as well as developing the ability of both groups to help victims through victim-centered, victim-empowering responses. NCJ161862. (May also be downloaded from the OVC Web site under the section Information Resources.)

Working with Grieving Children (Videotape)
National Organization for Victim Assistance

This 27-minute videotape discusses the effects on children of a loved one’s violent death. It contains interviews with children who have lost a loved one through violence and offers explanations on coping with loss. NCJ165927.

Working with Grieving Children After Violent Death: A Guidebook for Victim Assistance Professionals
National Organization for Victim Assistance

This guidebook is a companion piece to the “Working with Grieving Children" video and serves as a quick reference to victim assistance professionals in their work with children, parents, schoolteachers and counselors, clergy members, and others as they address the needs of grieving children. NCJ165814.

After the Robbery: Crisis to Resolution (Videotape)

In tracing robbery from crisis to resolution, this videotape is designed to help bank robbery victims cope with the emotional trauma of victimization and to inform them about the criminal justice process. NCJ162842.

OVC Training and Technical Assistance Center
Office for Victims of Crime (OVC)

In an effort to expand and continue the activities begun under OVC’s Trainers Bureau, OVC has established the OVC Training and Technical Assistance Center (TTAC). The Training Center serves as a centralized access point for information about OVC’s training and technical assistance resources. The TTAC activities will include:

For Further Information

Contact the OVC Resource Center for a list of recent awards, announcements of grants, and information about the application process or send an e-mail to

More information about the Office for Victims of Crime is available through the following sources:

OVC............................................ 202-307-5983
OVC Web Site..............................
OVC Resource Center............................ 800-627-6872
OVC Resource Center Web Site............

Archive iconThe information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.