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National Crime Victims' Rights Week: April 18-24, 2004 banner

The Crime Victims Fund: Two Decades of Making a Difference

“In 1984, we found a criminal justice system seriously out of balance serving only judges, attorneys and defendants, and ignoring, mistreating and blaming innocent victims of crime. The enactment of VOCA and the establishment of the Office for Victims of Crime in the U.S. Department of Justice balanced our criminal justice system with justice for all.”


One of the central recommendations of President Ronald Reagan’s 1982 Task Force on Victims of Crime was the establishment of a Federal fund to provide financial assistance to state crime victim compensation programs and local victim assistance programs. The Task Force justified Federal involvement in what are traditionally state and local responsibilities on two grounds. First, most of the then-37 jurisdictions (36 states and the District of Columbia) provided compensation to Federal crime victims, but funding for those victims might cease if state programs encountered financial difficulties. Second, the Task Force observed that a substantial amount of Federal funds were made available to help states build prisons and educate and rehabilitate prisoners. As the Task Force’s Final Report noted, “If the Federal government will step in to assist state prisoners, it seems only just that the same Federal government not shrink from aiding the innocent taxpaying citizens victimized by those very prisoners the government is assisting.” (1)

"VOCA funds are not just about changing people's lives, but about empowering victims to take back control of their lives. Through my 15 years of working with domestic violence victims and surviving family members of homicide victims, I have found that the VOCA Fund is an equalizer of justice for all crime victims."


The Task Force recommended that the money for the Federal fund come not from taxpayers, but from collections of Federal criminal fines and penalties, forfeitures, special assessments, and related revenue.

These core concepts, as envisioned in the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, became law in October 1984 when the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) was enacted. VOCA created the Crime Victims Fund (the Fund), which is comprised of most Federal criminal fines, forfeited appearance bonds, newly created special assessments on Federal convictions, and proceeds from a newly established Federal “Notoriety for Profit” law.(2) Although its scope has expanded since 1984, the heart of the Fund remains to support state crime victim compensation and local assistance programs.

"The assistance that the VOCA Fund provides for funeral expenses, counseling, and other support services to assist this nation's families of homicide victims is critical in helping these survivors rebuild their lives."


Since 1985, more than $5.5 billion has been deposited into the Fund. Seventy-seven percent of these funds have been distributed to states and territories as grants to support state crime victim compensation programs ($1.2 billion) and local direct victim service providers ($3.1 billion). Annual deposits into the Fund skyrocketed from $62 million in 1986 to nearly $1 billion in 1999.

Yet VOCA’s impact on the field of victims’ rights and services goes far beyond the distribution of monetary resources. VOCA served as a critical catalyst to establish, expand, and enhance services. Only 37 jurisdictions had crime victim compensation programs in 1984; today, thanks mainly to VOCA, every state has a program. And, because of VOCA, all programs offer compensation to eligible victims regardless of their state of residence or whether they are the victim of a state or Federal crime.

"The Crime Victims Fund has, for 20 years, supported significant efforts to assist victims and survivors of crime, and has helped build capacity among victim service and allied justice programs to improve how victims are treated in our Nation."


VOCA also set off a proliferation of direct services to assist victims of all types of crimes. When it began distributing funds in 1985, fewer than 1,500 local programs received financial support from VOCA. Now, some 4,000 programs are providing direct services to more than three million victims annually. In addition to statutorily required services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse, VOCA also supports assistance for survivors of homicide victims, adults molested as children, and for victims of drunk-driving crashes, stalking, robbery, hate crimes, identity theft, kidnaping, elder abuse and exploitation, and terrorism. VOCA provides compensation for funeral expenses, crisis intervention, emotional counseling, and self-help groups, and supports various services, including shelter, support throughout the criminal or juvenile justice process, emergency financial assistance, legal assistance, and victims’ rights compliance programs, among others.

VOCA assistance programs reach out to all parts of our nation, into rural and urban communities and on American Indian reservations and military installations. VOCA has grown to meet the needs of victims of domestic and international terrorism, and by its support of services in U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and Federal Bureau of Investigation field offices, to victims involved in the Federal and state criminal justice systems. VOCA assistance funds have been used to expand the application of advanced technologies, such as automated victim notification systems, to broaden the availability of critical, often life-saving services in a cost-effective manner.

Enacting VOCA in 1984 was a driving force for systemic change at the Federal, state, and local levels, and in the nonprofit sectors. By focusing much-needed attention on the plight of crime victims, VOCA brought victims and victim advocates together with criminal justice professionals, mental health practitioners, members of the faith communities, and other allied professionals to identify ways to improve the treatment of victims. The new recognition given to crime victims is evidenced by the literally thousands of new laws, including state constitutional amendments. If the past 20 years are indicative of the future, then VOCA will continue to play a crucial role in making a significant difference to improve rights and services for all crime victims in our nation.


1 Final Report, President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, 1982, p. 43-44.

2 Notoriety for Profit laws, also called “Son of Sam” laws, seek to divert offenders’ proceeds from contracts depicting crimes to victims or victim programs. Some versions of these laws have been declared unconstitutional and their use extremely limited.

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National Crime Victims' Rights Week: Victims' Rights: America's Values April 18–24, 2004
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