of the Crime Victims' Movement
in the United States
A COMPONENT OF THE OFFICE FOR VICTIMS
OF CRIME ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Office for Victims of Crime
Office of Justice Programs
U.S. Department of Justice
Written by Dr. Marlene Young and John Stein
National Organization for Victim Assistance
National Association of Crime
Victim Compensation Boards
National Association of VOCA Assistance
National Organization for Victim Assistance
This project was supported by Grant Number 2002-VF-GX-0009
awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs,
U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are
those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official
position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The OVC Oral History Project
The Office for Victims of Crime Oral History Project is
cosponsored by Justice Solutions, the National Association of Crime
Victim Compensation Boards, the National Association of VOCA Assistance
Administrators, and the National Organization for Victim Assistance.
Sponsored by the Office for Victims of Crime, within the Office
of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, this project seeks
to document the rich history of the victims' rights and assistance
field since its inception in 1972. The project's four goals
- Develop two special reports that highlight the historical
importance of two events: 1) the 30-year anniversary of the field
and 2) the 20-year anniversary of the publication of the President's
Task Force on Victims of Crime Final Report.
- Provide initial documentation via videotape of the past 30
years of the victims' rights and assistance movement through
interviews with key contributors to the movement's overall
- Develop archives housed in a university setting (videotaped
and paper-based), as well as on the Web (digital tape and electronic
versions of transcripts).
- Develop a recommended format for states, U.S. territories,
and the District of Columbia to develop their own individual
The Office for Victims of Crime
The Office for Victims of Crime is committed to enhancing the
Nation's capacity to assist crime victims and to providing
leadership in changing attitudes, policies, and practices to promote
justice and healing for all victims of crime. OVC works with national,
international, state, military, and tribal victim assistance and
criminal justice agencies, as well as other professional organizations,
to promote fundamental rights and comprehensive services for crime
The crime victims' movement is an outgrowth of the rising
social consciousness of the 1960s that unleashed the energies of
the idealistic, 20-something generation of the 1970s. Its continued
strength is derived not just from the social forces through which
it began, but also from the leadership of extraordinary individuals,
some of whom have personally survived tragedy, and others who have
brought extraordinary compassion and insight as witnesses to such
In retrospect, one can say that the victims' movement in
the United States involved the confluence of five independent activities:
- The development of a field called victimology.
- The introduction of state victim compensation programs.
- The rise of the women's movement.
- The rise of crime that was accompanied by a parallel dissatisfaction
with the criminal justice system.
- The growth of victim activism.
The Beginnings: Victimology
Victimology arose in Europe after World War II, primarily
to seek to understand the criminal-victim relationship. Early victimology
theory posited that victim attitudes and conduct are among the
causes of criminal behavior.(1)
The importation of victimology to the United States was due largely
to the work of the scholar Stephen Schafer, whose book The Victim
and His Criminal: A Study in Functional Responsibility became
mandatory reading for anyone interested in the study of crime victims
and their behaviors.(2)
As Tokiwa University (Japan) Professor of Criminology and Victimology
John Dussich noted, As a graduate student in 1962, I had
the privilege of being a student of Stephen Schafer who was a victimologist
and criminologist from Hungary, one of the early victimologists.
He first spoke about victimology in his class on criminological
theory. It was the first time that he ever gave a lecture in this
country and we became friends after that.
The interest in victimology correlated with increasing concern
about crime in America in the late 1960s. It is perhaps no coincidence
that the precursor to Dr. Schafer's book was a study he conducted
for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.(3) The
crime wave of the time led to the formation of the President's
Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice
in 1966, which conducted the first national victimization surveys
that, in turn, showed that victimization rates were far higher
than shown in law enforcement figures and that many non-reporting
victims acted out of distrust of the justice system.(4) This
captured the attention of researchers who began to examine the
impact of crime on victims, as well as victim disillusionment with
In my view it is no accident that the explosion of interest
in victims and victimization surveys developed simultaneously, Michael
J. Hindelang wrote in Victimization Surveying, Theory and
Research published in 1982. Each has provided some
stimulus for the other and each has the potential for providing
benefits to the other.(5)
As will be discussed, the prosecutor-based victim/witness revolution
in particular was a direct consequence of victimological research.
The idea that the state should provide financial reimbursement
to victims of crime for their losses was initially propounded by
English penal reformer Margery Fry in the 1950s. It was first implemented
in New Zealand in 1963 and Great Britain passed a similar law shortly
Early compensation programs were welfare programs providing help
to victims in need. This was reflected in Justice A.J. Goldberg's
comment, In a fundamental sense, then, one who suffers the
impact of criminal violence is also the victim of society's
long inattention to poverty and social injustice
initiated the first state victim compensation program in 1965,
soon followed by New York. By 1979, there were 28 state compensation
programs. By then, most had rejected the welfare precept in favor
of a justice orientation in which victims were seen as deserving
of compensation whether or not they were in need. Compensation
programs also promoted involvement by victims in the criminal justice
system since they required victims to report crimes to the police
and to cooperate with the prosecution.
Administrators of the early programs were not always passionate
advocates of victim issues. According to Kelly Brodie, the former
Director of victim compensation programs in Iowa and California:
I didn't think I would ever work in compensation
because I had very hard feelings about the compensation program
as a result of my work in the victim assistance field. And it
was only through chance that I ended up in compensation
thought I never wanted to work in this particular arena because
I saw compensation as a bureaucratic structure
almost a payment for a prosecution-oriented, very adversarial
process for victims.
Later, compensation administrators often became articulate advocates
of society's responsibilities to victims.
The Women's Movement
There is little doubt that the women's movement was central
to the development of a victims' movement. Their leaders saw
sexual assault and domestic violence and the poor response
of the criminal justice system as potent illustrations of
a woman's lack of status, power, and influence.
Denise Snyder, Director of the Washington, D.C., Rape Crisis Center,
if you go back 30 years ago when the
[Rape Crisis] Center first started,
the silence was deafening.
This issue was one that society didn't want to think about,
didn't want to hear about. The individual survivors felt incredible
Long-time victim advocate Janice Rench of Massachusetts describes
the influences that propelled her into the victims' movement:
It was not by accident [that I joined the movement]. That
was my passion, having been a victim of a sexual assault crime.
I wanted to right a wrong
we have to step back
I started, it was a time of excitement, it was a time of passion
didn't have any plans, any books
but as we listened
to the victims, we certainly got a sense of what was going to
work and what wasn't. And so it was the victims themselves,
I believe, that really started this field and certainly it was
the sexual assault field in the 70s that did it.
The new feminists immediately saw the need to provide special
care to victims of rape and domestic violence. It is significant
that of the first three victim assistance programs in the United
States all began in 1972, and two were rape crisis centers (in
Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay area). There were several
significant contributions that these programs brought to the victims' movement:
- Emotional crisis was recognized as a critical part of the
- Intervenors learned to help victims with the practical consequences
of rebuilding their lives, rather than relying on a criminal
justice system where they were too often maltreated.
- In the absence of any resources, there was a heavy reliance
The Criminal Justice System
Victimology in the 1970s helped to buttress what the public already
knew that crime was at unacceptably high levels and its
victims were neglected. One individual who helped transform this
problem into a reformed system was Donald E. Santarelli, Director
of the Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA)
in 1974. He had read the then-new research by Frank Cannavale(7) that
documented this stunning finding: the largest cause of prosecution
failure was the loss of once-cooperative witnesses who simply stopped
helping a justice system that was indifferent to their most basic
This was the catalyst for funding three demonstration projects
in 1974 to provide better notification and support to victims and
witnesses. We were the prototype for the victim/witness programs
in District Attorneys' offices, recalls Norm Early,
the former District Attorney of Denver, Colorado. Back then,
everything was very rudimentary. It was basically notification,
setting up waiting rooms for people so that you wouldn't have World
War II' in the hallway between the defendant's family
and the victim's family as we often did back in the old days.
Some of the victim/witness programs began borrowing service ideas
from the grassroots programs and new ones based in law enforcement;
some of the prosecutor-based staff received training in crisis
intervention (because court appearances can be crisis-inducing
events), and a few offered on-scene crisis services to victims
whether or not there was an arrest and prosecution. Most began
making referrals to social service and victim compensation programs.
Notification went beyond telling victims about their next court
date it led to establishing on-call systems, and then obtaining
and considering victims' views on bail determinations, continuances,
plea bargains, dismissals, sentences, restitution, protective measures,
and parole hearings. Some offered employer and creditor intercession,
as well as support during court appearances. Many of these innovations
were documented in a landmark Prescriptive Package commissioned
In 1974, LEAA grants to the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department and
then the Indianapolis Police Department helped open this new sector
of the movement. Others followed suit. Many of the police-based
programs were inspired by the work of two men.
A one-time New York police officer, Martin Symonds, became a psychiatrist
specializing in treating trauma victims and later became the Director
of Psychological Services for the New York City Police Department
(I finally got my gold shield, he would brag). In his
clinical work with victims that began in 1971, Dr. Symonds developed
- The pattern of responses from victims of trauma was similar
regardless of the type of crime.
- The principles of good crisis intervention are also similar.
- Law enforcement officers are in the position of doing the
most harm or the most good in responding to victims.
These views were published in a number of journals and were spread
around the victim assistance community.
Dr. Morton Bard also a one-time member of New York's
finest was a psychologist who taught at New York University
and who also studied the reactions of crime victims. With an LEAA
grant, he published two volumes on Domestic Violence and Crisis
Intervention. He laid the basis for presenting victim-focused training
into many law enforcement academies and the FBI National Academy.
His Crime Victim's Book,(9) published
in 1979, was the first book-length primer on identifying and meeting
victims' needs and was considered a bible for
many advocates and crime victims alike.
The Growth of Victim Activism
Finally, the victims' movement was given a jolt of energy
from crime victims and survivors. The victims' movement surfaced
the neglected issue of criminal violence against women, yet it
was rape survivors and battered women who most commonly founded
programs and shelters for similar victims. An additional force
began to be felt in the late 1970s.
As lonely and isolated as other victims felt, survivors of homicide
victims were truly invisible. As one homicide victim's
mother said, When I wanted to talk about my son, I soon found
that murder is a taboo subject in our society. I found, to my surprise,
that nice people apparently just don't get killed.(10)
Families and Friends of Missing Persons was organized in 1974
in Washington state by survivors of homicide victims. The initial
purpose was simply to provide support to others whose loved ones
were missing or murdered. It later evolved into an advocacy group
Parents Of Murdered Children was founded by Charlotte and Robert
Hullinger in 1978 in the aftermath of the murder of their daughter
by her ex-boyfriend. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was co-founded
in 1980 by Candy Lightner when her daughter was killed by a repeat
offender drunk driver, and by Cindi Lamb, whose infant daughter
was rendered a quadriplegic by a repeat offender drunk driver.
In 1977, Protect the Innocent in Indiana was energized when Betty
Jane Spencer joined after she was attacked in her home and her
four boys were killed. She and others did not shy away from the
According to Cindi Lamb, Probably one of the foremost strategies
is giving the victim a face, and the face of the victim was [in
her case, her quadriplegic infant daughter] Laura Lamb. She was
the poster child for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, because even
though she couldn't move, she moved so many people.
Many of these were support groups, but most were also advocacy
groups whose power was undeniable. Edith Surgan, whose daughter
was killed in New York City in 1976, moved to New Mexico and founded
the New Mexico Crime Victim Assistance Organization that was the
driving force behind establishing victim compensation legislation
in that state. She told many times of traveling day after day from
her home in Albuquerque to Santa Fe to fight for that legislation.
She also told of how the Majority Leader of the Senate hid from
her until she confronted him and asked why he was hiding. He said
simply that he could not deal with such a horrible issue.
Bob Preston, whose daughter Wendy was murdered in Florida, along
with Greg Novak, whose sister Beverly Ann Novak was murdered in
Chicago by a man who had just been released, unsupervised, from
a State Hospital, co-founded Justice for Victims, which successfully
lobbied for one of the first state constitutional amendments for
victims' rights that was passed in Florida in 1988. Preston
today co-chairs the National Victims' Constitutional Amendment
The experience of John W. Gillis, Director of the Office for Victims
of Crime, following the murder of his daughter Louarna in Los Angeles
in 1979, captured the work of all these groups:
Quite frankly, Parents Of Murdered Children saved my life
it gave me an opportunity to talk about what had happened....So
I attended their meetings. They started asking me questions about
law enforcement [he was then a Los Angeles police lieutenant]
and why cases were handled certain ways. This was really helpful
to me because then I found out I was providing help and information
to others who were really hurting so much. So it was a two-way
street. From there a group of us decided that we wanted to start
our own organization, so we started Justice for Homicide Victims.
These five forces worked together at first in informal coalitions,
but the formation of the National Organization for Victim Assistance
(NOVA) in 1975 helped to consolidate the purposes and goals of
the victims' movement. The organization grew out of ideas
developed at the first national conference on victim assistance,
sponsored by LEAA, in Ft. Lauderdale in 1973. NOVA's initial
contributions were to promote networking and to continue national
conferences (beginning in 1976) to provide training opportunities
for those working with victims.
Funding to the field in the late 1970s through LEAA gave communities
opportunities to replicate the initial programs and begin to translate
knowledge and practice into educational materials. The National
District Attorneys Association developed a Committee on Victims
to assist in disseminating information. The American Bar Association
established a Victims Committee in its Criminal Justice Section.
By the end of the 1970s, many states had at least a few victim
assistance programs, and 10 states had networks of programs. There
grew a common understanding of the basic elements of service: crisis
intervention, counseling, support during criminal justice proceedings,
compensation and restitution. LEAA continued to promote victim
assistance through its state block grants and established the first
National Victim Resource Center in 1978.
In 1980, NOVA incorporated the growing demand for victims to have
legitimate access to the justice system into a new policy platform
on victims' rights and the initiation of a National Campaign
for Victim Rights, which had as its core, a National Victims' Rights
Week, endorsed and implemented in 1981 by President Ronald W. Reagan.
The 1970s were marked by rapid progress as well as by turbulence,
caused in significant part by the waning of federal financial support.
As national priorities shifted, stable funding became elusive when
Congress de-funded LEAA at the end of the decade, and programs
often entered into internecine warfare over the limited resources
that were available.
Controversy also arose among programs that were driven by grassroots
energy and those that were based in criminal justice institutions.
Many felt there was an inherent conflict between the goals of a
prosecutor or law enforcement agency and the interests of crime
victims. Some sought legal changes in the system, while others
felt change could take place through the adjustment of policies
Tensions within the movement led to the emergence of new national
organizations: the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault was
formed at NOVA's 1978 national conference to provide leadership
for rape crisis programs. The National Coalition Against Domestic
Violence was also founded in 1978 to provide an advocacy network
Victim advocate Janice Rench lamented the frictions that arose:
[In the 1970s] there was much more openness for domestic
violence victim advocates, for sexual assault advocates to come
together, and then we would have people who had lost their children homicide
survivors and we would start to see that there was more
to this than just sexual assault and domestic violence but
that came later.
The 1980s: Growth and Acceptance
The loss of significant LEAA funding in 1979 served as a potent
reminder of how tenuous the movement's gains in the 1970s
had been. Though an untold number of programs were abolished, the
movement itself survived, thanks largely to the impact of the victim
activist groups and the new public awareness they engendered. Their
influence helped the victims' movement keep going and make
progress on three fronts: public policy, program implementation,
and public awareness.
State public officials, urged on by victim advocates, realized
that state action was necessary to ensure the institutionalization
of victim assistance. California again was a leader as it became
the first state to establish state funding for victim assistance
in 1980. Wisconsin took action by becoming the first state to pass
a Victims' Bill of Rights the same year.
Jo Kolanda, the former Director of the Victim/Witness Program
in the office of the District Attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
shares her perspective of Wisconsin's initial legislative
efforts to benefit victims of crime:
I said, I think that the only way this program is
going to survive is if there is statutory authority for the program.
There's got to be funding built in from the State. The State
supports the court system, they should be willing to fund this.' And
every single person in the room laughed. At first I was so humiliated,
and then I was so mad that I left that meeting thinking there
is going to be statutory authority for this program or I will
I contacted a woman named Barbara Ulichny, who was at
the time a freshman State Representative in Wisconsin.
said, You know, Barbara, we need a Victim/Witness Bill
Amazingly, a freshman Representative pulled
Spirits were raised by the receptivity of the new administration.
In 1981, President Reagan declared National Victims' Rights
Week and Attorney General William French Smith launched a Task
Force on Violent Crime. Conservative activist, victim advocate,
and victims' rights attorney Frank Carrington and his
old friend, Presidential Counselor Edwin Meese were the
According to Steve Twist, board member of the National Victims' Constitutional
Frank was quite an advocate, even in the early 70s,
for fundamental reforms of the criminal justice system so that
it would become more victim-centered. Frank went on to be the
driving force behind the establishment of the President's
Task Force on Victims of Crime
and it was Frank's friendship
with Ed Meese that led to that, and led to Frank being appointed
as one of the members of the Task Force.
From the movement's perspective, the most important recommendation
of the Attorney General's Task Force, suggested by Frank Carrington,
was to commission a Presidential Task Force on Victims of Crime.
In 1982, the President implemented that recommendation. At the
same time, Senator H. John Heinz discovered and endorsed the principle
of rights for victims through his work as chair of the Senate Aging
Committee. The informal group that was invited to help Senator
Heinz draft the Federal Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982
will always remember his charge, Help me find the most imaginative
and effective tools ensuring victim rights in the states, and I'll
put them in the Federal bill.(11)
While victim advocates cheered his bill when it won a unanimous
consent vote on October 12, 1982, they also saw the Act for what
it was a first step toward comprehensive federal action
on behalf of victims everywhere.
Lois Haight Herrington was an unknown quantity to the victims' movement
when she was appointed to chair the President's Task Force
on Victims of Crime in 1982. However, a few advocates in California
who had seen her perform as a prosecutor, were ecstatic.
As Harold Boscovich, former Director of the Victim Assistance
Division of the Alameda County (California) District Attorney's
I was happy when Lois went to Washington. But when she
went to Washington she wasn't going to take a job at the
Office for Victims of Crime it didn't exist. Lois
was going back to Washington with her husband
The next thing
I heard from her is I've got a job. I've been
asked to head the Office of Justice Programs.' And I was
She became the indefatigable champion of victim justice, the architect
of the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA), and the architect of
a Program Management Team for Victims of Crime which later evolved
into the Office for Victims of Crime within the U.S. Department
Stories of Haight Herrington's tenacity are legendary. First
as Chair of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime
and later as the first Assistant Attorney General for the Office
for Justice Assistance, Research and Statistics, she wielded her
powers of diplomacy, cajolery, and personal stature within the
administration to fashion and implement the recommendations of
the Task Force. Her passion for the cause was demonstrated when
her husband took the oath as President Reagan's Secretary
of Energy; she surreptitiously held his bible open at the Good
Samaritan parable instead of the psalm John Herrington had
Then Washington State Attorney General Kenneth Eikenberry, another
member of the Task Force, secured his place in the history of the
victims' movement by pressing a recommendation that was novel
to the movement the adoption of a federal constitutional
amendment for victims' rights. Dr. Marlene Young, Executive
Director of NOVA, relates this story:
I will always remember sitting next to Ken at the lunch
break during the first Task Force hearing and listening to him
say, I don't know why everyone is so anxious about
the status and treatment of victims.' I sighed, thinking
that he just didn't get it, when he added, All we
have to do is pass a constitutional amendment that gives them
the right to be present and heard in the criminal justice process.' I
was stunned by the idea.(8)
The President's Task Force held six hearings across the Nation
and produced a Final Report with 68 recommendations to improve
assistance to victims of crime. Lois Haight Herrington's memories
of one special occasion is telling, since it reflects part of her
strategy in helping to get the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) passed:
[This photograph] is when we're giving our Task Force
Report to the President
the next picture is the first Rose
the reason I'm showing you this is
that here are
victims that we had [with us]. Here was the
President, the Vice President, and Attorney General Smith.
these stories and introducing these people to the President.
I think [this meeting with the victims] was very instrumental
in getting the Victims of Crime Act that I think has helped start
so much of this.
The Task Force's Report launched four critical initiatives.
First, it recommended federal legislation to fund state victim
compensation programs and local victim assistance programs. That
pair of recommendations was the precipitating force for the enactment
of VOCA. The Act established the Crime Victims Fund, made up of
federal criminal fines, penalties, forfeitures, and special assessments,
as the resource for the two programs.
As Reverend Bob Denton, Executive Director of the Victim Assistance
Program in Akron, Ohio, recalls:
One of the good things that happened
is that we were
able to strategically think through and use our experience to
develop the procedures as well as the policies in distributing
VOCA and state monies.
One of the things that killed us
in 76 and 77 and 78 was the death of LEAA.
We had just begun to get money into victim programs when they
were killed. I sat in on one of the early research projects that
the Justice Department did that found that we had dropped from
400 and some programs in this country to 200 and some in a couple
So, VOCA comes along and it says this is to keep those
old programs from going down, because if they go down, we have
nothing. And then, to build new programs.
Second, it made recommendations to professionals in the criminal
justice system and associated professions about how they could
improve treatment to crime victims. The 1983 National Conference
on the Judiciary and Victim Rights was a spinoff of the report
and served as a major impetus to change judicial policies and attitudes.
South Dakota Judge Merton Tice, who attended the 1983 conference,
said: It was like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
When Edith Surgan and Sunny Strong spoke [Ms. Surgan, a homicide
survivor, spoke by speakerphone from her deathbed in Albuquerque;
Ms. Strong, a rape survivor, addressed the conference in person],
I knew there was something that needed to be done. The judicial
branch of government should always be neutral, but neutrality does
not mean that one side is forgotten. In this case, it was the victim
that had been forgotten.(12)
Third, it recommended the creation of an additional Task Force
on violence within families, which resulted in the establishment
of the Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence in
1983 with a Report published in 1984. That Report was a stimulus
to a VOCA amendment requiring compensation programs to make victims
of domestic violence eligible for help.
Fourth, it recommended the Eikenberry amendment to
the U.S. Constitution. That recommendation led to the 1986 formation
of the National Victims' Constitutional Amendment Network
(NVCAN), which initially sought to obtain state-level amendments
for crime victims' rights.
In the four years after the publication of the Final Report,
the Office of Justice Programs and the Office for Victims of Crime
worked closely with outside groups, notably NOVA, to implement
the recommendations. States began receiving VOCA funds in 1986,
training programs for justice professionals were disseminated widely,
standards for service for victim programs were developed, and regional
training for victim service providers was offered across the Nation.
During this time in the academic field, the first Victim Services
Certificate Program was offered through California State University,
Fresno. Now in addition to the Certificate, students can also earn
a Bachelor of Science in Criminology Degree with a Major in Victimology.
Victim-oriented justice gained international recognition with
the adoption of the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles
of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power in 1985.
This document helped spur other nations to start or expand victim
rights and services. As Irvin Waller, Professor, University of
What we decided to do was to take the so-called rights
for victims, which were really principles of justice for victims
in various states and nations, and put these into a proposal
that we then took to the Secretary of the United Nations.
The development of the OVC/NOVA Model Victim Assistance Program
Brief in 1986-1988 served as a management tool for programs. It
articulated eight basic services that programs should provide:
crisis intervention, counseling and advocacy, support during criminal
investigations, support during prosecution, support after case
disposition, crime prevention, public education, and training of
States were also moving rapidly to institutionalize victim assistance
through funding legislation and the development of program networks.
Bills of rights were adopted in every state by 1990; at present,
32 states have adopted constitutional amendments, and there are
more than 32,000 statutes that define and protect victims' rights
nationwide. By the end of the 1980s, more than 8,000 victim service
programs were in operation.
The 1980s brought new contributors to the crime victims' movement.
- The National Victim Center (now the National Center for Victims
of Crime) was founded in 1985 in honor of Sunny von Bulow, and
generated increased emphasis on media and public awareness of
victims' rights and concerns; research on the impact of
crime on victims; civil litigation on behalf of victims; and
training about victim assistance organizational development and
crime victims' legislative rights.
- The Victims' Assistance Legal Organization (VALOR) became
prominent as its founder, Frank Carrington, helped to develop
and promote civil litigation on behalf of crime victims.
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was
established in 1984 to help find missing children and provide
support to their families.
- The International Association of Chiefs of Police established
a Victims Committee and announced a law enforcement bill
of rights for victims.
- The American Correctional Association Victims Committee issued
16 recommendations to improve victims' rights and services
in the post-sentencing phases of criminal cases.
- The American Probation and Parole Association established a
Victim Issues Committee and developed sample policies and procedures,
as well as extensive training curricula, relevant to victims' rights
and needs when their offenders are sentenced to community supervision
or released on parole.
- The Spiritual Dimension in Victim Services became a source
of education and training for clergy on victim issues.
- Neighbors Who Care was initiated by Justice Fellowship to develop
victim assistance within religious communities.
- The International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies and the
International Association of Trauma Counselors were established
to serve as research and education resources for individuals
working in the field of trauma.
The growth of the understanding of trauma was particularly important
during the 1980s. Drawing on the experiences of seasoned crisis
intervenors, NOVA initiated a practical model for community crisis
intervention in the aftermath of tragedy that affects large groups
of people. Its first crisis response team was fielded in 1986 after
the mass murders committed in the Edmond, Oklahoma, Post Office.
The success of that effort engendered the National Crisis Response
Project, which made trained volunteer crisis intervenors available
to address the emotional impact of crime and other disasters. It
also influenced the growth of new local and state networks of crisis
The 1990s and Beyond
The 1990s brought depth and maturation to the field. OVC continued
to provide not only funding, but also leadership and vision to
the field. As new areas of need were identified, OVC created a
number of field-initiated projects that highlighted promising
practices that were worthy of replication.
One may track the events of the decade under the following headings:
the new contributions of research to practice; advances in responding
to individual trauma victims as well as to groups of people subjected
to the same traumatic event; the expansion and deepening of services
to underserved victim populations; and the worldwide movement to
articulate the rights of victims in the justice system and to adopt
measures to enforce those rights.
Research Contributions and Advances in Responding
No one in the early victims' movement would have
turned to neurobiologists to chart their future. That has changed.
Research into how the brain processes trauma has shed light on
why victims are vulnerable to such lasting disabilities as posttraumatic
stress disorder but more importantly, how trauma victims,
usually with help, can mitigate and sometimes master the unwelcome
changes inflicted on them.
The research affirms a basic tool of crisis counseling to
permit or even encourage the victim to ventilate, to tell
their story. It now guides the intervenor to ask a set of
questions about the event, in chronological order, that help victims
organize their thoughts and reactions, and help them to name them
in a cohesive whole. This approach to structured ventilation, seeking
to implant a cognitive narrative where a fractured
set of memories resides, often provides a needed balm to the sufferer.
The 1990s also saw the expansion of programs offering crisis intervention
to groups of people affected by the same disaster. There emerged
a number of different approaches for providing group crisis
interventions or debriefings and while researchers
continue to raise questions about the effectiveness of some of
these approaches in some circumstances, proponents of crisis
response teams remain committed to properly adapting the
crisis intervention services, which are offered to many thousands
of victims every day, to victims too numerous to reach on just
an individual basis.
A variant of this service is now used in family assistance
centers where disaster managers provide one-stop applications
for a host of services available to victims of natural disasters
or man-made catastrophes such as the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Crisis counselors have stepped in to accompany incoming family
members through all the service agencies present. Since that journey
can take up to 8 hours or longer, having a companion skilled
in dealing with distressed people makes the experience far more
In 1995, OVC first supported the National Victim Assistance Academy
(NVAA) sponsored by the Victims' Assistance Legal Organization.
The NVAA includes a research-based 40-hour curriculum on victimology,
victims' rights, and myriad other topics; as of 2003, 2,000
students from every state and territory, as well as from seven
other nations, have graduated from the NVAA. In 1998, OVC co-funded
the first State Victim Assistance Academy in Michigan. Subsequently,
OVC has funded an additional 18 State Academies. In 1999, Colorado,
Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah received first-year
funding. In 2002, Arizona, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, and Oregon
received first-year funding. In 2003, Georgia, Illinois, and New
York received first-year funding. In 2004, California, Minnesota,
South Carolina, and Tennessee received first-year funding.
Expanding and Deepening Victim Services
It is well to remember that in the middle of the 20th century,
the term child abuse had not been coined much
less transformed into a specialized set of medical and social service
innovations. Child sexual abuse was even slower to
be recognized as a significant subset of child victimization. Domestic
violence may have been used to occasionally describe the domestics police
agencies responded to by the millions but in the main, domestic
violence was perceived as a family problem, not a crime, much less
a violent crime. Stalking was a descriptor, to be sure,
but not of a common, terrifying crime until the victims' movement
made it so, with all 50 states and the District of Columbia adopting
anti-stalking laws in 1990 and 1991. Identity theft was
an unknown term and a nonexistent problem before the Information
Age emerged in the 1990s. Other new crimes, such as telemarketing
fraud and cybercrime, arose as a result of the Information
To its credit, the victims' movement has always been fast
to recognize patterns of predation that had been overlooked by
society, and has tried to respond as quickly to its victims. In
the 1990s, the movement began to put technology in service to its
- The National Victim Center, with support from OVC, sponsored
the first national conference on technologies that benefit crime
victims in 1998.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline, established by Congress
with strong support from the movement, received more than a million
calls from its February 1996 inception though August 2003.
- Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE)
is a proprietary system that, by 2003, provided 36 states and
20 of the Nation's largest metropolitan areas a method by
which victims can call a toll-free number to obtain timely information
about criminal cases and the status of their incarcerated offenders,
and receive advance notice of those inmates' change of status,
including a scheduled release from custody, by telephone or via
- OVC's Victim Services 2000 projects have proven that,
with the cooperation of all agencies and aid from innovative
technologies, a system can be created that offers a seamless
web of services where there are no wrong doors for
victims to enter into a responsive network of help.
- The Violence Intervention Program, located at the Los Angeles
County and USC Medical Center, implemented the first telemedicine
project to guarantee that remote areas within the United States
and around the world have access to expert evaluations and quality
case assessments to protect the rights of victims.
Fueling this progress was the unsteady but substantial increase
in revenues into, and grants out of, VOCA's Crime Victims
Fund. From 1990 through 1995, deposits of federal fines ranged
between $128 million and $234 million. A large fine paid by Daiwa
Bank in 1996 caused the Fund to rise to nearly $530 million the
next year. The statute's shock absorber the
state victim assistance administrators' authority to pay out
any one year's grant over a 4-year span made the big
increase manageable. Three years later, however, deposits jumped
to nearly $1 billion, and even as OVC and its constituents pondered
how to manage this new windfall, Congress stepped in by imposing
a $500 million spending cap (holding the balance in reserve). Congress
maintained the use of caps in the years following, with the amount
creeping up in most years.
The movement's disappointment over the cap was tempered by
the relative stability of the Fund at about twice the level it
enjoyed at the start of the decade. Plainly, the trend of providing
ever more services to a larger number of victims continued.
Still, the movement's progress of reaching those in need
was often slow. Indeed, by the 1990s, there were effective services
available in some communities heretofore underserved communities
defined by type of crime (homicide, domestic violence among partners);
communities defined by geography (low-income urban dwellers and
those in rural, remote, or frontier regions of the Nation), or
communities within the larger community (immigrants and residents
of Indian Reservations, as examples); and communities defined by
the age of the offender (the needs and rights of victims of juvenile
offenders were identified and addressed in a comprehensive 1994
report published by the American Correctional Association Victims
Committee that asserted that crime victims should not be
discriminated against based upon the age of their offenders.)
Progress in reaching the underserved too often meant
establishing prototypes and best practices that still
reached a minority of the victims. The pattern continues: there
are not enough resources for victim services of any type of hard-to-reach
The exception was the Federal Government's 1994 commitment
to preventing violence against women and helping its victims. The
Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) packaged some 30 grant
programs a substantial amount aimed at the scourge of domestic
violence with an initial authorization of almost $1 billion
dollars over five years. While VAWA advocates experienced some
disappointments in the way the programs were designed and focused,
they generally took pride in the fact that annual appropriations
usually came close to the dollar ceilings authorized, and that
the 2000 reenactment (VAWA II) included many improvements
they had sought.
The Ongoing March for Victims' Rights
At least from the 1980s, the appeal for victims' rights came
from victims and survivors who felt they had been maltreated by
the justice system. Yet from the outset, they had cogent allies
among victim advocates who had seen and heard what the system had
done to their clients and were outraged. The sense of injustice
felt by victims and their advocates in America resonated with their
Supporters of the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles
of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power were encouraged
by the reception the Declaration had received, and so through
the 1990s came together to craft the Guide for Policy Makers
on the Implementation of the Declaration and the Handbook
on Justice for Victims to spur the development of victim
assistance programs in support of the Declaration. Years in the
making, these documents were finally published in 1999, with
the support of OVC.
Victims' rights and assistance were made integral to United
Nations war crimes trials and to such special justice initiatives
as South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A latent
victims' right in France to have the victim's civil claims
against a defendant concurrently considered during the criminal
trial revived the civil party in prosecutions with
the victim's lawyer in court, who could now be provided for
free by a legal aid attorney. In Germany, the victim's right
to have an attorney in court to speak to all the victim's
interests effectively made the victim a third party in
the case, with independent rights to question witnesses, call one's
own witnesses, and even appeal rulings and decisions, including
sentences, in critical cases.
In the United States, victim advocates did not seek so central
a role for victims in the justice system. What they did seek the
rights of victims at least to be present and heard at critical
decision points in the prosecution they pursued vigorously.
By the early 1990s, several states had adopted constitutional amendments
to insure such rights. By decade's end, 32 states had so changed
their constitutional charters. During this time, the advocates
returned to support their ultimate goal the adoption of
such an amendment in the U.S. Constitution. In April 1996, their
campaign moved ahead with the introduction of a bipartisan Senate
resolution, authored by Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Dianne Feinstein
(D-CA), to propose such an amendment. In the next month, a federal
victims' rights constitutional amendment was endorsed by the
Yet when the Feinstein-Kyl proposal came up for debate on the
Senate floor in April 2000, no consensus had been reached with
the Clinton Administration on the fine points of the resolution,
and so it was withdrawn.
That was no longer an issue upon the 2001 inauguration of George
W. Bush as President, who by April of the next year had endorsed
the specific language of the revised Feinstein-Kyl resolution.
Yet, on the eve of their second attempt to get a Senate vote on
the amendment, in April 2004, the Senators found they did not have
the necessary votes for passage but they did detect interest
among opponents in adopting a tough victims' rights statute.
What was quietly fashioned then adopted in a 96-to-1 Senate
vote, and then slightly altered by the House before winning final
Congressional approval is remarkable in two ways.
First, the Scott Campbell, Stephanie Roper, Wendy Preston,
Louarna Gillis, and Nila Lynn Crime Victims' Rights Act (honoring
five homicide victims whose loved ones became champions of the
victims' rights movement) contains what is by now a standard
litany of eight victim rights for victims of federal crimes but
has enforcement provisions found in no other such statute in the
United States. And second, it authorizes funding, including for
the establishment of free legal clinics for victims, seeking to
make sure the law is fully implemented.
In the early 1980s, the survival of the crime victims' movement
was in jeopardy. By the late 1990s, that was no longer true. Victims' rights
and services were part of the social service and criminal justice
practices. Yet to the veterans who lived through that
period, the major transformation of the 1980s represented uncertain
Many victim/witness programs have become so institutionalized
that assistant prosecutors wouldn't know how to try a case
without such staff.
Yet the routine operations of many victim service
agencies have many of the movement's veterans fearing that
yesterday's advocates will become tomorrow's bureaucrats.
Indeed, this was an almost unanimous concern expressed by the senior
victim advocates who were interviewed by the OVC Oral History Project
for this publication.
Victims' rights and services have become part
of the common lexicon, such that many of today's victims expect respectful
and compassionate treatment as a matter of course. It is surely
the case that victim services are reaching more people than before,
and that more justice officials are honoring crime victims' rights.
It is also true that each year, tens of thousands of domestic
violence victims are denied temporary shelter for lack of space to
cite just one index of the insufficiency of services. And it is
also true that, from the available evidence, victims' rights
are more often ignored than honored during criminal prosecutions.
Thanks to the influx of large fine collections, VOCA helped to
significantly expand state compensation and local service programsbut
Congress imposed spending caps and earmarks on VOCA's Crime
Victims Funda trust fund victim advocates had thought was
The crime victims' rights movement has matured and become
a respected partner in our Nation's community of social and
criminal justice services. Yet the ideals of the movement have
yet to be fully realized. There remain significant challenges to
overcome before crime victims can be certain of a fair and compassionate
response to their plight. For those who brought it into being,
the victims' movement is required to keep moving forward if
its mission is to be realized. The continued shared vision and
values that promote equal rights for victims of crime will undoubtedly
guide this mission.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
John Stein, JD, served as Vice President of the board of the National
Organization for Victim Assistance from 1979-1981. In 1981, he
became NOVA's Deputy Director, a position he still holds today.
He has been a national victim advocate for more than 30 years.
Marlene Young, Ph.D., JD, is a founding member, and former President,
of the National Organization for Victim Assistance and has served
as Executive Director since 1981. She has been a national victim
advocate for more than 30 years.
1. See, as examples:
- Mendelssohn, B. 1946. New bio-psycho-social
horizons: victimology. Unpublished report. This appears
to be the first official designation of victimology, although
Mendelssohn traces the evolution of the term to his first study:
Mendelssohn, B. 1937. Method to be used by counsel for
the defence in the researches made into the personality of the
criminal. Revue de Droit Penal et de Criminologie,
Bruxelles, aout-sept-oct., p. 877.
- von Hentig, H. 1948. The Criminal and His Victim, Studies
in the Sociology of Crime. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Ellenberger, H. 1954. Relations
psychologiques entre le criminel et sa victime. Revue internale de criminology
et de police technique 2(8): 121.
2. Schafer, Stephen. 1968. The Victim and His Criminal: A Study
in Functional Responsibility. New York: Random House.
3. Schafer, Stephen. 1965. Criminal-Victim Relationship
in Violent Crimes. Unpublished research. U.S. Department
of Health, Education, and Welfare, MH-07058.
4. See these:
- Biderman, A.D., L.A. Johnson, J. McIntyre and A.W. Weir. 1967. Report
on a Pilot Study in the District of Columbia on Victimization
and Attitudes Toward Law Enforcement. President's
Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice,
Field Surveys I. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing
- Ennis, P.H. 1967. Criminal Victimization in the United
States: A Report of a National Survey. President's
Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice,
Field Surveys II. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing
- Reiss, A.J., Jr. 1967. Studies in Crime and Law Enforcement
in Major Metropolitan Areas. President's Commission
on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, Field Surveys
III. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
- Hindelang, M.J. 1976. Criminal Victimization in Eight American
Cities: A Descriptive Analysis of Common Theft and Assault.
- Hindelang, M.J., M.R. Gottfredson and J. Garofalo. 1978. Victims
of Personal Crimes: An Empirical Foundation for a Theory of
Victimization. Cambridge: Ballinger.
5. Hindelang, M.J. 1982. Victimization
Surveying, Theory and Research. The Victim in International Perspective.
Berlin, Germany: de Gruyter.
6. Goldberg, A.J. 1970. Preface: Symposium
on Governmental Compensation for Victims of Violence. Southern California
Law Review 43(1970).
7. Cannavale, Frank J. Jr. and William D. Falcon, editor. 1976. Witness
Cooperation. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
8. Stein, J.S. and R. White. 1977. Better Services for Crime
Victims. Unpublished volume in the Prescriptive Package series.
U.S. Department of Justice, Grant Number 76-NI-99-0021.
9. Bard, Morton and Dawn Sangrey. 1979. The
Book. New York: Brunner/Mazel.
10. Harrington, L. H. (Chair) 1982. President's
Task Force on Victims of Crime: Final Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Government Printing Office.
11. NOVA archive documents, 1997.
12. Judge Merton Tice, NOVA archive documents, 1997.
|National Crime Victims' Rights
Week: Justice Isn't Served Until Crime Victims Are
||April 1016, 2005