NVAA 2000 Text

Chapter 22 Special Topics

Section 7, International Issues in Victim Assistance


Victim issues transcend many borders, cultures, and legal systems. Not only is the United States visited by millions of foreign nationals each year, but citizens of the United States travel and live all over the world. Crime does not limit itself to the borders of a particular country. This chapter addresses a number of international crime victim issues that have become increasingly important as our societies have become more global and mobile. Issues such as tourist victimization, crime victim compensation, international terrorism, and commercial exploitation of women and children are just a few of the complex issues in international victim assistance. This chapter also discusses some of the efforts that are being undertaken by the United Nations and other organizations at the international level to address these issues.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this section, students will understand the following concepts:

Statistical Overview

Crime afflicts urban populations in all parts of the world. The extent of that crime was recently examined through the International Crime Victimization Survey, which measured crime in more than fifty different countries. Bypassing differences in legal codes and definitions of crime that have made comparing crime data among countries difficult, the survey has produced the most comparable cross-national data on crime available to date. Conducted in 1989, 1991, and 1996, the survey found the following:

Because of differences in legal codes and definitions of crime among countries, reliable data that are comparable across nations has been difficult to obtain. The International Crime Victimization Survey is one positive step towards compiling comprehensive, multinational data on crime victimization. More research in this area is needed, however, particularly for crimes such as child abuse and domestic violence which are largely unreported to police in most countries.


In recent years there has been increased attention in the United States on the unique needs of American citizens victimized abroad as well as those of foreign citizens victimized in the United States. There have also been considerable efforts to address victimization issues at an international level through standards-setting, training programs, conferences, and other initiatives. Rights and services for crime victims vary considerably from one country to another, and countries can learn a great deal from one another about ways to address crime victims' needs.

This chapter is largely based on a report, New Directions from the Field: Victims' Rights and Services for the 21st Century, and a background paper written for that report by Dr. Marlene Young, Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance (OVC 1998, Chap. 18). Some of the activities that have been undertaken at the national and international level to address the realm of international victim assistance are discussed in this chapter.

The Victims' Movement at the International Level

While the victims' movement at the international level is still relatively new, the first work in the field of victimology was pioneered in the 1940s by an Israeli researcher, Benjamin Mendelsohn, and a German researcher, Hans von Hentig. Later, the work of English legal reformer Margery Fry resulted in the passage of victim compensation legislation in New Zealand in 1963, soon followed by Great Britain and several states in the United States. The rape crisis movement emerged in the United States and other countries in the early 1970s.

International recognition of victimology as a distinct branch of criminology came with the first International Symposium on Victimology, held in Jerusalem in 1973, where a series of papers on victim compensation, crisis intervention, and the concept of a victim ombudsman were presented. By the end of the 1970s, those ideas were reflected in the establishment of victim service programs such as rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and victim-witness units in a number of countries including the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada.

While the United States was just one of several nations interested in victims' issues at that time, it was clearly one of the leaders in the emerging international victims field. The publication of the 1982 Final Report of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime was a landmark document not only in the U.S., but internationally as well. A number of other countries created their own task forces based on the American model, and discussions of victims' rights and services gained visibility in international forums such as the United Nations.

United Nations Initiatives to Address Victimization

During the past two decades, the United Nations has undertaken a number of initiatives to address the needs of crime victims at the international level. One of the most significant is the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (Declaration), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985 ( OVC 1998, Chap. 18). Considered a "Magna Carta" for crime victims around the world, the Declaration is based on the philosophy that victims should be treated with compassion and respect for their dignity, and that they are entitled to access the mechanisms of justice and to receive prompt redress for the harm they have suffered.

The Declaration purposefully speaks of basic principles of justice for crime victims, which include access to justice and fair treatment, restitution, compensation, and assistance. The last category includes material, medical, psychological, and social assistance through comprehensive use of governmental, voluntary, community-based, and indigenous groups. The Declaration also addresses various principles of justice for victims of abuse of power. A copy of the Declaration is included at the end of this chapter.

Governments and organizations around the world have responded to the challenge of implementing the Declaration in different ways. Victim justice became a much livelier public issue in Brazil, Germany, India, the Philippines, Poland, and Sweden, to cite six of many possible examples, following its adoption. Victim assistance programs and services have developed around the globe in such diverse nations as Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Nigeria. Other countries, however, have only begun to establish mechanisms to respond to victims' concerns.

Since the adoption of the Declaration, the U.N. has taken a number of steps to foster its implementation worldwide. These efforts have largely been spearheaded by the U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which meets once a year in Vienna, Austria. For example, in 1996, the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice adopted a resolution calling for the development of an international victim assistance training manual to help countries worldwide develop programs for victims of crime. The U.S. government and the government of the Netherlands took leadership roles in working with scores of experts in victim issues from every region of the world to develop two documents: a Handbook on Justice for Victims, designed to assist practitioners in developing comprehensive victim services; and a Guide for Policymakers, designed to educate policymakers about the Declaration itself.


World Society for Victimology

Another international organization that specifically addresses victims' issues is the World Society for Victimology, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization (NGO) with members from around the world brought together by their mutual concern for victims. Members include victim assistance practitioners, scientists, social workers, physicians, lawyers, university professors, and students. The purposes of the World Society for Victimology are to promote research on victims and victim assistance; to advocate their interests throughout the world; to encourage interdisciplinary and comparative research in victimology; and to advance the cooperation of international, regional, and local agencies, groups, and individuals concerned with the problems of victims.

The origins of the World Society for Victimology are rooted in the works of early victimologists and in the pioneering of the first International Symposium on Victimology organized in Israel in 1973. This symposium provided the first international forum for scholars, practitioners, and students to focus on victimology. The World Society for Victimology sponsors various activities, such as symposia, workshops, and study programs, and holds international symposia on victimology every three years. To date, symposia have taken place in Tokyo, Zagreb, Jerusalem, Rio de Janeiro, Adelaide, and Amsterdam. In the year 2000, the symposium is scheduled to take place in Montreal, Canada.

Meeting the Needs of International Crime Victims

A number of international issues have become increasingly apparent to the victim assistance field in recent years, including crimes against international tourists, victim compensation, international terrorism and crisis response, and crimes against children. The following are illustrative examples of such complexities:


International tourist crime is a chronic and growing problem, increasingly causing economic decline, deterring investment, and threatening quality of life in countries all over the world. Tourists who become victims often face unique issues such as isolation and culture shock, lack of familiar social support, travel stress, and language barriers. In addition, most tourists are not familiar with the laws of the country they are visiting, nor the criminal justice, social services, health, and mental health systems with which they must interact after victimization.

Throughout the world, tourist-dependent economies have implemented a variety of promising, comprehensive programs to deal with the increasing number of tourists who become victims of crime. Many of these programs assist both domestic and international travelers. Programs to assist tourist victims have been implemented in the United States in New York City; Orlando, Florida; and throughout Hawaii. They are also available in Dublin, Ireland; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Buenos Aires, Argentina; San Jose, Costa Rica; and throughout New Zealand and Aruba. Specialized services provided by these programs generally include replacement of personal identification, assistance with transportation and lodging, emergency medical assistance, advocacy and support through embassies and consulates, bereavement services, and communication assistance.

More communities with large numbers of tourists should consider establishing special programs to assist international tourists who are victims of crime. OVC awarded the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) a two-year grant to develop a plan that would identify more effective services to foreign travelers victimized in the U.S. and U.S. travelers victimized abroad. The goals of this grant were to--


A coordinated, comprehensive plan of action is needed to respond to the needs of U.S. citizens who are victimized abroad. American citizens victimized abroad and their families often do not receive comprehensive victim assistance services in the country where the crime occurs or when they return home. This situation is complicated further when the crime involves terrorism or mass violence. International investigations become very complex, frequently involving multiple agencies. Often victims do not know where to turn for information or assistance. Victim advocates have suggested that the federal government consider establishing a victim ombudsman at the State or Justice Department to coordinate and streamline responses to Americans who are victimized abroad. Such an ombudsman would have responsibility for contacting victims and providing information and referrals to local services, updating victims on the status of the investigations, and serving as a point of contact to guide victims through the federal system. In response to this suggestion, and in response to the multiple acts of terrorism involving U.S. citizens abroad, OVC has funded positions at the U.S. Department of State to assist the victims of the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in accessing services, obtaining compensation, and getting information on the criminal trials.


In countries all over the world, victims of crime suffer physical injuries, emotional pain, and financial losses. While many nations provide victim compensation benefits, they often do not apply to foreign travelers. When they do, the small percentage of victim tourists who learn that compensation benefits are available are often discouraged by the legal intricacies of applying for compensation.

To inform travelers from all nations about benefits that exist in the country they are visiting and how to apply for those benefits, the Office for Victims of Crime, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, developed an International Crime Victim Compensation Program Resource Directory in 1996. The State Department sent surveys to U.S. embassies in 174 nations, and questionnaires were then forwarded to the appropriate officials in each country. Of the ninety-one countries that responded, thirty countries in addition to the United States reported that they have established victim compensation programs. These programs are listed in the directory. This directory is updated annually and contains information from foreign countries and the U.S. on their programs, eligibility requirements, application procedures, and compensable costs.

International reciprocity in the provision of victim compensation, restitution, and other assistance in cases involving foreign nationals is very important. As more and more people travel around the world, crimes against foreign citizens, both in the United States and abroad, are likely to increase.

One recent development in crime victim compensation is the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. This new legislation amends the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) to provide for a new VOCA eligibility requirement that each state provide compensation for any resident who is injured or killed in a terrorist attack in a foreign country. States are not required to pay benefits when the crime is not a terrorist act. Therefore, it is imperative that advocates inform victims that some foreign countries have crime victim compensation programs, and that in some cases, victims may be eligible to receive benefits from the country where the crime occurred (OVC 1999b).

International Crime Victims and Response Issues


International crises such as terrorist attacks involve victims and survivors from many different countries, and local caregivers are sometimes unable to intervene usefully due to lack of education, resources, and language and cultural barriers. Moreover, because of complicated international investigations which frequently involve multiple jurisdictions and agencies, the rights, needs, and services available to victims of terrorism may be overlooked.

Several organizations have provided assistance to victims of international terrorism and their families. For example,


The issue of international trafficking is gaining prominence in national and international discussions of crime. People are trafficked to the United States for many exploitative purposes, including sexual exploitation and slave labor. The victimization that flows from such trafficking is significant, yet for many reasons, these victims are largely without services. The crime of trafficking encompasses a range of conduct, and its victims include not only the women, men, and children trafficked but also in many cases, their families at home. Many trafficking victims are forced by their traffickers to break the law, and as a result, they are frequently treated as criminals themselves and may be imprisoned or deported without ever receiving services. Any effective plan for addressing the needs of trafficking victims must thus address a complex range of issues, including citizenship and residency, cultural and language needs, and age-specific needs.

The federal government has undertaken a number of initiatives to examine ways to address these complex issues:


Each year, an estimated one million children enter the multibillion dollar illegal sex market (World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation 1996). Children are coerced, kidnaped, sold, deceived, or otherwise trafficked into forced sexual encounters. The phenomenon of "sex tourism," which mainly involves men traveling to other countries to engage in sex with children, is well documented. The exact nature of exploitation differs from one country to another.

The damage commercial sexual exploitation causes children is unfathomable. Children are robbed of their natural sexual development, their sense of dignity, identity, and self-esteem. Their physical and emotional health are put at tremendous risk, their rights are violated, and their only support may come from those who exploit them. To address these issues, Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson led the U.S. delegation to the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1996. OVC provided funds to the Education Development Center, Inc. to develop a report on strategies to stop the sexual exploitation of children, Child Sexual Exploitation: Improving Investigations and Protecting Victims--A Blueprint for Action (EDC 1995), which was distributed at the conference. A videotape and user's guide entitled Joining Forces Against Child Sexual Exploitation were also developed to encourage replication of multijurisdictional team approaches to handling these types of crimes. Since the World Congress, an interagency working group comprised of representatives from the President's Interagency Council on Women; the Departments of Defense, Education, Justice, Labor, and State; U.S. Customs; and U.S. Postal Inspection Service have met periodically to develop a coordinated federal agency strategy for prevention, investigation, and intervention in cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children.


Parental abduction cases often involve international marriages that dissolve, with one parent returning to a native country with children who are too young to give legal consent. It is estimated that each year in the United States more than 350,000 children are abducted by a parent (Finkelhor, Hotaling, and Sedlak 1990). Of those abductions, reports vary on the numbers of children taken across international borders. One study found that children were known or believed to have been taken to another country in more than one-fifth of all child abductions. Earlier studies with smaller sample groups found that up to 40 percent of abductions may cross international boundaries (Grief and Hegar 1993). Only a small percentage of these cases are ever reported to the State Department, however. The State Department's Office of Children's Issues Statistics reported a total 1,057 international child custody cases in 1994 (U.S. Department of State 1994).

The costs of searching for children who have been abducted are staggering. Many parents exhaust their life savings on telephone calls, attorneys, and private investigators. A 1990 study found that in international cases, more than half of the searching parents spent more than $10,000 and a few spent more than $50,000 in their efforts to retrieve their children (Grief and Hegar, 1993). Accurate statistics on recovery rates are not available, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, but success or failure often depends on whether the child was taken to one of the forty-five countries that have signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The recovery rate for Hague Convention countries varies by how well the courts of each country implement the treaty. Recovery rates for non-Hague countries are very low.

Since 1985, the Justice and State Departments have worked together through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to track kidnaped children taken across international borders and to help their parents obtain lawful custody under the Hague Convention's treaty on international child abductions. As a part of this joint initiative, OVC will pay travel-related reunification costs for American parents who can prove that substantial economic hardship prevents them from recovering their children from overseas. In 1999, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children was created to specifically address cases involving child abduction and exploitation that cross national borders.


Until the passage of the Battered Immigrant Women provision of the Violence Against Women Act, immigrant women who were dependent on their batterer for their legal status could not escape their abusive situation without risking deportation. The new provision allows immigrant victims the opportunity to apply for legal status independent of their abusive spouse. While some immigrants have already benefited from this new measure, still others who may be eligible are not simply because they and the immigration officials handling their case are unaware the law exists. As such, all immigration and asylum officers should be fully trained concerning the existence of the new law, along with all policies and procedures created to implement the law. The officers should also be trained to identify immigrants who may be eligible and assist them with filing applications to avail themselves of the new provision.

OVC has been working with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to establish a victim-witness program to identify victims of crime and refer them to services. Since its inception, INS has established sixty-eight Victim-Witness Coordinators throughout the country to assist crime victims. OVC, in conjunction with INS, has recently developed a training video, A Balance to Maintain, for all INS employees on victims' issues. A national training program is under development.


In November 1998, OVC conducted a focus group with the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) to explore ways that OVC can work with CVT to educate victim service providers about the unique needs of these vulnerable immigrant victims. CVT has conducted several training workshops for federal law enforcement personnel and is exploring avenues to train victim service providers around the country.

International Cooperation and Information Sharing

As crime has become increasingly international, new methods of information sharing and cooperation have become essential. Not only is it important for countries to assist one another in developing strong justice systems that can effectively address victims' needs, but it is often important for countries to work together in investigating and prosecuting crimes and working with victims. UNOJUST, the United Nations Online Crime and Justice Clearinghouse, is a technical assistance program, designed by the National Institute of Justice in the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement in the Department of State, to help the United Nations develop a technical capacity for global electronic information exchange on criminal justice issues. UNOJUST provides an opportunity for criminal justice practitioners around the globe to share and exchange information about issues including victimization. These and other methods of information sharing and cooperation will become increasingly important in the effort to address victims' rights and services at the international level.

Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice

for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power

United Nations

Department of Public Information

The Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power emanated from the deliberations of the Seventh United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Milan, Italy, from 26 August to 6 September 1985. The General Assembly adopted the Congress's recommended text later that year, on 29 November, when it adopted resolution 40/34, reproduced below.

The Declaration recommends measures to be taken at the international and regional levels to improve access to justice and fair treatment, restitution of crime, and it outlines the main steps to be taken to prevent victimization linked to abuses of power and to provide remedies for victims of such treatment.


Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power


1. "Victims" means persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative within Member States, including those laws proscribing criminal abuse of power.

2. A person may be considered a victim, under this Declaration, regardless of whether the perpetrator is identified, apprehended, prosecuted or convicted and regardless of the familial relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. The term "victim" also includes, where appropriate, the immediate family or dependents of the direct victim and persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimization.

3. The provisions contained herein shall be applicable to all, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, age, language, religion, nationality, political or other opinion, cultural beliefs or practices, property, birth or family status, ethnic or social origin, and disability.

Access to justice and fair treatment

4. Victims should be treated with compassion and respect for their dignity. They are entitled to access to the mechanisms of justice and to prompt redress, as provided for by national legislation, for the harm that they have suffered.

5 Judicial and administrative mechanisms should be established and strengthened where necessary to enable victims to obtain redress through formal or informal procedures that are expeditious, fair, inexpensive and accessible. Victims should be informed of their rights in seeking redress through such mechanisms.

6. The responsiveness of judicial and administrative processes to the needs of victims should be facilitated by:

(a) Informing victims of their role and the scope, timing and progress of the proceedings and of the disposition of their cases, especially where serious crimes are involved and where they have requested such information;

(b) Allowing the views and concerns of victims to be presented and considered at appropriate stages of the proceedings where their personal interests are affected, without prejudice to the accused and consistent with the relevant national criminal justice system;

(c) Providing proper assistance to victims throughout the legal process;

(d) Taking measures to minimize inconvenience to victims, protect their privacy, when necessary, and ensure their safety, as well as that of their families and witnesses on their behalf, from intimidation and retaliation;

(e) Avoiding unnecessary delay in the disposition of cases and the execution of orders or decrees granting awards to victims.

7. Informal mechanisms for the resolution of disputes, including mediation, arbitration and customary justice or indigenous practices, should be utilized where appropriate to facilitate conciliation and redress for victims.


8. Offenders or third parties responsible for their behaviour should, where appropriate, make fair restitution to victims, their families or dependents. Such restitution should include the return of property or payment for the harm or loss suffered, reimbursement of expenses incurred as a result of the victimization, the provision of services and the restoration of rights.

9. Governments should review their practices, regulations and laws to consider restitution as an available sentencing option in criminal cases, in addition to other criminal sanctions.

10. In cases of substantial harm to the environment, restitution, if ordered, should include, as far as possible, restoration of the environment, reconstruction of the infrastructure, replacement of community facilities and reimbursement of the expenses of relocation, whenever such harm results in the dislocation of a community.

11. Where public officials or other agents acting in an official or quasi-official capacity have violated national criminal laws, the victims should receive restitution from the State whose officials or agents were responsible for the harm inflicted. In cases where the Government under whose authority the victimizing act or omission occurred is no longer in existence, the State or Government successor in title should provide restitution to the victims.


12. When compensation is not fully available from the offender or other sources, States should endeavour to provide financial compensation to:

(a) Victims who have sustained significant bodily injury or impairment of physical or mental health as a result of serious crimes;

(b) The family, in particular dependents of persons who have died or become physically or mentally incapacitated as a result of such victimization.

13. The establishment, strengthening and expansion of national funds for compensation to victims should be encouraged. Where appropriate, other funds may also be established for this purpose, including those cases where the State of which the victim is a national is not in a position to compensate the victim for the harm.


14. Victims should receive the necessary material, medical, psychological and social assistance through governmental, voluntary, community-based and indigenous means.

15. Victims should be informed of the availability of health and social services and other relevant assistance and be readily afforded access to them.

16. Police, justice, health, social service and other personnel concerned should receive training to sensitize them to the needs of victims, and guidelines to ensure proper and prompt aid.

17. In providing services and assistance to victims, attention should be given to those who have special needs because of the nature of the harm inflicted or because of factors such as those mentioned in paragraph 3 above.


18. "Victims" means persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that do not yet constitute violations of national criminal laws but of internationally recognized norms relating to human rights.

19. States should consider incorporating into the national law norms proscribing abuses of power and providing remedies to victims of such abuses. In particular, such remedies should include restitution and/or compensation, and necessary material, medical, psychological and social assistance and support.

20. States should consider negotiating multilateral international treaties relating to victims, as defined in paragraph 18.

21. States should periodically review existing legislation and practices to ensure their responsiveness to changing circumstances, should enact and enforce, if necessary, legislation proscribing acts that constitute serious abuses of political or economic power, as well as promoting policies and mechanisms for the prevention of such acts, and should develop and make readily available appropriate rights and remedies for victims of such acts.

International Issues in Victim Assistance Self-Examination

1. Why is it important to discuss international issues in victim assistance? What relevance does it have to victim services in the United States?

2. Name two organizations working to address crime victims issues in the international arena. What specific activities have these organizations undertaken?

3. What international document is considered the "Magna Carta" for crime victims? Name four specific components of this document.

4. What issues need to be considered in developing services for international tourist victims?

5. Describe two other emerging issues in international victim assistance and why they are important.

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