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Chapter 21 Innovative Technologies and the Information Age


The Information Age holds tremendous promise for victims of crime and those who serve them. Innovative technologies are being utilized to streamline criminal and juvenile justice processes; create a "seamless" delivery of services to constituents, including victims; and strengthen our nation's capabilities to assist and serve victims. The wide-ranging potential offered by the Internet provides up-to-date information and resources online, including many from the U.S. Department of Justice, to victims and victim service providers.

Learning Objectives

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

  • The current status of technology's use for administration, case management, and victim services for victim assistance organizations.

  • How technology enhances information services for victims and service providers.

  • The benefits of and barriers to using innovative technologies for justice and victim service agencies.

  • The resources available through the "Information Superhighway," as well as how to access them.

  • Victim assistance and criminal justice resources available online from the U.S. Department of Justice and allied federal agencies.

  • Promising practices in using technology to benefit victims.


Information is power. With the explosion of the Information Age, and the expansion of the "Information Superhighway," victims and service providers have multiple opportunities to augment their individual and collective power by accessing and sharing information electronically. Information forms the foundation upon which many victims' rights and services are based, such as the following:

  • Victims' rights mandated by statute and case law.

  • Victim services available locally and at the state and national levels.

  • Case and offender status.

  • Case and program management and evaluation.

  • Research that documents trends in crime and victimization.

  • Personal support and resources available to help victims reconstruct their lives following a crime.

Since 1995, virtually all of these types of information are available online to any victim or service provider who has a personal computer, telephone line, and modem.

The growth in technological applications to manage the expansion and development of victim service organizations, enhance case management and tracking information for both victims and offenders, and simplify and expand communications through the worldwide "Information Superhighway," holds great promise for the discipline of victims' rights and services. Knowledge about and use of existing and emerging technologies can save greatly needed time, money, and human resources for victim advocates and crime victims (Seymour 1995, 1).

The primary purpose of the victim service discipline is to help crime victims obtain three basic objectives: rights, recovery, and respect. Yet victims are often barred from securing these objectives by ignorance, misimpressions, and lack of information. In a very real sense, information is the key that allows access to victims' rights, recovery, and respect. Unless victims are made aware of their rights, as well as how and when to exercise them, such rights have no meaning or usefulness. Simply put, information is the means to victim service providers' ends. Indeed, it is the stock and trade of the victim service discipline and the driving force behind most services for victims of crime. How victim advocates are able to gather, synthesize, analyze, expand, distribute, and dispense this precious commodity has a direct impact on the success of the victims' rights movement (Beatty 1995, 1).

Technology Assessment of the Victims' Rights Discipline

A key component of the "Promising Strategies and Practices in Using Technology to Benefit Crime Victims" project sponsored in 1997/98 by the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), with support from the Office for Victims of Crime, was a nationwide assessment to establish a "benchmark" of how and/or if victim service organizations utilize technology to enhance administrative, case management, and victim service processes. A total of 6,100 surveys were directly mailed to potential respondents, with 1,345 surveys returned to the NCVC.

The survey assessment examined agencies' hardware configurations, operating systems, and Internet and online services. The findings provide an important and useful "snapshot" of technological applications in victim services.


Over one third of victim service organizations (34%) have a network installed within their agencies. One-half of responding organizations (51%) utilize laptops, and over one-half (52%) use modems (with an average of 1.3 modems per organization).

The overwhelming majority of organizations (69%) have laserjet printers. A surprisingly high percentage of victim service agencies (27%) have color printers.

      Total Number Of:



      % Of Total Respondents

      Organizations that have a network installed.



      Organizations using a PC(s)



      PCs used in the responding organizations

      (an average of 9.5 per organization).



      Macintoshes used in the organizations.



      Laptops used in the organizations.



      Staff per PC (average).



      Organizations that use a modem.



      Modems used in the organizations

      (an average of 1.3 per organization).



      Modems with fax capabilities (N = 1,758).



      Daisy wheel printers.



      Ink jet printers.



      Laserjet printers.



      Color printers.




Over one-third of survey respondents (37%) utilize Windows 95 as their operating system. When one stops to consider that the 95 version of Windows was relatively new when this survey was conducted, it is significant that over one-third of responding agencies possessed this upgraded version.

        Total Number Of:




        Organizations using Windows 3.0



        Organizations using Windows 3.1



        Organizations using Windows 95




Although this survey was completed in July 1997, it is still somewhat surprising that only one-third (33%) of victim service organizations are connected to the Internet, either at the office, at home, or both.

      Total Number Of:




      Organizations that have office access to the Internet.



      Organizations that have home access to the Internet.



      Office and home access to the Internet.



      Total number with office and/or home Internet access.



Of the 444 respondents that have office and/or home Internet access, 338 (33%) use Netscape Navigator, and 122 (27%) use Microsoft Explorer, as their search engine.

A surprisingly low number of the 901 respondents who do not currently have Internet access expressed an interest in doing so in the future. Specifically:

  • 344 are interested in getting an Internet connection (38%).

  • 130 are not interested in getting an Internet connection (14%).

Four out of ten (360) respondents with Internet connectivity are interested in developing a homepage for their organizations, while 169 respondents, or 38%, are not interested in developing a homepage (Seymour, Beatty, and Insco 1998).

The Victims' Rights Discipline: An Information Age for Victims and Service Providers

(This section is derived from the Promising Strategies and Practices in Using Technology to Benefit Crime Victims text, published in 1998 by the National Center for Victims of Crime, with support from the Office for Victims of Crime, U.S. Department of Justice.)

If the very core of America's victims' rights discipline (that is, what it takes to provide comprehensive, quality rights and services) had to be boiled down to one concept, or one word, it would quite possibly be this: Information.

Perhaps the greatest barrier over the past quarter century to the enforcement of victims' rights, and the empowerment of individual victims and witnesses, has been a systemic lack of information. At the genesis of this field, advocates struggled not only to interpret the various information needs of victims but also to create a nationwide system where information could be refined and disseminated. When the victims' rights movement strengthened in both numbers and sophistication, advocates focused on how to manage the vast amount of information thatgrew on a daily basis about rights, services, and related resources. As this discipline matures, the challenge remains to obtain, interpret, disseminate, and manage information that can assist victims and those who serve them in the most efficient, cost-effective, and accessible manner possible.

Consider the plight of a sexual assault victim 25 years ago . . . It would have been a rare occurrence for a rape victim to receive information about her rights from a responding officer. Referrals to supportive services were very limited. Guidance about how to apply for and obtain victim compensation was infrequently provided. Provision of the most basic information about her case was uncommon. Assistance in understanding the "maze" of the criminal or juvenile justice process would have been very limited, if available at all.

Flash forward to the millennium, to a very different environment: A responding officer would be likely to provide information about rights, services, compensation, and support. Information about the justice process would be available in both paper-based and electronic formats. The management of her case throughout the justice process in many jurisdictions would be simplified by electronic case files, with information shared "virtually" with security protections across both agencies and jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, information about the status of victim compensation claims could be electronically accessed. Information about confidential counseling and support groups would be available via the World Wide Web. In fact, today information about rape trauma, victims' rights, and avenues for activism abound on the Internet.

The difference between information then and information now reflects not only a growth in both quality and quantity but also a more refined approach to how information is identified, managed, shared, and made available to and about victims, and to those who serve them. Access to information today reflects an advantage that has been significantly advanced by technology.

Victim-related information can be divided into six key categories:

  1. Information about choices.

  2. Access to information.

  3. Information sharing.

  4. Information management.

  5. Information about advocacy.

  6. Educational information.


Nobody chooses to be a victim of crime. As such, the key tenet of helping victims reconstruct their lives in the aftermath of a crime is to provide them with choices and options.

Victims today can readily access information about rights, services, statutes, victim compensation, civil remedies, and other important resources through the World Wide Web. Criminal and juvenile justice and allied professionals, as well as victim service providers, are often linked to each other so victims know whom to turn to for information and supportive services. Victims' choices about where to go and what to do in the aftermath of a crime are tremendously expanded by the volume and quality of information available, in both paper-based and electronic formats.


The advanced technology age has revolutionized the accessibility of information to victims of crime. No longer are boundaries and barriers created by one's geographical location, physical ability, culture, or language. Innovative applications of technology have changed the ways victims can identify and retrieve information and services. These innovations range from simple to complex:

  • More widespread use of TDD equipment has expanded information and services for hearing-impaired and deaf victims.

  • Telemedicine electronically links medical and mental health experts to remote-rural regions and jurisdictions lacking needed expertise to provide consultation and review of victims' medical histories and cases.

  • The proliferation of toll-free telephone numbers helps break barriers for victims who cannot afford a long distance telephone call to access information and services.

  • Automated voice response technology makes victim notification and offender status information available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, in multiple languages and dialects.

  • The World Wide Web has numerous sites devoted to victim information and assistance as well as sites providing access about the status of offenders in some states.

  • In San Diego County, California, victim impact statements provided at the time of sentencing are videotaped and captured on CD-ROM, creating a "permanent record" for future review at hearings related to the release of incarcerated offenders.

A recent focus for information access is the accessibility of Web sites for individuals with disabilities. The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), founded in 1984, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to expand opportunities for people with disabilities through innovative uses of computer technology. CAST's major initiatives include product development and applied research. Product development focuses on the creation of universally designed curriculum and software including network learning systems for elementary schools and colleges, and supported learning tools and curriculum in the areas of literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies. Research is conducted in classrooms, homes, community organizations, and the Internet.

CAST has developed a Web-based tool, called "Bobby," that analyzes Web pages for their accessibility to people with disabilities. CAST offers Bobby as a free public service in order to further its mission. Bobby's analysis of accessibility is based on the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. For example, to become Bobby approved, a Web site must:

  • Provide text equivalents for all nontext elements (i.e., images, animations, audio, video).

  • Provide summaries of graphs and charts.

  • Ensure that all information conveyed with color is also available without color.

  • Clearly identify changes in the natural language of a document's text and any text equivalents (e.g., captions) of nontext content.

  • Organize content logically and clearly.

  • Provide alternative content for features (e.g., applets or plug-ins) that may not be supported.

The W3C Accessibility Guidelines address barriers in Web pages which people with physical, visual, hearing, and cognitive/neurological disabilities may encounter. Common accessibility problems on Web sites include:

  • Images without alternative text.

  • Lack of alternative text for imagemap hot-spots.

  • Misleading use of structural elements on pages.

  • Uncaptioned audio or undescribed video.

  • Lack of alternative information for users who cannot access frames or scripts.

  • Tables that are difficult to decipher when linearized.

  • Sites with poor color contrast.

The guidelines are written for a variety of audience--people who design Web sites, people who check existing Web sites for accessibility, and organizations that wish to ensure that people with disabilities can access information on the Web. In order to have a Web site analyzed for conformity to the Guidelines, simply access the Bobby site at www.cast.org/bobby/, type in the URL of the site to be analyzed, and submit. Bobby will display a report indicating any accessibility and/or browser compatibility problems found on the page. Once a site receives a Bobby approval rating, it is entitled to display a Bobby Approved icon (CAST 2000).


When integrated management information systems within and among justice agencies incorporate victim information, both the quality of and access to such information are significantly improved. Lost paper files and misplaced case information become a thing of thepast when victim-related case information is electronically attached, with appropriate security restrictions, to the electronic case file of the offender as it makes its way "virtually" through the justice process. Within victim serving agencies, basic networking in an office improves the veracity of victim-related data, as well as professionals' ability to access information when and where it is needed.

In addition, the need to interview and re-interview victims to obtain the same information for different victim service and justice agencies can be significantly decreased. Case information captured at "one source," such as law enforcement or prosecution, can be entered and consistently shared, eliminating the need for redundant data entry and multiple contacts with victims that are unnecessary and often traumatic.

In the Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grants Program (JAIBG) Bulletin entitled "Establishing and Maintaining Interagency Information Sharing," a twenty-point prescription for the development of a comprehensive electronic juvenile justice information system was offered for juvenile justice system professionals. These recommendations outline key points in developing and maintaining an electronic information system that can support the sharing of information within and among agencies as well as meet specific informational needs of the juvenile justice system, e.g., confidentiality (Slayton March 2000).

  1. Appoint an Information Management Committee composed of representatives from every agency in the juvenile justice system, funding agency officials, legislative staff, management information systems experts, community representatives, child welfare agents, and parents.

  2. Determine the information collected and maintained by all the agencies.

  3. Evaluate information needs.

  4. Evaluate agency goals and identify those that are overlapping.

  5. Determine the mission (overall goals) of the juvenile justice system.

  6. Clarify reasons to share information.

  7. Identify what specific information is to be shared and who needs access to each item of information.

  8. Determine statutory record requirements about information collection and dissemination as mandated by federal, state, and local governments.

  9. Determine exceptions to statutory requirements.

  10. Draft an inter-agency agreement.

  11. Fund the system.

  12. Designate information management liaisons in each agency.

  13. Build the system.

  14. Prepare and/or revise policies and procedures.

  15. Train staff.

  16. Supervise confidentiality needs.

  17. Review policies regularly.

  18. Review needs regularly.

  19. Revise system as necessary based on audits and system needs.

  20. Repeat steps 14 through 19.

Although this checklist was developed for juvenile justice system information sharing, it can be easily adapted for criminal justice or other multiple-agency implementation.


The benefits of technology when applied to information and case management are substantial. Databases can be designed to capture not only vital information about individual victims but also helpful data about case histories, relationships with offenders, and prior receipt of services.

In addition, basic organizational management is enhanced by information systems that expand an agency's capability to design programs, secure funding, and strategically plan for the future. See the following examples:

  • Statistical information now provides valuable guidance about the scope and level of services provided to victims and offers valuable trending data that can be utilized for program planning.

  • Some states provide for the electronic transfer of information related to VOCA grants, both for reporting and grant application purposes.

  • Information about the status of victim compensation claims is being managed electronically in some states, thus eliminating the need to rely on paper-based files that are not always easily accessible.

  • Basic statistical information about victim demographics is more easily managed and accessed by justice professionals today which, in turn, augments the ability of the United States to track important trends in crime and victimization.


Many victims today seek opportunities to get involved in victim advocacy efforts and make a positive difference in others' lives through victim assistance, crime prevention, and public education activities. Visits to the Web sites of local, state, and national victim assistance organizations provide extensive information about opportunities for victim advocacy. "Electronic newsletters" contain timely resources related to current legislative and public outreach efforts. In addition, the increased use of "listservs" on the Internet can provide opportune information to multiple parties "at the press of a key."


Public awareness about and community involvement in victims' rights and services comprise a key goal of victim service and allied justice agencies. Many innovative applications (from computerized graphic design software packages, to basic electronic billboards, to the widespread use of the World Wide Web) have both complemented and simplified the presentation and transfer of information to interested parties about victims' rights and services. The speed of the transfer of information has resulted in community awareness and public education activities that are timely, matching the speed in which response and support from parties interested in victims' rights and services are needed.

Benefits of Innovative Technologies for Victim Service and Allied Justice Agencies and Their Implications for Victim Services

The National Center for Victims of Crime identified five significant benefits for victim service and justice agencies that utilize innovative technologies along with six implications relevant to improving victims' rights and services (Seymour, Beatty, and Insco 1998).


While most innovative technologies that benefit victims require an initial investment of money, sometimes a considerable sum, myriad data point to their overall cost-effectiveness. In today's traditional victim service agency, much time that could be spent providing direct victim assistance and support is consumed by work directly attributable to paper-based systems. Technology can enhance overall agency operations and the provision of direct services to victims and reduce the duplicative efforts that are caused today by both the lack of technology and the lack of adequate management information systems.


Victim-related data are essential for a variety of purposes for both community- and system-based victim service agencies. Some examples follow:

  • Crime and victimization statistics.

  • General demographics related to crime and victimization.

  • Efforts to identify trends in victimization in a community.

  • Establishing relationships between victims and offenders.

  • Funding requirements (especially establishing the need to receive additional funding).

  • Program evaluation.

  • Program planning for the future.

For example, victim service providers in Wisconsin who receive VOCA funding can file their reports electronically to the Department of Justice.

Reporting requirements for victim serving agencies are driven by both internal need and external demand for information. Technology enhances an agency's ability to provide these data more quickly, efficiently, and accurately for both purposes.


Electronic databases enable victim service professionals to access information more quickly, enhancing both direct victim assistance and providing vital, and sometimes life saving, information to allied justice professionals. This is particularly true of victims' cases that involve either multiple victims/offenders or multiple case workers either within or among victim service agencies.

In addition, the security of victim-related information can be enhanced by technology. Specific information that can and should be shared with others can be made readily available to the proper authorities, while confidential data can be protected through a variety of measures such as security screens, personal identification numbers for victims, encryption, and "fire walls" on the World Wide Web.


For victim-serving programs and agencies, program evaluation is essential for a variety of purposes such as follows:

  • Measuring the quality and scope of services provided to victims.

  • Measuring victim satisfaction with services provided to them.

  • "Proving" the need to secure additional funding (from either public or private sector sources).

  • Identifying new areas for increased service and/or specialized programs.

  • Providing data that are vital to program planning for the future.

The beauty of technology today is that user groups at the "front end" of the development of new applications can clearly identify data that are essential to program evaluation. These elements can be easily incorporated into software programs to provide valuable data when and where they are needed.


It is not unusual for data about a victim or offender to be entered into information systems twenty-five or thirty times throughout the duration of a case. Consider the many "points of entry" for victim-related information, from law enforcement through courts and corrections, including data entered by both system- and community-based programs. Then consider the amount of human resources and time that must be dedicated to such redundant data entry.

Shared management information systems allow vital case information to be entered once, where it will (when appropriate) cross agency and/or jurisdictional lines in an electronic format.

For victim service agencies, data that are applicable to case management, direct service, program evaluation, and funding, among other considerations, can also be entered only once. Today, innovative software applications organize and manage these often complex data in ways that can eliminate repetitive data entry by multiple professionals.


"Filling in the cracks." Victims have historically been subject to "cracks" in the justice system that sometimes appear to resemble the Grand Canyon. Vital information that is not shared among agencies or within a single agency can result in situations ranging from minor inconveniences to major tragedies.

Many innovative applications of technology today are designed specifically to "fill in the cracks" of a system and services that should be designed to protect victims. For example, victim case information can be electronically and confidentially attached to his or her offender's electronic case file for easy access and rapid retrieval. Furthermore, victim case information within one agency can be accessed by legitimate and authorized staff, even in the event that a victim's direct case worker is inaccessible at the time the information is needed.

The ability to create this "seamless web" of case information is perhaps one of the greatest contributions of technology to the victim's discipline today.

Enhanced outreach to victims. From the use of simple word processing programs that create automated merge letters, to basic graphic design programs that simplify the production of victim-related newsletters, to the wealth of information available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week on the World Wide Web, both the scope and quality of victim outreach has been vastly improved by technology. Access to information about victims' rights and services, statutory and case law, and opportunities for victims to become involved in proactive efforts designed to help others and even prevent crime--all abound as a direct result of the Information Age.

Caution must be taken, however, to ensure the veracity of the information now available to victims. Particularly on the World Wide Web, there are legitimate concerns about "quality control" because bad information is worse than no information at all. Quality control is a crucial area that merits continued assessment and action on the part of victims and those who serve them.

Emphasis on diversity. The ability to disseminate victim-related information in multiple languages and dialects has grown considerably through technological applications. Addressing diversity is beginning to resolve a historical challenge that has consistently hampered the victims' rights discipline because business was conducted primarily in the English language.

Many innovations have opened new and important doors to diverse populations:

  • The growing use of TTY and TDD technology for hearing-impaired and deaf victims.

  • The use of videotaped and audiotaped victim impact statements for victims who are illiterate or who live in areas located far from key justice system locations at which they have the right to have input and/or be heard.

  • The use of satellite teleconferencing for hearings such as parole proceedings or the uplink developed specifically for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing to "view" the Denver trial from a secured site in Oklahoma City.

These remarkable examples have made justice processes and related victims' rights and services more wholly accessible to populations diverse by geography, culture, and physical ability.

Increased victim satisfaction. Any time an application of technology enforces victims' rights or improves their access to greatly needed services, a possible outcome is increased victim satisfaction. A rich body of research correlates enforcement of victims' rights with increased victim satisfaction. Such correlations are greatly enhanced with the use of technology that broadens opportunities for input, information, notification, restitution, and protection, among other significant victims' rights.

Better enforcement of victims' rights. Many innovative technologies are designed to ensure enforcement of victims' rights:

  • Automated restitution management programs provide timely, accurate information about the status of legal and financial obligations, including any remedies that victims may have.

  • Voice-automated victim notification programs make offender release information available in two manners: by providing automated notification within a prescribed period of the actual release or by allowing victims to call a toll-free number at any time to access information about the status of the offender.

  • Several state correctional agencies offer offender status information such as location and next release hearing and even photographs of inmates on the World Wide Web.

  • CD-ROMs contain updated information, including photographs and locations, about convicted sex offenders thus offering valuable information to augment the safety of victims and communities.

These are just a few of the examples of how victims' rights are being enhanced through innovative applications of technology.

New opportunities for crime prevention. The abundance of information about offenders and victims, relationships between offenders and victims, trends in criminal activity, and innovative solutions to crime prevention and intervention provides new and significantopportunities to stop crime before it occurs. The increase in such data, along with the ability to manage information about complex data among individuals and activities in cases, have contributed to substantial improvements in prevention, early intervention, and reduction of criminal activity.

Barriers to the Systematic Use of Innovative Technologies

Through its national assessment of victim service programs' use of technology, an extensive literature review, and focused group discussions held at its 1998 technology symposium, the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) identified twenty-one potential barriers to the use of technology in victim services (Seymour, Beatty, and Insco 1998). The barriers can be summarized in five categories:

  1. Planning and implementation.

  2. The "learning curve" among victim service agencies and professionals.

  3. Internal agency issues.

  4. Sharing resources.

  5. Victim-specific concerns.

The NCVC, however, is quick to surmise that what many view as "barriers" are simply "challenges" to be addressed when planning and implementing technological applications to enhance victims' rights and services.


Funding. Technology is often not cheap.

This important fact aside, victim service agencies must consider the costs of implementing innovative technologies and compare them to the benefits that will be received. Cost/benefit analyses usually support the initial investment in hardware and software (along with the concomitant costs of research and development necessary to launch the desired technology) with the expectation that in the long run, substantial savings in human and monetary resources will result.

Many governmental entities have "seen the light" in terms of applying new technologies to both justice- and victim-related processes. In the early stages of the technology revolution, investments in technology were considered high risk. As evaluation data consistently point to cost savings, streamlined operations and improved services, these risks are mitigated by the benefits.

Some state agencies that provide victim services have successfully requested appropriations for funding innovative technologies to enhance and streamline such services from their legislaturesand executive branches. Key to these initiatives is a systematic evaluation of positive outcomes that result from this often substantial investment of taxpayers' dollars.

The U.S. Department of Justice has invested considerable dollars and human resources in technology that benefits victims of crime. Many program plans have designated dollars for technology applications or have emphasized the use of technology as a fundable factor for discretionary and demonstration dollars.

Converting from paper-based systems. There are still countless victim service agencies, both community- and system-based, that operate on a "paper basis." Case management information, client records and statistics, reporting systems, and information relevant to grant and other funding is maintained manually or, in some cases, using rudimentary technology such as basic word processors.

The transition from paper-based formats to electronic systems can be time-consuming, adding to staff and volunteer frustration and even resistance. In addition, electronic applications offer new approaches that, while significantly better than "the old way," require different formats and unfamiliar ways of organizing and accessing information.

Preserving the quality and accuracy of data as they become automated is another significant consideration. Quality control and measures to ensure accuracy of data are key factors when automating agency and/or service functions.

Potential agency/vendor liability. What happens when a technology designed to enforce a specific victims' right (such as notification, protection, or restitution) fails to accomplish its stated purpose? Who is responsible if a citizen is victimized or re-victimized as a direct result of the failure of technology, and/or the failure of professionals who are responsible for implementing such technology? Do individuals who are detrimentally affected by the failure of a technological application to adequately perform have a cause of action, against either the sponsoring agency or the private sector entity that helped develop it?

These questions require equally serious consideration in planning for new and innovative technologies. Liability may, indeed, be a significant barrier to the private sector's willingness to even enter into certain areas of research and development, fearing that the high costs of liability insurance and litigation are prohibitive.

Lack of victim/service provider involvement in planning and implementation. Many technological applications that are geared toward victim services and public safety fail to involve victims and those who serve them in the planning process: One-third of the technology submissions received by the NCVC project did not involve victims in the early stages of product development.

Who knows better what victims need, and what concerns them the most, than victims themselves? Victim-related technologies can benefit from input and guidance from victims andservice providers throughout the research, development, planning, implementation and evaluation stages. Involvement of user groups and advisory entities can be very beneficial to governmental agencies, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector as they seek innovative approaches to using technology to benefit victims and witnesses of crime.

Lack of program evaluation. One of the key components in proving the success of new technologies (including cost effectiveness, victim satisfaction, savings of time and human resources, and overall efficiency) is program evaluation. The ability to show positive, measurable outcomes can lead to additional funding for and support of further technology applications.

As many states and other jurisdictions move toward performance-based evaluation measures, innovative technologies will be pressured to provide tangible means of measuring their success. Evaluation must be directly tied to planning efforts. Although costly, external evaluations by professional entities provide objective opinions of whether or not the application fulfills its proposed goals.

In addition, technologies that are service-oriented and/or provide information to users should make every effort to offer opportunities for user feedback. Client surveys and user groups are simple approaches to maintain ongoing, helpful communications with "customers" who utilize the technology.

Managing complex relationships among data elements. New technologies offer endless opportunities to manage data in ways never dreamt possible just a few years ago. Data that were accumulated and maintained in separate and distinct databases are today being organized and managed for a variety of purposes:

  • Statistical analysis.

  • Determining criminal and victim histories.

  • Establishing relationships between and among victims/offenders, offenders/offenders, and offenders/types and patterns of crimes.

  • Establishing relationships among victims and/or offenders across jurisdictional lines.

While the possibilities of managing these, and other, complex relationships are almost endless with today's technologies, they also pose challenges to planning and implementation efforts. Many agencies and professionals have historically operated "within the box" whose sides were held together by a lack of resources, technology, and knowledge. Innovative applications of data management systems require professionals today to think and go far "beyond the box," and create a vision where technology can be utilized to its full extent for not only victim assistance, but crime prevention, interdiction, and early intervention.


"Technophobia." Fear of the unknown is one of the greatest barriers that humans face in life. It is ironic that while technology today opens up vast new horizons of information and opportunities, at the same time it can be formidable and frightening. As one victim advocate noted, "`Technophobia' doesn't begin to describe my problem. `Techno-terror' is more like it!"

Entities and professionals who offer technological solutions to problems facing victims today must be acutely aware of the fear of technology experienced by many victim service providers. All of the "barriers" described in this section add up to some very good reasons for some advocates' hesitance to embrace new technologies. Education for end users as well as potential users is essential to address the consummate "technophobia" that affects much of America's victims' rights discipline today. Continuing training and technical assistance in how to use specific applications, and recognize the benefits of their use, are key to overcoming this barrier. An awareness of service providers' limited time and resources must be taken into account, with clear and convincing evidence provided to them about how technology can make their jobs easier.

Lack of understanding of the nature of innovative technology. "You can't see the forest through the trees if you're standing at the foot of the ocean." Often people fail to understand the nature of and opportunities offered by new technologies because they lack adequate information to help them understand. The solution to this challenge goes far beyond simply educating people. It requires an understanding of users' most basic needs, job requirements, and expected outcomes. It demands the involvement of users in augmenting their human resources with technology in a partnership for progress. It needs an ongoing system of training, technical assistance, and user feedback that allows for two-way communication about problems and solutions. It means a commitment that involves learning and listening as a "two-way street."

Staff "buy-in." Victim service providers and allied professionals who are suspicious of new technologies will remain so until their suspicions and fears are either confirmed or denied. The best way to allay these predictable reactions from agency staff is to keep them informed and involved in how and why the new technology is being implemented, and how and why it can make their jobs easier. Such efforts should not occur after a technology is in place but in the initial planning stages and during implementation.

Some staff fear that their jobs will be replaced by technology. Still others fear an increase in workload due to the logical increases in information that can be managed through new applications. Both of these concerns must be directly addressed by providing concise and honest answers to the question "What's in it for me?"


Lack of time. The opportunities offered by innovative technologies are often tempered, in the minds of some staff, by the time required to implement them. Technology and time management are affected by many factors:

  • Unrealistic time frames for implementing new technologies.

  • Changes in workflow that require significant training and individual, personal adjustment.

  • Personnel shortages.

  • Technologically-savvy staff being hired away from government and/or nonprofit agencies by private industry.

  • The need to input information instantly to meet legal mandates such as entering offender release information into a database within a specified, short period of time for victim notification purposes.

  • The ability to manage more information through the use of technology can equate (at least initially) to more time and work for staff.

Need for revisions and/or enhancements in policies, procedures, and/or laws. As America's justice system and allied professionals move into the Information Age, the journey requires a thorough assessment of agency policies and procedures, related provision of victim services, and state laws that govern the management of information. The differences between existing guidelines and legal requirements that were developed for paper-based systems, and those that are partially or fully electronic, can be substantial.

The solution requires an ongoing partnership between technology experts and those responsible for jurisdictions' laws and agencies policies. Mutual understanding and cooperation is needed on an ongoing basis to manage the change associated with technological innovations.

Today many management information systems (MIS) seek to build in mechanisms that automatically change database requirements in accordance with changes in laws and policies. For example, states' victim notification systems should be flexible enough to automatically effect MIS changes related to sentencing, sanctions for specific violations of supervision, or the addition of new victims' rights related to notification.

Quality of data. The old adage "garbage in, garbage out" takes on added meaning within the context of new technologies. The information in information systems is only as good as the original data from which it is derived, as well as the competency of staff who are inputting it into new electronic databases. Human error can have costly ramifications for victim-related technologies. Agencies must institute measures of quality assurance to maintain the integrity and accuracy of their electronic information, especially as it moves from a paper-based format into electronic systems.

Information overload. Is there such as thing as "information overload"? According to some victim service providers and allied professionals interviewed through the NCVC project, the answer is a resounding "yes" if the information is not managed well. As part of the planning process, people need to carefully determine the following:

  • Information needs.

  • How the information will be used.

  • Who will have access to the information?

  • How the information will be managed--in single or shared databases, across agencies and/or jurisdictions, etc.

  • Exactly how the information can be used to further victims' needs, rights, and services.

The ability to amass tremendous amounts of data can easily lead one to gather information just "because one can." Unless outcomes of information management are decided early in the planning stage and throughout the implementation process, agencies may fall prey to "information overload."


Information sharing. Professionals and agencies who view "information as power" may have misgivings about sharing that power. In justice- and victim-related processes, however, information sharing is vital to case management, criminal tracking, trending, and other critical planning and management issues. There are countless stories of victims who have "fallen through the cracks of the justice system" because case information was neither shared, nor passed on to the appropriate entity.

The sharing of information requires safeguards to make sure the information is utilized in lawful and appropriate manners. Concerns about victim and offender confidentiality can actually be addressed better with, rather than without, technology, as current applications offer considerable security protections.

However, fears of sharing information are very real and, as such, should be validated and addressed throughout any technology implementation.

Systems integration. It appears that when victim service and justice agencies began automating their processes over the past decade, few discussions were held among professionals regarding the hardware and software specifications that might eventually be integrated, across both agency and jurisdictional lines. The result is a wide variety of platforms and applications that, today, require significant interfaces to "speak" to each other.

In addition, many agencies today seek to upgrade somewhat archaic systems, rather than replace them with newer, faster systems with greater capabilities. While these decisions are cost-effective in the short run, it is questionable as to their efficacy in the future.

Systems integration is also challenged by the unwillingness of some agencies to share specific information (this issue is addressed below). However, there are few systems that, with today's advanced technology, cannot be integrated with seemingly disparate systems.

Inter-agency and inter-jurisdictional cooperation. Different agencies and jurisdictions often operate under different policies, procedures, and laws. Those who apply innovative technologies to benefit victims must research and understand the variances that will affect implementation.

In many jurisdictions, cross-agency and cross-jurisdictional task forces define not only user requirements for new technologies, but also the policies and laws under which they must operate. For some systems, flexibility is necessary to meet the various and ever-changing mandates required by agency policy and state or federal law.

Agreements must also be developed that determine who is responsible for some of the new and exciting outcomes made possible by technology. For example, if an offender under community supervision that includes satellite monitoring offends in a jurisdiction 250 miles away from his probation officer, who is responsible for his apprehension? Who is responsible for providing immediate, direct victim assistance? Are costs of both shared, or solely the responsibility of the jurisdiction in which the offense occurred? These and other questions are typical of the many concerns related to inter-agency and inter-jurisdictional cooperation.

Public/private partnerships. The inner workings of private industry can, at times, be quite different from those of governmental or nonprofit agencies. Private firms are concerned about profits, and public sector agencies are concerned about saving money. While these differences are by no means insurmountable, they can pose significant challenges to the implementation of new technologies.

Joint ventures require joint risks, as well as mutual understanding of expectations and outcomes. Some vendors feel that the public sector doesn't understand or appreciate the high costs of research and development necessary to launch a new technology. On the other hand, some professionals in the public sector feel that vendors need to gain a better understanding of the constraints they face in terms of time, human resources, and funding.

Accessibility to technological applications. The "Information Superhighway" may still be somewhat inaccessible for many victims and service providers due solely to the cost of a basic personal computer, modem, and Internet connection. The challenge posed by a lack of access to technology is as serious a concern as the barriers posed by victims who speak a language other than English or live in rural/remote communities. Similarly, justice and victim service agencies in jurisdictions that face budget deficits are likely to face deficits in access to technology and, as a result, access to information. While revisions in U.S. Department of Justice policies and state laws related to funding are beginning to change this disparity, an imbalance in access still exists.


Security of information. Victim confidentiality is a basic tenet of victim services. Valid fears about technology are most often directly related to the security of victim information, case files, and other data. The private sector has responded with innovative applications that utilize encryption, personal identification numbers, security screens that limit access, and "fire walls" on the World Wide Web. Yet these approaches must be augmented by comprehensive education of victim service providers and allied justice professionals who remain wary of anything that doesn't equate to a confidential file in a locked file cabinet in a secure room.

The need to maintain "the human touch." While technology can streamline and better organize the delivery of both services and information, it can never replace "the human touch." No matter how well applied, technology is still impersonal to many victims and advocates. A human voice or personal meeting provides comfort; a computer does not. As such, technological advances should be considered only a partial solution to meeting victims' needs. With careful planning and consideration, technology applications can (and in many cases, should) be augmented by "the human touch" such as follows:

  • A fully-automated voice response victim notification system added operators twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to help victims who might need assistance in accessing notification services and to provide additional information and referrals to supportive services, upon request.

  • Numerous victim-related Web sites incorporate toll-free telephone numbers in the information and resources provided so that victims can speak to a victim advocate, as needed.

  • More and more Internet sites offer links to further information and assistance based upon a user's specific interests and needs, including many that provide direct telephone and in-person services.

Outreach to victims about the benefits of new technologies. Just as crime victims are beginning to be viewed as "clients" or "customers" of the justice system, they must be perceived as such by technology firms and those agencies who purchase their services. The success of technologies that benefit victims of crime will depend significantly on victim satisfaction with, and acceptance of, these new innovations.

Outreach can occur on several fronts:

  • The development of articles about new technologies for submission to the publications of national victim service and allied justice organizations.

  • Victim-specific pages on the Web sites of technology firms and agencies that provide any type of victim assistance (such as correctional agencies).

  • Involving victims and service providers in an advisory capacity as jurisdictions consider the implementation of new victim-related technologies.

  • Consideration of diversity issues in the research and development phases for new technologies to provide outreach to victim populations who are differently-abled, or who speak a language or dialect other than standard English.

  • Offering training sessions at national, state, and local victim services conferences (an approach that is gaining wide acceptance among service providers and technology firms).

  • Seeking victims' input about new technologies as they are being implemented and refined, through either user groups or surveys.

The more knowledge victims and advocates have about technologies that can help them, the more likely they are to support efforts related to planning, implementation, and funding of these technologies.


Increasingly, criminal and juvenile justice agencies are developing victim-related Web pages for their Web sites that offer information about victims' rights and services. These Web pages are important not only because of their capability to expand victim outreach and assistance, but also because they effectively integrate victim services as a core component of the agency's overall mission and programs.

In developing victim-related Web pages, criminal and juvenile justice agencies should involve crime victims, as well as community- and system-based victim service providers, in planning and designing the page. The following questions should be considered when planning a victim-related Web page:

  • What is the most important information about victims' rights and services that should be made available?

  • Who are our principle "customers" and how can we design a page that meets their most salient needs in formats that are commensurate with their various levels of cognitive development, language, geography, and culture?

  • How can the Web page be formatted to be "user friendly" and accessible to all clients.

  • What type of electronic linkages (hypertext links) should be built into the Web page that provides victims with additional information and referral resources?

Basic information that could be included in a victim-related Web page includes:

  • General information about the agency and its victim services, including location (with a map); hours of operation, and all contact information.

  • An overview of the agency's mission, vision, goals and objectives specific to victims' rights and services.

  • Summary of victims' constitutional and statutory rights in the criminal and juvenile justice systems (including notification, restitution, participation, victim impact statements, protection, and compensation).

  • Overview of the criminal and juvenile justice processes.

  • "Glossary of terms" most commonly used throughout these processes.

  • Answers to "frequently asked questions."

  • Specific services available to victims from the agency/organization and how to access such services.

  • Specialized units within the agency--such as domestic violence or juvenile crime--that includes a description of available services.

  • Information about specialized programs--such as "Impact of Crime on Victims" classes or victim/offender dialogue.

  • Victim information-including brochures and handbooks--that can be posted online.

  • Calendars of victim-related events, such as commemorative day/week activities, training programs, and special programs.

  • "Feedback forums" that allow Web page visitors to easily send e-mail communications or requests for further information.

  • Listings of employment and volunteer opportunities.

  • Hyperlinks to allied criminal and juvenile justice, victim service agencies, and national information clearinghouses for additional information and referrals.

Four examples of comprehensive victim services Web pages sponsored by criminal and juvenile justice agencies are:

  • Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office

  • Cook County State's Attorney Office

  • California Youth Authority

  • Ohio Department of Youth Services

The "Information Superhighway"

(The following section is derived from the "Promising Strategies and Practices in Using Technology to Benefit Crime Victims" text, written by A. Seymour, D. Beatty, and M. Insco, published in 1998 by the National Center for Victims of Crime, with support from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime.)


The "Information Superhighway" has radically changed communications throughout the world. The speed and scope of human interactions have expanded considerably. Access to information through the World Wide Web today crosses jurisdictional, geographical, culturaland linguistic lines. This remarkable progress holds great implications for victims of crime and those who serve them.

This section provides a basic overview of the World Wide Web and its applications to victims, service providers, and allied justice professionals.


The issue of victim confidentiality encompasses three primary issues:

  1. Ensuring safe electronic communications between and among sites.

  2. Protecting stored data or application information.

  3. Assuring the authenticity of the user or the server.

Encryption is the primary technology used to protect information as it is communicated across the Internet. This prevents victim-related or other confidential information from being observed and decoded as it moves across the public Internet. Encryption, which is built into most popular browsers, prevents listening by unauthorized persons. The need for encryption is substantially diminished by use of a private Intranet or Extranet.

Data stored at a particular site needs to be protected. This is typically done by using passwords to authenticate user privileges. Privileges to view or to edit information within an application on the Internet is usually multilayered. This means that different privileges attach to different users depending on their authority. For example, a victim might only be allowed to view his or her own information, while a counselor or other official might need to access his or her entire caseload. Likewise, the ability to edit the information might be limited based on the authorization granted to the user.

"Firewalls" also prevent access from outside sources into secure servers through the Internet. This is required when organizations place their Local Area Networks, and therefore their information and computers, on the Internet.

Authentication of users and servers is important so that information is not transferred to organizations pretending to be another site. The technology that accomplishes this feat is called public/private keys. The use of public/private keys assures users that they are transferring information to the intended site. For example, the victim, who is preparing to share personal information with a prosecutor's site can be reassured that the site is authenticated as the site it purports to be. Likewise, a victim can be assured that on the prosecutor's site, the user has been verified as the person he/she purports to be.


A review of Internet resources reveals that there are multiple sources for personal information, including addresses and telephone numbers, about most individuals, including victims. There is little, if anything, that can be done about dissemination of this information. This makes it allthat much more important to maintain security and confidentiality of court-related data on the Internet involving victims, as discussed above.


The Internet is generally described as the "network of networks." The public Internet links hundreds of millions of computers into one global network. The Internet is made possible by a set of network protocols used worldwide. This standard makes many applications possible, including e-mail, the World Wide Web, Telnet, News Groups, FTP (File Transport Protocol), chat rooms, listservs, video viewers, audio players, database applications, and a limitless number of small applications called applets. The World Wide Web, and the many other innovations it has inspired, have propelled the Internet to unequaled prominence not just in computer technology, but also in modern life.

Some uses of the Internet that are applicable to victims and service providers might include the following:

  • Victim notification and offender status sites (including sex offender registries).

  • Restitution management.

  • Victim/witness information.

  • The private counseling of victims.

  • Virtual victim support groups.

  • Offender parole petitions.

  • Training manuals for staff.

  • Victim and public awareness information.

  • The exchange of information related to VOCA and other grant programs.

Unfortunately this popularity creates problems of its own. The very ubiquity of the Internet exposes public Web sites to attack by hackers. This risk, in addition to the fact that much of the information an organization needs to share internally is not appropriate for the public Internet, substantiates the need for private networks that use the power of the Internet protocols.

Many organizations have used the same powerful and simple methods of the Internet to create their own private networks, called Intranets. These networks are used by organizations to share information and applications among their members such as training manuals and case files. Intranets look just like the Internet except that they are private to the organization. They can be used to link multiple divisions or departments of an organization together. For example, a state-level correctional agency might use an Intranet to share information about victims, or offender release dates. Typically, access to an Intranet network through the Internet is severely restricted with the use of a firewall. A firewall allows only one way access, namely out to the Internet, not into the Intranet.

Extranets are private networks shared by multiple organizations. An Extranet uses the same protocols and technology as the Internet. It simply restricts the network to certain organizations. A possible use of the Extranet might be to link courts, law enforcement, and prosecutor organizations in order to share information about victims or court notifications.


Web Browsers have clearly become the dominant application of the Internet. Not only are they used to read HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) pages, but they have also become vehicles for virtually every other stand-alone application. The two dominant browsers (with over 90 percent of the market), Netscape's Communicator and Microsoft's Explorer, are cases in point. Each browser now has incorporated e-mail, FTP (File Transfer Protocol), chat facilities, video viewers, audio players, and video conference/white board software. Perhaps more important, in the long run, both browsers have the facility to incorporate multiple applications into their framework using the programming language called Java.


The greatest promise of the Internet/Intranet/Extranet may be the ability to allow universal access to databases and other applications through simple Web browsers. The advantages of this model are enormous. In the first instance, such a model significantly reduces the cost and difficulty of application deployment. It permits the use of very inexpensive computers by users. It also allows for very facile and painless upgrades of the software from a single central point. The promise of these now wide-ranging technologies might permit the seamless and appropriate sharing of information among law enforcement, prosecution, courts, corrections, victim service agencies and the general public.


The lowest common denominator of the Web is HTML, a simple scripting language that has made the Web as we know it today possible. A small group of firms have extended the use of HTML by using it as a script that will talk to databases. The power of these simple tools can be substantial. For example, it might securely permit victims to query and submit information to a prosecutor case tracking database from the Internet. These tools are also simple to use. They do, however, experience limitations as a result of the constraints of HTML.


Major attention and effort have been directed to the creation of miniature applications that load through Web browsers to process data. The primary tool for this effort is the object-oriented language called Java. The promise of Java is that inexpensive computers will be able to process data using small programs instead of the expensive desktop software tools now used. DirectX, a product of software giant Microsoft, has a similar function. In addition to significantly lowering unit costs, a major advantage of Java or DirectX is that it would greatly simplify the deployment of Internet/Intranet/Extranet solutions. In fact, software updates would be accomplished each time a user visited the site. This would allow sophisticated and ubiquitous access to the information behind the Java application. For example, a victim orservice provider, using a Web browser, might view a spreadsheet (a Java applet) that shows restitution payments.


The most recent enhancement to HTML is a scripting language called XML. The first attributes of this new Web protocol are just beginning to emerge from international standards bodies. XML will significantly extend the power of the World Wide Web. It is said that XML will give Java the data to work. It will permit Web pages to contain data that look the same to multiple computer programs regardless of their location, platform, or origin. For example, a case file might originate in a police department computer, be submitted to a prosecutor's database, and continue to a court management system without format change.

In effect, XML holds the prospect of allowing disparate computer systems in the criminal and juvenile justice systems to use the same information entered once through a Web browser. It is a major part of the puzzle allowing a truly integrated justice tracking and notification system, easily accessible to all with appropriate authority.


Courts rule changes are necessary for the full integration of technology into the court system. Typically, rule changes are necessary to permit the automated filing of court documents or even the use of faxed documents for purposes such as automated submission for search warrants. Rule changes can be effected though local court rule changes or state-wide rule changes. Statewide rules are typically superior to local rules.

Clear policies are required by justice agencies to establish which types of victim-related information will and will not be released and/or shared. Although formulation of these policies does not generally appear to require legislative intervention, statutes have been used in specific instances.


Effective victim notification, restitution, and victim impact information tools require a case tracking information system as a base for their operation. Whether it is a local, state, or nationwide system, the first step is to maintain the case tracking information. It is this case tracking information that often drives victim information services.

Unfortunately, the case information required by victims usually comes from different entities within the criminal or juvenile justice system. Inevitably these organizations store and access important victim information in different ways. Because there are so few integrated justice automation systems, victim information must be entered separately by hand and cannot be exported directly from different automated systems. Technology allowing the integration of data, while maintaining separate systems in different agencies, is rapidly emerging (see the discussion of XML above).


The Secure News Server is computer software that lets users create secure, private discussion groups for access over the Internet/Intranet/Extranet.

For example, the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) has used its Secure News Server to develop communities of interest around victim-related issues and services on the Internet. NCVC's secure news server allows victim advocates to discuss issues relevant to victims in a secured virtual environment. Researchers and policy makers can review new legislation and regulations with a national, regional, or local interest group.

The Secure News Server improves collaboration and communication within workgroups, across agencies, and between/among remote sites around the country. These electronic discussion groups enable people to participate in a remote dialogue by posting and reading messages about topics of interest. Discussion groups support multiple conversations, or "threads," on a given subject, displaying postings in the context of the prior discussion. This allows a reader to follow an entire discussion from its inception, though they may also join well after the discussion has started.


E-mail on the Internet makes ubiquitous electronic messaging possible. The popularity of Internet e-mail is second in popularity and functionality only to World Wide Web services. Anyone who has an e-mail account on the Internet can correspond and transfer computer files to anyone else on the Internet. Connection to the Internet requires nothing more than a telephone, modem, and computer. Standard messaging packages allow users to exchange files by attaching them to e-mail. This ability, in combination with the universal connectivity of e-mail, permits collaboration among users anywhere on the Internet.


The Listserv is a computer program that automates the broadcast of e-mail across the Internet. Typically it is used by a discussion group whose members wish to share e-mail with everyone else in the group. A listserv is generally an informal ad hoc type of discussion group. As participation increases, it is often replaced by a News Group. Examples of victim-related listservs are the Victims' Rights Compliance listserv and the Victim Assistance E-mail Network.

The Victim Assistance E-mail Network--an e-mail based communications medium reserved for active members of victim assistance organizations, victim assistance specialists, professionals in related fields, and all interested in the field of victimology--has developed policies and rules to govern its application. They have been replicated by other victim-related listservs to enhance both security and member services, and include the following:

Policies and rules. The Network is designed to--

  • Act as an aid to contact and communication between the many public, private, police, judicial, and governmental victim assistance organizations which exist worldwide as well as between individuals involved in the field.

  • Serve as a bulletin board for announcements of meetings, conventions, seminars, and related educational opportunities in the victim assistance area.

  • Serve as a forum for the discussion of ideas, problems, solutions, techniques, laws/legalities, and points of advocacy specifically related to this area of service.

  • Allow victim assistance workers to seek peer support or gain new insights from the experience of others, while respecting case confidentiality and the right to privacy, which our clients expect and deserve.

Posting privileges. In order to keep discussions on the Victim Assistance Network on an appropriately professional level, and to help new members learn what kinds of postings are proper, three levels of membership have been established:

  • Probationary. All new members will be placed on a probationary posting status. All posts from a person on probationary status are automatically sent to and reviewed by the Forum manager before they go to the list membership and may be rejected if deemed inappropriate. Inappropriate posts will be rejected, not edited. At the discretion of the Forum manager, a probationary member can be advanced to Full Member, or placed on No Posting status.

  • No Posting. The member, due to his or her status as a student or interested third party, will receive Network messages, but will not be allowed to post messages.

  • Full Member. Full posting privileges are granted. Messages posted are automatically broadcast by the Network system to all other members.

Network rules.

  • Maintain a professional tone to your postings at all times; absolutely no inappropriate language or personal attacks will be tolerated. Intellectual discussion is encouraged. The occasional disagreement is inevitable, but a professional demeanor must be kept. Remember, your words are reaching hundreds of victim assistance scholars and professionals from around the world, including the heads of state/provincial, federal, government, and international programs. Personal attacks in any form will be grounds for sanctions, up to and including permanent removal from the list.

  • No outside advertisements other than those of a victim assistance-related function are allowed.

  • Please maintain confidentiality and prevent secondary victimization of our clients by not relating too much detail. If you wish to discuss a particular client/case, please do not give details which might identify the client.

  • Messages sent to the Network are considered the property of the author. If you would like to use specific quotes from Network messages in classes, research, seminars, etc., please get permission from the author of the message.

  • The direct forwarding or cross-posting of discussion threads from other forums to the Victim Assistance Network (and vice versa) is forbidden. Feel free to suggest new ideas or topics of discussion taken from other forums, and to pass on factual information from our list such as seminar dates, management concepts, schedules, etc., but the forwarding of posts or discussion threads wholesale will not be allowed.

  • The following topics are forbidden due to their extremely controversial and disruptive natures, or because they do not relate directly to victim assistance: gun control, death penalty, "victims as advocates versus nonvictim advocates."

Sanctions. All postings to the list are monitored. At the discretion of the Forum manager, anyone deemed violating one or more rules can be subject to one or more of the following sanctions:

  • Reduction to probationary status: A member can have his or her posting privileges reduced to the probationary level, with all future posts subject to review by the Forum manager. This sanction can be lifted at the discretion of the Forum manager.

  • Loss of posting privileges (no posting): The member can receive messages, but is permanently barred from posting. This sanction, if used, is irrevocable.

  • Removal from the Network: Normally used only in very extreme cases, a member who is removed from the Victim Assistance Network as a sanction is permanently barred from rejoining.

  • The Victim Assistance E-mail Network requires applicants to complete an agreement and questionnaire that indicates their willingness to comply with the policies and rules noted above. For additional information about this Network, or its model rules and policies, please contact (Randy McCall 2000).


Sometimes it is important for e-mail users to restrict knowledge about their identity. Anonymous e-mail servers permit users to forward e-mail through their special server, which then removes any indication of the originator's identity. Such a server can benefit crime victims who need information or support, but wish to remain anonymous. By the use of an anonymous e-mail server, crime victims might very candidly share personal information across the Internet with no fear that their privacy will be invaded.


FTP is a facility of the Internet that allows users to download computer files from other sites. It is often used to transfer software or recent updates to software. FTP abilities have beenlargely incorporated into Web browsers, thereby making the necessity of separate FTP applications largely unnecessary.


The Telnet utility allows Internet users to log on to remote computers and utilize them as though they were located locally. Although usually restricted by security considerations, Telnet allows remote users to utilize the information from large databases as though it were located on their desktop. The use of Telnet is largely restricted to advanced Internet users.


Ichat and chat rooms are Internet facilities that allow individuals to participate in online, real-time computer conversations. As one user types messages, they can be viewed and responded to by others on the channel. Users can go offline publicly and restrict their conversations to only two participants.

These facilities can be used by victims seeking online counseling or help from a virtual support group. Like many other utilities, these two facilities have been largely incorporated into Web browsers.

Accessing Information: Office for Victims of Crime Resource Center

(The following information was extracted from the 2001 National Crime Victims' Rights Week Resource Guide, published in 2001 by the Victims' Assistance Legal Organization, Inc. (VALOR), with grant support from the Office for Victims of Crime, U.S. Department of Justice.)


The advent of information technologies, especially the enormous growth of the Internet, has changed the way in which information about crime victims' issues is being made available to researchers, advocates, and practitioners. Today, victims and victim service providers can instantly access an enormous amount of information specific to their needs, including the latest research findings, statistical reports, program descriptions, grant and funding sources, evaluations on victim issues, promising practices, and referrals to professional organizations in the victim-serving community.

For victims and victim service providers, information access begins with the Office for Victims of Crime Resource Center (OVCRC), a component of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS). Established by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), U.S. Department of Justice, OVCRC is your primary source for crime victim information. OVCRC is accessible 24 hours a day through the NCJRS World Wide Web Justice Information Center and Fax-on-Demand where menus provide information and publications from all Office for Justice Program (OJP) agencies-Office for Victims of Crime, National Institute of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and Bureau of Justice Assistance--as well as from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In addition tothe Web site, victim assistance professionals can benefit by taking advantage of various online services, such as the Justice Information (JUSTINFO) Electronic Newsletter, e-mail inquiries, the Conference Calender Database, and the Online Ordering Store. NCJRS also has highly trained information specialists to personally answer questions and direct individuals to the best resources available. Furthermore, NCJRS offers allied professionals an opportunity to be placed on their mailing list to receive up-to-date information via the NCJRS Catalog. Together with online services, Fax-on-Demand, and personal assistance, NCJRS and OVCRC can help victim advocates know more to better serve the needs of victims of crime.


To contact NCJRS, call 800-851-3420. NCJRS Online can be accessed in the following ways:

NCJRS World Wide Web homepage. The homepage provides NCJRS information, and links to other criminal justice resources from around the world. The NCJRS Web page provides information about NCJRS and OJP agencies, grant-funding opportunities, full-text publications, key-word searching of NCJRS publications, access to the NCJRS Abstracts Database, the current NCJRS Catalog, and a topical index. The address for the NCJRS Homepage is http://www.ncjrs.gov.

NCJRS Online Ordering System. Publications, videos, and other materials that pertain to criminal justice, juvenile justice, and drug control policy can now be ordered at any time. The onlinestore is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Justice Information (JUSTINFO) electronic newsletter. This free, online newsletter is distributed to your Internet e-mail address on the 1st and 15th of each month. JUSTINFO contains information concerning a wide variety of subjects, including news from all Office of Justice Programs (OJP) agencies and the Office of National Drug Control Policy; criminal justice resources on the Internet; criminal justice funding and program information; and announcements about new NCJRS products and services. To subscribe, send an e-mail with the message subscribe justinfo [your name].

E-mail: information and help. Users requiring technical assistance or having specific questions on criminal and juvenile justice topics can send an e-mail to askncjrs@ncjrs.gov. To place an order for publications, users may send an e-mail.


Fax-on-demand. NCJRS has established a "fax-on-demand" service that allows the user to obtain copies of selected NCJRS documents directly through their own fax machine, using a toll-free telephone number. To access the fax-on-demand menu, simply call 1-800-851-3420, and follow the prompts.

CD-ROM and online access to the Abstracts Database. Users with CD-ROM capability can also obtain the NCJRS Abstracts Database on CD-ROM. This disc features citations and abstracts of more than 140,000 criminal justice books, research reports, journal articles, government documents, program descriptions, program evaluations, and training manuals contained in the NCJRS Research and Information Center library collection. The disc also contains search software that supports retrieval, using any combination of words to search individual fields or all fields globally. The disc can be searched using "free text" methods, or in combination with the National Criminal Justice Thesaurus. In addition, the NCJRS Abstracts Database is available on the NCJRS Homepage.


Crime victims and victim service providers have witnessed a remarkable growth in the amount of information available to them, through the continued development of the Internet--especially the World Wide Web. Now, victim-serving agencies and advocacy organizations have the ability to reach around the corner or around the world with information about new issues, services, and promising practices designed to improve the welfare of victims of all types of crime. In an effort to present the most comprehensive and timely information available through this vast medium, the Office for Victims of Crime has substantially revised its World Wide Web homepage. OVC encourages crime victims and victim service providers alike to visit this comprehensive resource.

Many other agencies and organizations are now providing victim-related information through the World Wide Web. The following is a list of sites on the Web that contain information on selected crime victimization topics. Please note that this list is intended only to provide a sample of available resources, and does not constitute an endorsement of opinions, resources, or statements made therein.

Promising Practices

(Many of the following promising practices were identified through the "Promising Strategies and Practices in Using Technology to Benefit Victims" Project sponsored by the National Center for Victims of Crime. Their inclusion in this text does not construe an endorsement.)

  • The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) has initiated a campaign to get people to donate their old cell phones for a worthwhile purpose. The Coalition will refurbish the phones and activate them so that women who are at risk for domestic violence can use them to call 911 (the only number that can be called) when help is needed. The criteria for donating a phone are: (1) The phone has to be in working order; (2) The battery must be included with the phone; and (3) The charger must also be included. Donors are provided with a receipt for IRS tax deduction purposes.

  • The North Carolina Department of Correction Victim Serviceshas developed a Web search engine that only searches Web pages directly related to victim advocacy. Sites that have been entered as part of the search engine include recognized federal, state, and local victimadvocacy and government agencies. This allows the searcher to avoid having to look through pages of unrelated links that come up on a random search on the Web.

  • The I-Pass/Unitz case tracking system was developed by the Louisville, Kentucky-based Center for Women and Families in January 1998. The Center provides a wide variety of services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, including job search and retention services. The Center designed a client management/database to fit the demographics of the victims it serves to track not only vital statistics, but also incidences of abuse, weapons used, outcomes of court cases, etc.

  • The District Attorney Case Management System (DA-CMS) is a case management application, with a victim services module, for use by Oregon's district attorneys. The application is an integrated local criminal justice information system that links law enforcement, jails, district attorneys, courts, and corrections with each other through a locally integrated database, and with regional and state partners through gateways to existing external systems. Victim advocates can track cases from intake through final disposition. A gateway to the state court system's statewide network automatically provides all event and disposition information. DA-CMS was developed in 1998 by the Willamette Criminal Justice Council and is currently being utilized in multiple counties in Oregon.

  • The Domestic Violence Inventory (DVI) is an automated (computer scored) domestic violence offender assessment instrument. The DVI has 55 items, takes 30 minutes to complete, and has six scales (measures): truthfulness scale, violence (lethality) scale, control scale, alcohol scale, drugs scale, and stress coping ability scale. The DVI can be administered in four ways:

    • Paper-pencil test booklet format.
    • On the computer screen/monitor.
    • Optical scanner.
    • Human (audio) voice.

    Client risk is determined for each of the six DVI scales independently based on the client's pattern of responding. It has a built-in proprietary database that facilitates ongoing database research and test program summary reports. Created by a private company, the DVI is utilized by courts, corrections, and community-based programs in hundreds of jurisdictions across the United States.

  • In existence since September 1992, the Massachusetts Registry of Civil Restraining Orders (RCRO) is a first-of-its-kind, statewide, comprehensive database of domestic violence restraining orders issued by the Massachusetts Trial Court. Containing over 230,000 restraining orders, the Registry is integrated into the Trial Court's database of over two million people and 11 million cases. Considered a national model, this integrated system provides up-to-date criminal, delinquency, and domestic violence court history information to judges for use in assessing dangerousness during bail, sentencing, and restraining order decisions.

    The RCRO and other components of the Trial Court information systems are made available to the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) via electronic link. Astrong relationship between the Massachusetts Trial Court and CJIS ensures that Trial Court data are made available twenty-four hours a day to state and local law enforcement for arrest and investigation purposes.

    The Registry, designed to support domestic violence prevention and enforcement activities, has also supported the development of many new practices. New domestic violence programs for offender monitoring and victim assistance have been developed in many local probation offices.

    While initially created for criminal justice purposes, this statewide system incorporates the Superior, District, Boston Municipal, and Family Court Departments. In addition to Trial Court utilization, the RCRO is used by jails, houses of correction (prisons), and parole authorities to ensure that victim safety is maintained during custody and by human and social service agencies for use in child custody, foster care placement, and adoption determinations.

  • The Victim Notification Automated System (VNAS) was developed by the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC). Part I of the system entails an automated, toll-free telephone line for victims to call and speak with a staff person between 8:15 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. On evenings, weekends, and holidays, victims can receive offender status such as parole, location, projected release date, by using a PIN number to access the automated system. Part II of the system is a victim notification system that establishes a relational database between the victim database and offender database that allows letters to be automatically generated when an offender's status changes. Both applications were developed for Commonwealth-wide usage.

  • BANNER Courts is a case and financial management software for courts of all jurisdictions in the United States and internationally. It includes case management for victim/witness information (including notification), and features an automated payment tracking system that can monitor restitution and child support payments. It was developed in 1994 by a private company and is currently being utilized in nine states.

  • The Court Ordered Payment System (COPS), developed by the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) in 1991, is designed to receipt payments of fines and fees (including restitution) from offenders, apply the money to the offenders' victims'/payees' accounts, and quickly disburse checks within 72 hours of the offenders' payments to the various victims and payees. This is a statewide system that incorporates prison, probation, parole, and all twenty judicial circuits, so if the offender transfers anywhere in Florida, the same system is utilized (resulting in no need for "paper transfer" of records between supervising officers). The system is also utilized to notify victims and law enforcement of an inmate's release from prison.

  • The Domestic Violence Virtual Conference of Judges CD-ROM, developed by the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) in 1996, is a two-disk multimedia, interactive CD-ROM program that features some of the nation's leading experts in domestic abuse. Users can make rulings in a hypothetical domestic violence criminal court case and compare their rulings to those of their colleagues, interview a psychologist who works with both victims and perpetrators, find statistics on domestic violence, and take a "quiz" to test their knowledge. The program provides judges and judicial educators with an innovative andaccessible learning tool that can be used individually or with other judges as an integral part of continuing education courses.

  • The diagnosis of violence-related injuries most often depends on a visualization of the injuries. In 1997, in response to the need for immediate visual consultations in cases of child abuse and neglect, the Los Angeles County and University of Southern California Center for the Vulnerable Child/Violence Intervention Program (CVC/VIP) developed the first-of-its-kind telemedicine program for providing immediate diagnostic support to programs including rural clinics and emerging Child Advocacy Centers and Multidisciplinary Teams.

    The telemedicine program is in daily use by satellite programs (High Desert Hospital and Olive View Medical Center in California; Alaska; and various Indian reservations). It is currently being expanded throughout Los Angeles County for use as peer review and continuing medical education. This program is used by centers with sophisticated technology or by programs that simply rely on 35mm or digital photography. The CVC/VIP is one of the largest comprehensive child abuse centers in the United States. The major focus of this program is to rely on a multidisciplinary team approach to intervene for children and families where child abuse has been identified as a problem. The CVC was the pioneer in developing the technology for the photo documentation of trauma associated with sexual assault, which is currently the standard of care accepted throughout the world.

  • In recent years, several private technology firms have developed and made available to the general public various software programs, date equipment, and data systems regarding services for victims of crime, particularly relating to offender information and tracking. These new products include the following:

    • Continuous offender monitoring capability that permits automated real-time violation notification for offenders and advanced warning for victims (and potential victims) of crime. This comprehensive system is comprised of offender equipment, agency equipment, victim equipment, and a central data system. It has centralized authority at the a data center where the offender's rules of release and off-limit areas are defined and stored. The system has autonomous execution because the offender's PTD is loaded with the rules of release and off-limit areas, and will notify both the offender and the data center when the offender violates these rules.

      Victims of crime can be provided with a notification interface using a pager and/or phone (cellular or land line). The agency is provided with a remote computer workstation interface for map displays, rules, administration, and reports. Law enforcement can also be provided with a remote computer workstation interface to perform crime scene correlation regarding offenders on the system.

    • Victim information and notification technology that utilizes a centralized call center with both live operators and automated interactive voice prompts to provide crime victims and other designated groups with twenty-four hours a day access to select offender information via the telephone. Callers use basic offender information such as a name, case or booking number to procure accurate inmate and case data, and then register using a self-selected PIN number to receive an automated telephone notification in the event that the status changes. A computer interface is established between the call center and on-site agencies such as the local jail, court, district attorney's office, or corrections/parole agency. Examples of information that can be monitored through such technology include custody status, court information, charge information, etc.
    • An artificial intuition system that assists case evaluators in making high-stakes predictions of violence. This is a case management tool that brings expert opinion and research results to the management of situations that may escalate to violence. It asks questions and evaluates factors about a given case, and prompts the user to select from a predetermined range of answers. Different systems can be used for different predictive challenges, including situations involving: predicting which domestic violence situations are most likely to escalate to homicide; screening of threats to senior officials (governors, members of Congress, mayors, agency heads, etc.) as well as threats to federal judges and prosecutors; evaluation of cases of possible violence in the workplace; determination of which abortion clinics are most likely to be targeted for violence; and determination of which cases of child abuse are most likely to escalate or reach a lethal level. Additionally, systems are being developed to help determine the "provability" of domestic violence cases so that prosecutors can better screen and manage the cases that are brought to them for review.

Innovative Technologies and the Information Age Self-Examination

1. Describe two benefits of innovative technologies that can help victims of crime and victim service providers.


2. Describe two barriers to the development or use of technologies that could benefit victims of crime and victim service providers.


3. What is the World Wide Web?


4. Describe one program or service available electronically on the Internet from the U.S. Department of Justice.


5. Describe a promising practice utilizing innovative technologies to benefit victims (either one highlighted in this chapter or one used by your agency or in your community).


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Chapter 21 Innovative Technologies and the Information Age June 2001
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