Report to Congress
December 1999


Chapter 3

Advocating for Crime Victims' Rights

Promoting Victims' Rights
Supporting the Implementation of Legislation at the Federal Level
Supporting the Implementation of Legislation at the State Level
Survey To Determine Crime Victims' Needs
Raising Public Awareness
OVC Resource Center
OVC Web Site
Training and Technical Assistance Center
National Crime Victims' Rights Week
Defining the Needs of Crime Victims in the Next Millennium
Conclusion

OVC undertakes many efforts and activities that while labor intensive are strategic to OVC's mission, and, most importantly, bring about systemic change. OVC's numerous activities to focus public attention on crime victims' needs and rights seek to encourage victim cooperation and participation with the criminal justice system. OVC's goals guide its leadership role and the efforts it undertakes to further victims' rights and services at all levels of government—Federal, State, Tribal, and local.

Promoting Victims' Rights

In FYs 1997–1998, OVC continued to actively support the enactment and enforcement of consistent, fundamental rights for crime victims in Federal, State, juvenile, military, and Tribal justice systems. It supported the concept of a constitutional amendment to ensure fundamental rights for victims of crime and stronger legislation to improve victim participation in all phases of the criminal justice process. It also worked closely with State governments to help them address victim rights and services in a more comprehensive manner.

Line

"It doesn't take long before you begin to feel as an outsider during the legal process and you're not sure if information or concern you've given to an investigating officer or prosecutor is being passed on to others involved in the case. W.I.N.D.O.W. can represent the victim with their thoughts and concerns and everyone benefits with more knowledge and understanding. I believe the way to fight crime more effectively is by giving the victim more power and rights and W.I.N.D.O.W. is a good place to start."

—A victim who received services from a
VOCA-funded program in Minnesota

Line

Supporting the Implementation of Legislation at the Federal Level
While the scope of rights extended to crime victims has expanded considerably, victims are still being denied their right to participate in the justice system. OVC recognizes Congress' strong advocacy for crime victims and witnesses—reflected in legislation passed and mandates issued on their behalf—and has continued to support congressional legislation aimed at securing further protections for victims. While victims' rights have been enacted in States and at the Federal level, rights for crime victims remain inconsistent nationwide. Furthermore, most legislatively established rights for crime victims lack enforcement mechanisms, leaving crime victims without adequate legal remedies once they have been violated. In fact, the first recommendation contained in New Directions (see text box below) supports a Federal constitutional amendment as vital to (1) establishing a consistent "floor of rights" for crime victims in every State and at the Federal level, (2) ensuring that courts engage in a careful and conscientious balancing of the rights of victims and defendants, (3) guaranteeing crime victims the opportunity to participate in proceedings related to crimes against them, and (4) enhancing the participation of victims in the criminal justice process.2

Supporting the Implementation of Legislation at the State Level
Although 31 States passed constitutional amendments by the close of FY 1998, States recognize the need to go beyond passing legislation and ensure compliance with legislative provisions in order to protect crime victims. States have begun to do this by creating programs that oversee the implementation of victims' rights.

OVC funded the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) to conduct an analysis of victims' rights compliance programs varying in structure and scope in three States—Colorado, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. NCJA convened a focus group of victims' rights compliance program administrators from these three States, as well as from Arizona and South Carolina, to start creating a compliance program development guide. With funding from OVC, NCJA is developing a curriculum to train State policymakers on creating and implementing victims' rights compliance programs. In addition, OVC amended its VOCA victim assistance guidelines to allow States to use Federal CVF to support the implementation of rights afforded to crime victims under State constitutional amendments.

Victims' Rights Recommendation from the Field #1

The U.S. Constitution should be amended to guarantee fundamental rights for victims of crime. Constitutionally protected rights should include the right to notice of public court proceedings and to attend them; to make a statement to the court about bail, sentencing, and accepting a plea; to be told about, to attend, and to speak at the parole hearings; to notice when the defendant or convict escapes, is released, or dies; to an order of restitution from the convicted offender; to a disposition free from unreasonable delay; to consideration for the safety of the victim in determining any release from custody; to notice of these rights; and to standing to enforce them.

Survey To Determine Crime Victims' Needs
Providing leadership support to State level efforts, OVC guided and supported the Council of State Governments (the Council) in FYs 1997–1998 by providing technical assistance to help convene regional meetings of State legislators, crime victims and their advocates, and criminal justice representatives. The Council engaged in an effort to assess public attitudes about the criminal justice system and the implementation of victims' rights statutes.

In November 1997, key criminal justice officials representing States in the Council's Eastern Region agreed that a survey of the public and of victims in their States would help clarify perspectives on the current state of the criminal justice system. In June 1998, OVC assisted the Council in arranging a meeting with victim advocates, VOCA administrators, and criminal justice professionals to determine the survey's approach.

In November 1998, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) provided funds to support the formation of the survey instrument and to have the survey data analyzed. OVC arranged for Council representatives to present the methodology used for this public opinion poll at the 1998 National Organization of Victim Assistance Conference to receive input on the methodology from the field and to see the response polled by the survey. The survey findings were presented at the 1999 NOVA conference.

Line

New year chimes in with expanded victim rights

"With the stroke of midnight, not only did Marylanders ring in the last year of the 20th Century, they also rang in something that the Stephanie Roper Committee has been fighting for since its founding in 1982...expanded victims' rights.

"As of January 1, Senate Bill 241, Parole Hearings—Oral Testimony by Victims, became law, expanding the categories to which victims have a say in parole hearings....

"Roper explained that conspiracy to commit murder, assault, and child abuse were not considered crimes of violence and her committee made changing that consideration a high priority for the 1998 legislative session."

—Excerpt from an article by Dave Crozier in
The Calvert Independent, January 6, 1999

Line

OVC believes the Council's approach of bringing together victims, victim advocates, legislators, and criminal policymakers has the potential to catalyze important collaborative work in the 10 States represented in the Eastern Regional Conference, serving as a model for replication in the Council's other regional conferences. Already a number of States in the Eastern Regional Conference have established task forces and developed legislative packages to address victims needs and expectations identified in the survey.

Raising Public Awareness

Part of OVC's mission is to raise awareness of crime victims' rights and services. This responsibility includes informing the public of what those rights are and providing information about training and technical assistance to victim advocates and allied professionals. OVC, through its work with national criminal justice and victim services organizations as well as other national and international bodies, continually identifies a variety of critical topics that expands the perception of victimization. As a result of this work, victimization issues have emerged that include the elderly and people with disabilities, terrorism both at home and abroad, financial fraud, and trafficking of women and children for sexual or commercial purposes. OVC generates materials such as brochures, informational bulletins, promising practices compendia, and information packets on victim-related issues that help to raise public awareness about the plight of crime victims and the public's responsibilities to them. OVC consistently makes these publications, books, and products available at conferences and other forums. In addition, OVC encourages partnerships with disciplines and agencies outside the traditional victim assistance field, an action which upholds New Directions recommendations to form partnerships (see chapter 4, "Forming Partnerships To Enhance Victim Services"). OVC also produces public service announcements and training videos to raise public awareness of crime victims' issues and rights. As part of the outreach efforts to victim service professionals and the general public, OVC maintains a Resource Center, a Web site, and a Training and Technical Assistance Center, and produces resource materials for National Crime Victims' Rights Week—a week designated each year that is devoted to raising public awareness of victims' rights and needs.

Line Victimization issues have emerged that include the elderly and people with disabilities, terrorism both at home and abroad, financial fraud, and trafficking of women and children for sexual or commercial purposes. Line

OVC Resource Center
Established in 1983 by OVC and DOJ, the OVC Resource Center (OVCRC) is a preeminent source for crime victim information. As a component of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), OVCRC provides direct access to the most comprehensive criminal justice library in the world—the NCJRS Research and Information Center. OVCRC continually targets and strives to reach new and unserved populations as well as nontraditional audiences through aggressive outreach by using mass mailings to inform the public about available resources and by providing access to information at conference exhibits. OVCRC responds to a vast network of agencies, organizations, and individuals that have an interest in and concern for crime victim issues. In FYs 1997–1998, OVC provided more than $1.1 million to support OVCRC activities. Requests for information in these years came primarily from State and local criminal justice professionals and private organizations (see Table 3 for breakdown of requesters).

Information technology enhances OVCRC's ability to provide support to the field through the Internet and use of fax technologies, which makes information available from OVCRC 24 hours a day.

Table 3

OVC discretionary grantees produce many video and print products to help those in the field better serve victims of crime (see Appendix 6 for "OVC Publications and Products, FYs 1997 and 1998"). Printed products are available through OVCRC in numerous formats, including brochures, fact sheets, bulletins, newsletters, training guides, resource directories, and monographs. In FY 1998, OVC funded the development of videos and companion guidebooks to help victims of juvenile crime participate in the criminal justice process, and demonstrate to criminal justice professionals the importance of victim involvement. Fact sheets distributed to Indian Country included lists of model programs, information on grant writing and Victim Assistance in Indian Country (VAIC) grant requirements, among other issues.

OVC Web Site
Another useful way that OVC makes its resources available to the field is through its Web site, located at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/ . The OVC Web site is accessed by crime victims, victim advocates, VOCA administrators and VOCA subrecipients, discretionary grantees, educators, policymakers, and the general public. In FYs 1997–1998, the OVC Web site averaged 1,233 hits a day. For FY 1998, there were 30,455 hits to OVC publications on the Justice Information Center Web site at http://www.ncjrs.gov/. Contact Information

The most popular pages during the biennium were the OVC home page, "What's New at OVC," "Help for Crime Victims," and "Information Resources," which was added when the OVC Web page was redesigned in April 1998. The most popular documents downloaded during this period were: 1998 National Crime Victims' Rights Week Kit, 2,801 times; 1998 Discretionary Program Application Kit, 2,585 times; and 1997 Program Directory (Compensation), 1,334 times.

Results of an "ASK OVC" Web survey, conducted in FY 1998 to assess the usefulness of OVC Web and e-mail functions elicited most responses (50 percent) from crime victims themselves. Most of the time, users sought information about national, State, and local victim assistance resources; legal rights; and grants. Others were looking for counseling, advocacy, or help information, or were in search of OVC publications or training and victim compensation information. User recommendations about the Web site included adding more links to other Federal agencies; where legal assistance is available from States; information on juvenile crime, stalking, and other States' crime victim programs; and publications for homicide survivors. OVC always updates and expands its Web site to respond to the specific needs of its constituency.

OVC TTA logo

Training and Technical Assistance Center
In April 1998 as an expansion of its Trainers Bureau, OVC established the Training and Technical Assistance Center (TTAC). TTAC serves as a centralized point of contact for requesting information about OVC's training and technical assistance resources and for funneling needed resources to local, State, Tribal, and Federal agencies to strengthen their capacity to serve victims. The transition from a Trainer's Bureau—essentially a speaker's bureau—to TTAC meant moving beyond a public awareness function to providing victim advocates with technical assistance on strategies that strengthen their program and with training that improves the delivery of victim services. With TTAC, OVC can now help to mobilize efforts in a community, using the expertise of OVC's discretionary and formula grantees and other highly skilled consultants to tailor programs to meet a jurisdiction's specific victim needs.

TTAC's activities focused on the following four areas:

  • Consultant Pool: Establish and maintain a pool of experts capable of supporting OVC's initiative to provide effective onsite technical assistance to address significant operational problems and needs.

  • Training: Provide training on a wide variety of topics to agencies and organizations across the country. In addition, TTAC identifies key training needs in the field with a goal of establishing a training calendar for ongoing regional training. The regional training programs are a way to ensure that materials, developed by discretionary grantees in partnership with OVC, are continuously available to the victims service field.

  • Technical Assistance: Provide expert, focused support and mentoring in areas such as program development, management, evaluation, and policy and procedure development to facilitate long-term, systemic change that will improve services to crime victims.

  • Speaker's Bureau: Support State and local jurisdictions by identifying speakers for conferences, focus groups, and other meetings.

During the period that OVC managed the Trainers Bureau (9/96–3/98), there were 94 requests for assistance from the field (see Table 4). These requests included providing speakers for workshops and conferences, supporting State VOCA programs through mentor visits (assistance provided to install automated claims processing systems; review State legislation, policy, and procedures governing compensation programs; and more), and deploying crisis response teams to assist State and local jurisdictions in responding to incidents of multiple victimization, such as the Oklahoma City bombing.

Table 4

The number of requests received by TTAC for technical assistance during its first year of operation exceeded all expectations. A further resource TTAC has made available to requesters is the products, program implementation assistance, and continued training developed from grants. Figure 5 reflects the numbers of requests broken out by type of service (training, technical assistance, meetings/conference support) and organization between May 1998 and April 1999.

Line With TTAC, OVC can now help to mobilize efforts in a community, using the expertise of OVC's discretionary and formula grantees and other highly skilled consultants to tailor programs to meet a jurisdiction's specific victim needs. Line

Through TTAC, OVC will continue to fill its legislative mandate to provide national-scope training and technical assistance. During its first year, TTAC received requests for technical assistance from all but eight U.S. States. In addition, TTAC provided support to Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. See Appendix 7 for a summary of the number of TTAC-supported technical assistance events by State.

Figure 5

OVC also provides services to communities that have suffered mass victimization through its Community Crisis Response (CCR) component within TTAC. OVC's CCR program was established to improve services to victims of violent crime in communities experiencing multiple victimizations and communitywide trauma. In FYs 1997–1998, OVC deployed 10 crisis response teams to assist victims in the aftermath of several violent community incidents. These teams responded to student shootings at four schools, the kidnaping and murder of three young girls, abortion clinic bombings, and gang-related killings of young children (see Appendix 8, "Summary of FYs 1997 and 1998 Crisis Response Deployments"). In all cases, a National Organization of Victim Assistance team was sent to spend from 2 to 5 days in each community, debriefing various groups, including law enforcement, clergy, school officials, hospital officials, housing officials, parents, teachers, victim advocates, first responders, and the community. All cases involved multiple witnesses—many of whom were children or parents—who required mental health services. Any response to victims and surviving family members should include emergency crisis counseling and intervention as well as long-term mental health services.

Line OVC recognizes that it can strengthen the response to mass violence in communities by increasing a community's own capacity to respond more effectively to mass victimization. Line

OVC recognizes that it can strengthen the response to mass violence in communities by increasing a community's own capacity to respond more effectively to mass victimization. To promote a community's capacity to respond to crisis, OVC requires participants in CCR training to demonstrate their willingness to establish and maintain their own community response team as a condition of receiving training. Historically, OVC has provided short-term technical assistance to these communities, consisting mainly of training for local service providers and deployment of crisis response teams. Besides providing immediate crisis response services to address the trauma of victimization in communities, OVC is working to increase local capacity through training offered to a variety of public and private State and local groups including law enforcement officials, victim services providers, and local community organizers to help them form and support their own community crisis response teams. VOCA-funded victim assistance programs often offer crisis counseling services for victims as well. OVC's training and technical assistance to Indian Country has the same effect—enhancing the ability of American Indian communities to expand local capacity to respond to victims by sharing effective strategies with other Tribes.

OVC is encouraging States and communities to develop and improve their current response protocols, while still providing supplemental Federal funds to help mobilize local teams. OVC took this approach recently in Yosemite and Eureka, California, following the disappearance of two teenage girls and their mother while on vacation, and in the communities of Springfield, Oregon, and Littleton, Colorado, after the tragic school shootings there. An effective, coordinated response to mass crisis in communities is only achieved through preplanning and preparedness. OVC is encouraging States and communities to have specially defined roles and responsibilities and a "grassroots" commitment to ownership for these plans. Given the variations in infrastructure and resources of each community, no one model or "blueprint" will work for all communities. In the future, OVC will continue to assist States and communities in establishing policies, procedures, and protocols for handling a mass crisis response.

National Crime Victims' Rights Week
National Crime Victims' Rights Week (NCVRW) is the annual observance of the plight of crime victims and the work of victim advocates. Observed nationally each April since 1982, it is a week in which communities across the Nation host rallies, vigils, and public education campaigns in support of victims. To support community activities, OVC funds the development of an NCVRW resource kit, distributed to almost 10,000 local and Tribal victim assistance programs, national victim organizations, U.S. Attorney's offices, governors, State attorneys general, and others. The kit includes sample speeches and quotes for reaching the community on crime victim issues, tools for enhancing awareness through the media, tips for conducting community outreach, and camera-ready artwork and posters to promote activities.

Victims' Right Flag

As part of NCVRW, OVC organizes an annual ceremony on behalf of the President and the U.S. Attorney General to honor recipients of the Crime Victim Service Award, the highest Federal honor for victim advocacy. In 1997, the U.S. Attorney General honored 10 individuals and 3 organizations with this award. She also presented a Special Courage Award to the father of a victim of a gang slaying and the grandfather of the offender. The two now work together to educate youth on the impact of violence. In 1998, the U.S. Attorney General honored six individuals and three organizations with the Crime Victim Service Award and two individuals with a Special Heroism Award. In addition, the U.S. Attorney General presented special awards to seven programs for their work in assisting victims in the aftermath of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City. All recipients of the Crime Victim Service Award for FYs 1997–1998 are listed in Appendix 9.

Line

"I thank all of you for the tireless work you do each and every day for so many. You touch lives. You make a difference. You bring light to a time of darkness for victims and survivors of crime."

—U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno
National Crime Victims' Rights Week
April 18, 1997

Line

Defining the Needs of Crime Victims in the Next Millennium

OVC is continually working to keep the public informed of neglected victim populations. A major public awareness initiative by OVC in FYs 1997–1998 called attention to elderly victims of crime, particularly telemarketing scams targeted at senior citizens. In addition to focus groups and programs targeting this underserved population, OVC distributed more than 3,000 copies of Assisting Elderly Crime Victims and sponsored 11 workshops on elder abuse. Another important area for OVC during the past 2 fiscal years was the promotion of financial fraud victims' rights. OVC launched a campaign to encourage other Federal criminal justice system professionals to treat victims of financial fraud and economic crime like other crime victims. The unique work of Federal victim advocates and the ongoing collaboration between the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) and OVC has raised awareness of this neglected victim population. OVC worked with a variety of Federal Government representatives within and outside DOJ, along with nonprofit organizations, to create resources, sponsor national conferences, and hold focus and working groups to help the field expand its programs and provide more comprehensive services for victims of financial fraud.

Line A major public awareness initiative by OVC in FYs 1997–1998 called attention to elderly victims of crime, particularly telemarketing scams targeted at senior citizens. Line

Conclusion

Advocating for crime victims' rights and improving victim services at the Federal, Tribal, State, and local levels is a critically important function of the Office for Victims of Crime. VOCA and the Crime Victims Fund provides the necessary means for OVC to engage in a wide range of activities that furthered the efforts of the victims field. OVC focus groups, participation in the development of New Directions, meetings with victim advocates and crime victims, responding to victim inquiries sent to the President, First Lady, and U.S. Attorney General, and participation on inter- and intra-agency working groups has provided OVC firsthand knowledge of the continuing plight of crime victims. OVC is the only government agency established to address crime victims' issues. It advocates for victims' rights within every segment of society in several ways. For example, OVC raises public awareness and educates the public regarding victims' rights and needs. It promotes the improvement of victim services. OVC also encourages the development of policies and practices that are sensitive to crime victims through collaborative efforts with Congress and State legislators, criminal justice practitioners, national victim advocacy organizations, and others responsible for protecting victims' rights and delivering services to our Nation's nearly 32 million crime victims each year.


Line

2New Directions, Chapter 1: Victims' Rights Recommendation from the Field, U.S. GPO, 1998, p. 9.



Line
Report to Congress Report to Congress December 1999                                           OVCOffice for Victims of Crime


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