Despite the increase in rights and services for victims over the past two decades, many victims still struggle to discover what rights they have, what services and resources are available, and how to access them. OVC recognizes its responsibility to lead the way in improving the treatment of victims, highlighting victims' rights, and improving the scope and delivery of victim services. OVC programs help communities expand and reinforce their ability to serve victimswhether through helping victims pay for emergency needs, enhancing services in underserved areas, or offering specialized information to service providers.
Services for Trafficking Victims
Each year, nearly 14,500 to 17,500 peoplemostly women and childrenare trafficked into the United States for the purposes of forced labor, forced prostitution, and other forms of modern-day slavery. Most victims are subjected to psychological coercion and physical abuse ranging from verbal threats and abuse to starvation, rape, and torture. In October 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to combat trafficking in persons and to protect victims. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2001, OVC funded the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to assist victims of severe forms of trafficking by providing emergency services when those services are not available from another source.
In FY 2002, Congress appropriated $10 million to the U.S. Department of Justice to fund a trafficking victim services grant program. OVC developed and began administering the Services for Trafficking Victims Discretionary Grant Program, which made funding available to states, Indian tribes, units of local government, and nonprofit victim service organizations for the development, expansion, and strengthening of services for trafficking victims. The authorizing legislation also provided for research, evaluation, training, and technical assistance.
OVC awarded 12 discretionary grants in February 2003: eight of these grants support comprehensive services to trafficking victims in a specific state or region, including medical treatment, food and shelter, vocational and English-language training, mental health counseling, case management, and legal support; three of the grants support specialized services for trafficking victims in larger multistate areas; and one grant supports training and technical assistance for other grantees. OVC also transferred funds to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to evaluate this demonstration program. The NIJ evaluation is focusing on three sites.
In December 2003, Congress continued to support help for trafficking victims by passing the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. This act further protects victims by
- Allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to consider statements from state and local law enforcement officials as a way to meet a statutory requirement showing that victims have "been willing to assist in the investigation and prosecution of state and local crimes" involving severe forms of trafficking.
- Establishing a senior policy operating group to share grant information.
- Increasing the Department of Justice's authorization for appropriation for FY 2004 and FY 2005 to provide grants for states and localities, and authorizing additional funding for training at international law enforcement academies.
- Prohibiting the use of appropriated funds to "promote, support, or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution."
Also in December 2003, OVC released a competitive solicitation for the development and provision of comprehensive services for trafficking victims in unserved and underserved geographic areas. OVC made 10 awards to victim service providers in July 2004.
Victim Services in Rural Law Enforcement
Victims in rural areas face additional obstacles that affect the availability, timeliness, and quality of victim services: long distances, geographic isolation, limited funding and resources, a lack of information about victimization, and social attitudes that may discourage victims from seeking help. Law enforcement officers are often the first individuals to approach victims after a crime and may be the only contact that victims have with the criminal justice system. In rural communities with limited resources to help victims begin the emotional, physical, and financial healing process, law enforcement agencies need help identifying resources and promising practices that creatively and economically meet this need.
In Fiscal Year 2002, OVC announced a competitive funding program called the Victim Services in Rural Law Enforcement Initiative. The Alabama Attorney General's Office and the National Sheriffs' Association were selected to develop the 4-year initiative to integrate a strong victim assistance component into rural law enforcement agencies. In the first year of the initiative, each project will competitively select 10 rural sites to receive a grant to complete a planning process and community needs assessment. Subsequently, the sites will receive additional funding to develop or significantly enhance their ability to provide assistance to victims, including the first response to victims by law enforcement.
Victim Reunification Travel Program: Addressing
International Parental Child Abduction Cases
The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of State have established a cooperative agreement with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to assist parents whose children are illegally taken across U.S. borders by a spouse or biological parent. The International Parental Kidnapping Act of 1993 makes international kidnapping a federal felony and authorizes criminal fines and/or imprisonment on anyone who removes a child from the United States or unlawfully retains a visiting child in a foreign country. Since creation of NCMEC's Victim Reunification Program in 1996, 174 children have been reunited with "left behind"/custodial parents. OVC has provided funding for this project since Fiscal Year 1997.
OVC provides support to the parents who are left behind, including services such as payment of transportation expenses required to attend a court proceeding with the child, translation of documents related to court hearings and the reunification process, and counseling support to prepare the parents for reunification and minimize the trauma for the child. In FY 2004, OVC facilitated travel of left-behind parents in recovering 20 children. The program is funded and monitored by OVC's Terrorism and International Victim Assistance Services Division. For additional reading about international parental abduction of children, visit NCMEC.
Federal Crime Victim Assistance Emergency Fund
Often victims of federal crime who attempt to exercise their rights or seek services lack adequate resources or access to traditional sources of support. To minimize this hardship, OVC established the Federal Crime Victim Assistance Emergency Fund. Participation in the fund is based on specific participation in both the criminal justice system and services for victims as outlined in the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (as amended), the Crime Control Act of 1990, and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Fund resources are available to meet the needs of victims of federal crime if a federal agency requests assistance.
In the past, OVC has provided funding to the Department of Justice's Executive Office for United States Attorneys, Civil Rights DivisionCriminal Section, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. OVC also recently developed a small emergency fund that allows other federal agencies to assist federal victims with emergency needs. Funds have been used to provide emergency services such as:
- Crisis intervention.
- Food and clothing.
- Legal assistance.
- Shelter or temporary housing.
- Necessary and reasonable transportation for a victim to receive crisis intervention or medical services.
- Payment of necessary and reasonable costs for the forensic medical examination of a sexual assault victim.
- Services that help the victim participate in judicial proceedings, such as necessary and reasonable transportation to court, childcare, and interpreters.
OVC is committed to helping victim service organizations secure the training, technical assistance, and material resources they need to build their capacity. Many initiatives are directed toward victims of crime whose cases fall under federal criminal jurisdiction. However, each program seeks to broaden the support for all victims in the United States and abroad.