The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) is a federal agency located within the Office of Justice Programs of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that Congress formally established in 1988 through an amendment to the 1984 Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). OVC provides federal leadership and federal funds to support victim compensation and assistance programs around the country and advocates for the fair treatment of crime victims worldwide. OVC administers formula and discretionary grants designed to benefit victims, provides training for diverse professionals who work with victims, develops projects to enhance victims rights and services, and undertakes public education and awareness activities on behalf of crime victims. OVC accomplishes its work through the following divisions:
State Compensation and Assistance DivisionThis division administers formula grants for local and state crime victim compensation and assistance programs. Approximately 90 percent of the money deposited into the Crime Victims Fund each year is distributed through this division.
Special Projects DivisionAs the program development arm of OVC, this division establishes national-scope training, technical assistance, and demonstration programs; launches special initiatives that address major issues in the victims field, and provides education about crime victim issues.
Federal Crime Victims DivisionThrough this division, OVC works to provide federal crime victims with assistance and full participation in the criminal justice process. The division distributes funds to federal criminal justice agencies and American Indian Tribes and Alaskan Natives across the country to support training and direct services for victims.
Technical Assistance, Publications, and Information Resources UnitThis division manages the OVC Resource Center, the OVC Training and Technical Assistance Center, education and outreach initiatives, and the publication and dissemination of OVC materials and grant products.
OVCs programs and activities are funded through the Crime Victims Fund (CVF), which is derived not from tax dollars, but from fines and penalties paid by federal criminal offenders. This unique funding source helps support more than 4,000 local victim service agencies around the country, including domestic violence shelters, childrens advocacy centers, and rape treatment programs. CVF also helps support state efforts to reimburse victims for expenses related to their victimization, such as medical and mental health costs, lost wages, and funeral expenses. Since CVF was established in 1984, nearly $3.7 billion has been collected, and it helps more than 2 million victims each year. Recent years have seen dramatic fluctuations in CVF deposits (see figure 1). Deposits in fiscal year (FY) 1998 (available for distribution in FY 1999) reached a healthy $324 million, and FY 1999 deposits climbed to an all-time high of more than $985 million. However, of the amount deposited, only $500 million was available for distribution in FY 2000 due to a congressional funding cap.
Meanwhile, FY 2000 deposits fell slightly to $776.9 million, but only $537.5 million was available for distribution in FY 2001.
OVC distributes the available funds based on a formula set forth in VOCA, as amended. Up to the first $20 million is divided between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and OVCwith HHS receiving 85 percent and OVC the remaining 15 percentto improve the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases. The portion administered by OVC is used exclusively to help American Indians improve the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases in Indian Country, particularly child sexual abuse. Remaining CVF deposits are distributed in the following ways: 48.5 percent to state compensation programs, 48.5 percent to state assistance programs, and 3 percent for discretionary funds to support demonstration projects, training, public awareness, and assistance to expand and improve the delivery of services to federal crime victims.
The following section outlines recent developments relating to CVF and how OVC allocated funding for programs and activities during FYs 1999 and 2000.
For the past few years, significant funding has been earmarked for improving the federal criminal justice systems response to crime victims. In 1999, Congress earmarked $14.3 million from CVF to support victim/witness coordinator and advocate positions for the 93 U.S. Attorneys Offices around the country. These earmarks were included within the cap on CVF in OVCs FY 2000 allocations. In 2000, Congress designated an additional $7.4 million from CVF to support creating 112 full-time positions for victim assistance specialists in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). These positions are to be distributed according to a formula provided by Congress: one position in each of the FBIs 56 field offices, one position in each of the FBIs largest resident agencies (smaller field offices), and 31 positions to be distributed throughout Indian Country. In 2001, a second earmark was established to support additional victim/witness efforts by the FBI and U.S. Attorneys Offices.
Two legislative changes in 2000 affected CVF. Although the changes did not affect CVF allocations until FY 2001, they had a notable impact on OVCs policy and planning efforts during this biennium.
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 significantly expanded OVCs authority to respond to victims of terrorism worldwide. The Act amended VOCA by charging OVCs director to establish a compensation program for victims of international terrorism and by authorizing the director to double the amount set aside in the Emergency Fund to $100 million (see below). It broadened the list of eligible organizations and purposes for which Emergency Fund dollars could be used to support victim assistance services for victims of terrorism and mass violence occurring outside the United States.
The Child Abuse Prevention and Enforcement Act allowed funds allocated for child abuse victims to increase from $10 million to $20 million. In FY 2001, OVC allocated $17 million to HHS for child abuse prevention and treatment programs. The remaining $3 million is being used to enhance OVCs programs in Indian Country.
OVC established an Emergency Fund of $20 million in 1995 to guard against any future dramatic decreases in CVF and to respond to cases of terrorism or mass violence. A subsequent amendment to VOCA allowed OVC to increase the fund amount to $50 million. To date, with emergency authorization from Congress, expenditures from the Emergency Fund have been used primarily to assist victims of terrorism and mass violence, including the U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa (1998), the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (1995), and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland (1988). In 2000, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act allowed OVC to set aside up to $100 million for the Emergency Fund and expanded OVCs authority in cases involving terrorism against Americans outside U.S. boundaries. OVC has drafted guidelines for using the Emergency Fund. However, the funds cap and outdated VOCA provisions have limited OVCs ability to replenish amounts in the Emergency Fund.
Victimization rates in 1999 were the lowest recorded since the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) was created by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, in 1973. According to NCVS data, from 1998 to 1999 the overall violent crime rate declined 10 percent and the property crime rate fell 9 percent. Despite these glowing statistics, nearly 29 million Americans ages 12 or older were affected by crime in 1999. More than 15,000 people were murdered, and law enforcement agencies received reports of an estimated 89,000 forcible rapes. Other surveys estimate that close to 1 million children were victims of abuse or neglect and as many as 10 million children witnessed violence in their homes and communities. Recent school shootings, terrorist bombings, and other acts of mass violence, although relatively few in number, have horrified the Nation and ignited national discussion about ways to address them.
Figure 2. Crime Victims Fund Allocations
The figure below shows how OVC allocated CVF dollars during fiscal years 1999 and 2000. (Figures are rounded to the nearest dollar.)
Crime rates may have declined, but the financial and emotional costs of crime to victims are still staggering. In the wake of crime, victims need critical health care, which can add up to thousands of dollars. They may need ongoing mental health treatment, time off from work to attend criminal justice proceedings or to care for an injured family member, modifications to their home because of a crime-related disability, or changed locks or repairs to broken windows after a break-inall costly. Victims also need a helping hand to guide them through the criminal justice system. Domestic violence victims may need shelter to escape their abusers. Children may need a safe place where people understand their needs. Regardless of their particular situations, all victims need to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect by those with whom they come in contact.
OVC helps provide the lifeline services that aid millions of victims each year in the aftermath of crime. Recent increases in CVF deposits have allowed OVC to help a growing number of crime victims. Still, OVC funds reach only a fraction of the total number of victims each year. At the same time, new crimes are identified and professionals from numerous disciplines need to be educated about and trained in crime victim issues. Current funding levels cannot meet the demands of this growing field.
Over the past two decades, what began as a grassroots effort to help victims and advocate for their rights has grown into a full-fledged victim assistance field. Since VOCA was passed, OVC has played a major role in the development and professionalization of this field by channeling significant funding to local communities and states for direct services for victims. OVCs efforts to provide cutting-edge training and technical assistance; identify, support, and improve victim-related promising practices nationwide; launch public awareness initiatives; and make information available to the field and the public also have profoundly affected the field as it has matured.
The past few years have seen an expansion of local, state, and federal victim-related funding sources. These programs do not duplicate OVCs efforts; they enhance them. For example, the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provided substantial funding through DOJ and HHS for efforts to change the criminal justice systems response to domestic violence, for a national domestic violence hotline, and for prevention activities. These funds bolster OVCs efforts to provide direct services to domestic violence victims through its network of local and state service providers. The Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Program (Byrne Program) formula and discretionary grants, also administered through DOJ, provide funding for a range of projects to improve the criminal justice systems operations. In addition, Byrne Program grants augment OVCs efforts to cultivate the systems response to victims and facilitate victim participation in the criminal justice process.
Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse historically have received a major commitment of VOCA dollars and continue to do so. With the emergence of other funding sources, however, OVC has focused more of its discretionary funding on the needs of unserved and underserved victim populations and on developing coalitions and partnerships with various professionals who have not traditionally been considered part of the victim assistance field. For example, OVC has targeted significant funding over the past 2 years to improve services for immigrant victims, victims with disabilities, elderly victims, stalking victims, and those living in rural and remote areas. OVC also has launched a major effort to assist victims of terrorism and mass violence, both in the United States and abroad.
With the passage of new victims rights legislation at the state and federal levels, OVC has directed significant resources toward building public agency-based infrastructures to respond to new mandates. Thirty-two states have passed constitutional amendments for victims rights, and the field continues to advocate for a constitutional amendment at the federal level. While the majority of VOCA subgrants are awarded to private, community-based programs, VOCA funds are increasingly directed toward public criminal justice and social service agencies at the local and state levels. Criminal justice agencies are now required to inform victims of their rights and provide services to victims at almost every stage in the process, from the moment a crime occurs through the corrections phase and beyond. OVC also maintains a commitment to improving victims rights and services in the federal criminal justice system and in Indian Country, believing that the federal system should uphold the highest possible standard for services to victims and should be a model for local communities and states to follow.
The progress of the past two decades in expanding rights and services for victims of crime requires that OVC and the field take a new look at how CVF is used. New victims, such as victims of cybercrime, torture, trafficking, and drug-facilitated sexual assault, are continually being identified. New technologies and smarter criminals will lead to yet more forms of victimization that must be addressed. We live in an increasingly global world in which state and national borders mean less, and individuals from many places can be victimized by the same crime. These and other issues will remain at the forefront as OVC continues to work with the field to meet the ever-growing needs of crime victims.