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Justice for Victims. Justice for All.
Office for Victims of Crime
2013 OVC Report to the Nation: Fiscal Years 2011-2012 'Transforming Today's Vision into Tomorrow's Reality'
Report to the Nation Home  |  Message From the Director  |  Exhibits

Introduction: Three Decades of Progress

Three decades ago, the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime, charged with assessing the treatment of crime victims throughout the Nation, concluded that "The innocent victims of crime have been overlooked, their pleas for justice have gone unheeded, and their wounds—personal, emotional, and financial—have gone unattended." 1 The task force's findings led to the passage of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) of 1984—landmark legislation that established the Crime Victims Fund (the Fund) to provide stable funding for victim assistance programs and change the landscape of a criminal justice system that was unwelcoming and all too often hostile to victims' interests. VOCA marked the beginning of a new era for victims and those who support them.

While great progress has been made since the 1980s, the pursuit of fairness and justice for victims has not proceeded without significant challenges. Time and circumstance—while offering a fledgling profession the opportunity to build a solid foundation for serving victims, their families, and communities—have also presented horrific examples of man's inhumanity to man. Time and again, the victim services field has been challenged to uphold the promise of VOCA.

Today the Fund, which is administered by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC),2 provides hope and help to some 4 million victims annually, primarily through major funding streams that support direct assistance to victims and compensation for financial losses associated with the victimization. In fiscal years (FYs) 2011 and 2012, nearly $1.2 billion supported a broad range of victim services, from emergency food and shelter to crisis counseling and advocacy. The beneficiaries of these services included victims of VOCA-designated priority crimes―domestic violence, sexual assault, and child maltreatment—although the needs of victims of these pervasive crimes now outstrip available resources.3 Meanwhile, new types of crime have emerged and proliferated as a result of changes ushered in by technology, globalization, and evolving demographics throughout our society.

Given the burgeoning number of new and complex issues, the persistence of long-standing issues, and the ever-increasing pressure on the field to meet the needs of more victims with fewer resources, in 2010, OVC undertook a 2-year comprehensive examination of the crime victims field. The results of this intensive information exchange, which engaged a cross-section of the field throughout the country, were published in 2013 in the Vision 21: Transforming Victim Services Final Report, which charts a course of action for transforming victim services in the 21st century.

Vision 21 Transforming Victim Services

The Vision 21 Strategic Initiative

From the outset, Vision 21 stakeholders focused on four key areas: (1) defining the role of the victim assistance field within the overall response to crime in the Nation, (2) building the field's capacity to provide evidence-based, victim-centered assistance, (3) addressing enduring crimes, and (4) identifying emerging issues. Among the major barriers to service for victims identified by stakeholders were the dearth of research needed to guide the development of evidence-based programs and services, infrastructure-related issues that must be resolved to build the capacity of the field, obstacles to collaboration throughout the field, and the lack of funding that must be addressed if the field is to promote justice and healing for all victims of crime.

Where does the field go from here? Demonstrating their wholehearted commitment to the same vision that inspired the pioneering advocates of the 1980s, Vision 21 stakeholders developed a number of recommendations for beginning a transformative change in how victims are served, comprising four broad categories:

  • Conducting continuous rather than episodic strategic planning in the victim assistance field to effect real change in research, policy, programming, and capacity building.
  • Supporting the development of research to build a body of evidence-based knowledge and to generate, collect, and analyze quantitative and qualitative data on victimization, emerging victimization trends, services, behaviors, and enforcement efforts.
  • Ensuring the statutory, policy, and programmatic flexibility to address enduring and emerging crime victim issues.
  • Building and institutionalizing capacity of the field through an infusion of technology, training, and innovation to ensure that the field is equipped to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Initial Steps Toward Transformation

The 2010 Attorney General's Defending Childhood Initiative demonstrates the critical role of research in the development of evidence-based programs and practices for serving victims. The initiative, in which OVC is a key partner, was informed by a national study that documented the extent and effect of violence on children. Among other alarming statistics, the study reported that 60 percent of children in the United States were exposed to violence in 2008 as either victims or witnesses. In addition to supporting a number of innovative programs to improve awareness of and response to this national epidemic of violence, OVC recently released an educational video series about child victimization that focuses on how trauma-informed care can help young victims recover to lead healthy, productive lives.

In FYs 2011 and 2012, OVC's strategic planning reflected the importance of evidence-based, culturally competent, victim-centered programs to provide new or improved services to individuals whose age, disability, racial or cultural background, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status makes them especially vulnerable to victimization. For example, the lack of legal assistance for victims was a major concern for years; Vision 21 stakeholders recommended establishing coordinated community networks of "wraparound" pro bono legal services. Having long recognized that legal services were an essential component of ensuring justice for victims, OVC recently funded demonstration sites in which networks can support holistic, pro bono services, as needed. Although limited in number by financial constraints, the sites will be evaluated for their success in meeting victims' needs and, if sufficiently promising, could serve as models for additional networks.

To reach more victims while being more inclusive, it is critical to establish dynamic, multidisciplinary partnerships. The Vision 21 report describes effective collaboration as moving from informal partnerships to broad system linkages, and recommends cross-cutting strategic planning that focuses on linkages to ensure a seamless continuum of services. In FYs 2011 and 2012, OVC moved toward this model by creating innovative partnerships to enhance services for sexual assault victims in underserved areas. Concurrent with a major U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) tribal justice initiative, OVC collaborated with numerous partners to overcome long-standing barriers to providing coordinated, culturally competent services for tribal victims of sexual violence, with the ultimate goal of establishing sustainable, evidence-based practices for serving tribal communities. OVC also teamed with the U.S. Department of Defense to strengthen the military-civilian response to military victims of sexual violence by educating community service providers about military protocols and practices. Both of these initiatives reflect a critical aspect of effective provision of services: to reach victims in need of assistance, services must be accessible.

During the reporting period, innovative partnerships played a key role in expanding the delivery of high-quality, accessible services to rapidly growing numbers of victims of crimes such as identity theft and financial fraud. Establishing networks among nonprofit organizations and agencies that share similar strengths and a common goal, such as the OVC-funded National Identity Theft Victim Assistance Network, can enable providers to deliver more equitable services to victims. No matter the type of crime, strategic planning that incorporates dynamic partnerships, networks, and other alliances is essential to providing comprehensive, well-coordinated services whenever and wherever they are needed, and to realizing the goal of providing a seamless continuum of services.

In FYs 2011 and 2012, OVC intensified its efforts to combat human trafficking, announcing new initiatives and expanding the scope of existing programs to enhance trauma-informed, culturally competent services for victims, with new provisions for legal assistance. The Enhanced Collaborative Model Trafficking Program, jointly supported by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and OVC, partners law enforcement agencies with victim-serving organizations located in the same region to provide coordinated, victim-centered community responses to trafficking cases. The program, which previously focused on foreign nationals, has been expanded to address the needs of all types of trafficking victims and encourage investigation and prosecution of traffickers at state and federal levels.

In the years since VOCA established the Fund, additional laws have been enacted to refine the rights of victims and their role in the criminal justice system. In the past decade, two groundbreaking federal laws—the Crime Victims' Rights Act of 2004 and the Victims' Rights and Restitution Act of 2006—have had a significant impact on these rights and roles, as well as on the statutory responsibilities of DOJ personnel who work with victims. In response, OVC recommended the formation of an Office of the Deputy Attorney General Victims of Crime Working Group in 2010 to update The Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance—DOJ's basic policy resource governing appropriate treatment of victims and witnesses—which resulted in a substantially revised version, released in October 2011.

Critical to the success of these legal mechanisms, however, is that personnel understand these legal mandates and receive clear guidance about their responsibilities, particularly in the face of constantly shifting patterns of crime in the new century. Recognizing the need for comprehensive training to ensure appropriate victim services, OVC and the working group proceeded with various training initiatives. In conjunction with the Executive Office of United States Attorneys and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, OVC conducted two in-depth training sessions for more than 500 personnel; by the close of 2011, DOJ was incorporating the training into agencies' introductory training. Agencies also moved beyond traditional classroom settings, enabling participants to take the mandatory training online on demand, reducing costs while adding convenience. OVC has been instrumental in revising this critical tool for ensuring quality services for victims who work with DOJ specialists as they seek justice after their victimization.

In the brief history of the victims' rights movement, tremendous progress has been achieved with limited resources. Every day, service professionals across America are challenged anew by the extent of the need for skilled, appropriate, available services. This report recounts many of their successes on behalf of young people coerced into sex trafficking; Americans victimized abroad; people whose advanced years, disabilities, or low socioeconomic status put them at increased risk of victimization; and many others. Yet there is so much more to be done.

The Vision 21 report describes a watershed opportunity in the history of the victim assistance field. Now is the time to seize this opportunity and begin to transform today's vision into tomorrow's reality.

1 The Final Report of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime, p. ii, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1982.

2 See Crime Victims Fund, Office for Victims of Crime, Washington, DC, 2013, which describes the Fund's allocation process and explains that deposits comprise criminal fines, penalties, and contributions, rather than tax dollars.

3 See Vision 21: Transforming Victim Services Final Report, p.17, Office for Victims of Crime, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, 2013. Note: In addition to these three priorities, VOCA also made assistance a priority for a broad category of underserved victims.