Victim Services

II. Services for and Rights of Violent Crime Victims

The creation and growth of the victims’ rights movement, reflecting an expansion of the feminist and civil rights movements, led to the provision of services to victims and an extension of their rights within law and criminal justice (see Office for Victims of Crime, 2004). Changes within the criminal justice system and the wider collective experience of crime, which include a heightened fear of stranger crime, changes in the day-to-day activities of households, increasing evidence of public disorder, and increased media interest and dramatization of crime, have led to dramatic changes in the way victims of crime are responded to. These changes reflect and reinforce widespread concern about victims and public safety, the ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system, and the politicizing of crime issues and crime victims. The evolution and implementation of services for violent crime victims may therefore be viewed as reflecting the history of the victims’ rights movement (see Office for Victims of Crime, 2004).

The victims’ rights movement has shaped the definition of victimization and the types of crime events that warrant concern for those victims affected by crime and violence. An examination of victim services through the lens of the victims’ rights movement over the last four decades provides a systematic view of how victims have evolved in the public imagination and how victim services have developed and evolved. The evolution of social, mental health, and legal services, and the advocacy for victims over the last 40 years, may be seen as moving from financial compensation programs, to social service initiatives, to the development of federal legislation for the victims of violent crime that works to ensure stability of funding for services for victims and their rights within the criminal justice system.

A. 1960s: Medical Definitions of Victimization and Law Enforcement Involvement

Some of the first concerns for the victims of crime focused on child victims. One of the earliest definitions of child abuse was suggested by physician C. Henry Kempe. In his benchmark paper, ”Battered Child Syndrome” (Kempe, Silverman, Steele, Droegemueller, & Silver, 1962/ 1984), he defined child abuse as a clinical condition with medical injuries that resulted from a physical assault. As early as the 1960s, pediatric radiologists began exposing the injuries experienced by infants and children and subsequently reported these victimizations to law enforcement officials. After involvement by the medical community, laws were passed in 1962 prohibiting parents from abusing their children. During this same time, mandatory child maltreatment reporting laws were passed by every state. Today, every state has mandatory child maltreatment laws and in some states—North Carolina, for example—this extends to all citizens who have knowledge of abuse.

After the early 1960s, there was a dramatic increase in the demand for child protective services. Some of the services provided by these agencies included assistance for children and families, foster care placement for abused children, support for youth making the transition to adulthood while living in foster care, and placement of children in adoptive homes. Today, there are close to 3 million referrals made yearly to state-level protective service agencies, involving more than 4.5 million children. In dealing with the impact of child abuse, more than 350 communities have established children’s advocacy center programs. These centers permit law enforcement officers, prosecutors, child protection workers, victim advocates, and therapists to interview children in a single, child-friendly location rather than in several intimidating environments. Child advocacy programs also provide holistic multidisciplinary case management to children during various stages of therapeutic treatment and criminal justice intervention.

Browse criminal justice research papers or view criminal justice research topics.