Victim Services

B. 1970s: Grassroots Advocacy and Victim Compensation Programs

The earliest assistance and services for the victims of violent crime came in the form of victim compensation programs. The first program of its kind was established in California in 1965 through that state’s Victims of Violent Crime Act. This act provided for “reimbursement to persons who, as a result of a violent crime, have suffered a monetary loss due to a physical or emotional injury not covered by another source” (California Attorney General’s Office, 1998, p. 21). In addition, the act allowed for the reimbursement of medical and hospital bills, loss of income, loss of support, funeral and burial expenses, rehabilitation or retraining costs, counseling and therapy, and attorney fees. It also required that members of law enforcement inform victims about the availability of state compensation funds and the location of the local victim/ witness assistance center where they could file for a reimbursement. In outlining the need for such a service and provision to victims, California State Senator Eugene McAteer made a convincing case to then Governor Edmund G. Brown by stating the following:

The State of California spends millions of dollars for the maintenance of prisoners in penal institutions and the furnishing of dental and medical care, while the victimized persons and their families must bear any medical or dental expenses on their own and may suffer addtional economic hardship from temporary or even permanent loss of employment. (McGagin, 2005, p. 2)

Similar victim compensation programs were subsequently adopted in NewYork and Massachusetts during the late 1960s. These programs were developed in recognition of the tremendous financial burden placed on the victims of violent crime. They included financial reimbursement for victims in which compensation administrators often became advocates for victims of violent crime.Today, every state has a victim compensation program, but California continues to be a leader in victim compensation, providing the largest outlays of awards.

It is important to note that to benefit from such programs, victims are required to make contact with the criminal justice system and report their victimization to the police. Given that the majority of victims, particularly victims of sexual violence and domestic assaults, do not report their victimization to the police, the receipt of compensation is often limited to a narrower group of violent crime victims. In addition, while many victims would benefit from these programs, they were not met without resistance given the potential cost of such programs. Today, the majority of the money for these programs comes from offenders via fees and fines charged against those convicted of crime, as opposed to public tax dollars.

The 1970s may be largely characterized as reflecting the hard work and dedication of grassroots organizers. Both rape survivors and battered women commonly founded programs, crisis centers, and shelters for victims; worked to organize coalitions; and provided opportunities for the growth of activism. The advocacy taken on the part of victims included the development of the first battered women’s shelter for female domestic violence victims, established in 1974. The network of shelters then spread across the United States. Today, there are over 2,000 shelters and direct services offered to women leaving violent and abusive intimate relationships.

Shelters most often offer temporary and transitional living programs for women and their children who have experienced family and intimate partner violence. Agencies may also offer women and their children an apartment for an extended period of time during which they receive counseling and assistance. Shelters often have programs designed specifically for children who have witnessed violence and abuse. This may include group and individual counseling, education and play-therapy services, along with case management services. It is important to note that roughly half of the residents in domestic violence shelters are children. Domestic violence agencies may also offer programming for batterers in the form of workshops and group therapy for both men and women. Some agencies offer outpatient services including support groups, vocational counseling and job training, outreach to high schools and the community, court advocacy, and mental health services or referrals. Finally, many agencies have funding for women dealing with the economic reality of leaving a violent relationship, including locating temporary shelter, if none other is available, and putting women and their children up at a hotel for a few days. While the operation of shelters initially was focused on (and continues to focus on) assisting women in leaving abusive relationships, it soon became part of the battered women’s movement, working to reduce the incidence of family violence. The actions taken by those involved in the shelter movement include educating the public and law enforcement officials, advocating for victims, and working for legislative change and funding of domestic violence programming.

During the 1970s, grassroots organizations also worked to assist sexual assault victims in dealing with the trauma of rape and drew public attention to the issue of violence against women more broadly. The work and actions taken by these small, grassroots feminist groups led to the development of the first rape crisis centers in 1972. The primary purpose of the centers was to counsel and assist women who had been raped, offering them assistance, information, and advocacy in medical settings, the criminal justice system, and court proceedings. As part of the feminist movement, rape crisis centers also served the purpose of empowering women and politicizing violence against women. The initial funding of rape crisis centers was largely erratic, but over time these centers have been funded by hospitals, universities, and local governments. Today, rape crisis centers across the United States offer comprehensive medical, mental health, and legal services to victims of sexual violence, as well as sexual assault awareness and prevention education, and advocacy.The actions taken during this time period helped to direct attention to rape survivors and led to the impetus to change the criminal justice system and laws to facilitate prosecution and encourage women to report their experience of sexual violence to the police.

By the 1970s, formal programs for crime victims also expanded to include a wider array of victim assistance programs, including the development of criminal-justice- and law-enforcement-based victim assistance programs. The important role of law enforcement in the provision of services to victims is evident in the organization of the first “Victims’ Rights Week,” in 1975, by Philadelphia District Attorney F. Emmett Fitzpatrick. The National Organization for Victim Assistance, founded in 1975, is an organization of victim and witness assistance programs and practitioners, criminal justice agencies and professionals, mental health professionals, researchers, former victims, and survivors committed to the recognition and implementation of victim rights and services. Its primary mission is now to promote the rights of and services for victims of crime and crisis through national advocacy, direct services to victims, supporting the activities of victim service professionals, and forging relationships between members. With respect to the provision of services, the National Organization for Victim Assistance’s contact with victims, primarily via its national hotline, leads to service referral, counseling, and advocacy for the victims of crime.

During the 1970s, a number of coalitions formed to attend to the issue of violence against women. In 1978, as part of a United States Commission on Civil Rights, women’s advocates came together in Washington, D.C., to form the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). The primary mission of NCADV is to engage in leadership within communities to help bring an end to violence. To that end, NCADV engages in educational programming, policy development, and coalition building, and supports the provision of direct services for battered women and their children. During this same decade, the National Organization for Women (NOW) formed a task force to examine the problem of domestic violence and wife battering. These grassroots movements may be seen as the starting point for research, shelters, hotlines, abolishment of the marital rape exemption, and mandatory arrest policies. Minnesota led the way in criminal domestic violence interventions with the development of probable cause (warrantless) arrests for domestic assault.

Finally, the 1970s saw some of the first federal legislation related to victimization with the U.S. Congress passing the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. Through this act of Congress, federal funding went to states to support a variety of programs and criminal justice interventions including education and prevention, criminal justice interventions, and direct treatment and services for victims. As with other legislation, there was concern over its financial impact and some discussion over whether the funding would benefit offenders.

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