Victim Services

C. 1980s: Medical, Legal, and Legislative Action

Whereas the provision of services to the victims of crime in the 1960s and 1970s reflected activism, the 1980s was a period of medical, legal, and legislative action to ensure the institutionalization of victim services and assistance. This includes the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, which recognized the plight of crime victims and placed a national focus on expanding crime victims’ rights and services. During the 1980s, a growing interest in the trauma and mental health impact of violent victimization led to the development of innovative models of crisis intervention and community approaches to collective trauma experiences. The first Crisis Response Team was deployed by the National Organization for Victim Assistance to attend to a situation in Edmond, Oklahoma, in which a postal worker killed 14 fellow employees and himself. Within a day, experienced crisis interveners arrived to attend to the needs of the community as a whole, not just the individuals directly affected by the tragedy. Today, Crisis Response Teams are composed of mental health specialists, victim advocates, public safety professionals, and clergy members. Once these teams arrive at the site of a community crisis, the team engages in a variety of activities. These include assisting local decision makers in identifying the individuals and groups at greatest risk for experiencing trauma, the training of local service providers and caregivers to attend to the needs of traumatized victims after the Crisis Response Team has left the scene, and leading the group crisis intervention that assists victims in coping with their distress.

The 1980s also brought new legal services to the victims of crime. Through civil litigation, crime victims may be able to file lawsuits against perpetrators and responsible third parties for the damages the victims suffered as a result of the crime. The Victims’ Assistance Legal Organization and the National Crime Victim Bar Association are two such organizations dedicated to facilitating civil actions brought by crime victims. In a continued effort to protect child victims, legislation passed in 1984 included the Missing Children’s Assistance Act. After the act was passed, a clearinghouse and national resource center was established (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). The primary purpose of the center is to assist in finding missing children and offer services to victimized and exploited youth. To date, the Center has handled more than 1 million calls.

During the 1980s, there began the first political and public discussion in favor of a federal “Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights.” This included a recommendation to amend the Sixth Amendment to guarantee that “the victim, in every criminal prosecution, shall have the right to be present and to be heard at all critical stages of judicial proceedings.” This would later, in 2004, become the Justice for All Act. Other major legislation and federal action included the Federal Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, which brought “fair treatment standards” to victims and witnesses in the federal criminal justice system; the United States Department of Justice creating the Office for Victims of Crime; and deposits into the Federal Crime Victims Fund totaling $133 million. This was also a period of major reforms with respect to intimate partner violence.

Finally, the 1980s may be viewed as a turning point in the country’s focus on victims with respect to public policy, program implementation, and public awareness. An example of continued grassroots advocacy was the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) during the 1980s. The actions taken by MADD helped to create the impetus for impaired-driving laws across the United States and enhanced penalties for drunk drivers who kill children.

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