Victim Services

D. 1990s: Continued Advocacy, Direct Service Provision, and Legislative Action

The actions taken in the name of victims in the 1990s continued to reflect advocacy and the direct provision of services to victims. The decade saw the inception of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which attends to almost a quarter of a million phone calls each year from the victims and survivors of intimate partner violence, concerned family members and friends, and victims advocates. The anonymous and confidential calls are answered by advocates who offer support and assistance to those who have experienced violence in an intimate relationship. The services offered include crisis intervention, safety planning, information about domestic violence, and referrals to local service providers.

During this decade, researchers continued efforts to examine the plight of victims and evaluate social and criminal justice interventions and programs. This includes the implementation of mandatory arrest policies for domestic violence victims and the evaluation of their efficacy for protecting victims. The 1990s was also a decade of continued and more diverse legislation to change the circumstances faced by crime victims. There were a number of contributions of research to practice, as reflected in the work done by domestic violence researchers examining the efficacy of mandatory arrest policies, domestic violence courts, and batterer interventions. While the findings are often mixed on whether mandatory arrest policies reduce revictimization, most states have adopted either a mandatory or pro-arrest stance on domestic violence.

There were also a number of advances made in responding to the trauma experienced by crime victims, including the expansion and deepening of services to the varied victim populations. There continued to be a worldwide movement to articulate the rights of victims within the criminal justice system and attempts to develop interventions to enforce those rights. During this time period, for example, many states incorporated victims’ rights into their state constitutions. There was also a growing sensitivity to the varied experience of crime victims and the extensive consequences of violence. For example, there was recognition of the lack of sensitivity to victims of sexual assault during medical evidentiary examinations. This led to the development of sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) programs. The SANE programs addressed the waiting time for victims of sexual violence, and the lack of training and experience of those working with sexual assault victims during forensic examinations.

The increased sensitivity to the diversity and experiences of violent crime victims also led to important state and federal legislation expanding what had traditionally been viewed as crime. Some examples include the Hate Crime Statistics Act, the Church Arson Prevention Act, and anti-stalking laws and legislation. The 1990s was also a decade of growing interest in the welfare of children as victims of crime. This led to a host of legislation meant to protect children including “Megan’s Law,” the National Child Sex Offender Registry, the Child Protection and Sexual Predator Punishment Act, and enhanced sentences for drunk drivers with child passengers.

In 1990, the Victims of Child Abuse Act established rights and services for child victims. The act was amended in 1993 to provide funding to support local children’s advocacy centers and to set up regional training centers to assist communities in establishing interagency teams to respond to child abuse cases. Continued concern for the child victims of crime through the late 1990s included the adoption of the “Amber Alert” system. This system began in 1996 and was formalized in 2003 when television broadcasters teamed with local law enforcement to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children.

During the 1990s, presidential and congressional acts to address crime and victimization included the signing of the “Brady Bill” and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which carried a number of provisions including one outlining the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This act would authorize more than $1 billion in funding for programs to combat violence against women. By the end of the 1990s, the Federal Crime Victims Fund deposits totaled a record $985 million.

E. 2000s: Federal Legislation and the Diversification of Services

Whereas the 1990s reflected varied federal legislation addressing a number of diverse victim issues, the decade of the 2000s may be viewed as the consolidation of federal action for victims in the passing of the Justice for All Act in 2004 (a statutory alternative to the Federal Crime Victims’ Rights Amendment), and the provision of financial resources to combat crime and help the victims of crime. The year 2000 saw the passing of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and record funding for domestic violence and sexual assault victims. The passing of the VAWA authorized $80 million annually for direct sexual assault prevention and education grants, $875 million (over 5 years) for battered women’s shelters, $25 million for the one-time funding of transitional housing programs, and $25 million to address violence against older women and women with disabilities. Finally, reflecting the expansion of technologies used by offenders to victimize their victim, the federal government also expanded federal stalking statutes to include stalking on the Internet.

The decade may also be seen as suffering from a failure to take federal action to recognize the rights of victims in the same way the U.S. Constitution protects the rights the of accused. With support from both Democrats and Republicans, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Federal Victims’ Rights Amendment to ensure basic rights to victims nationwide. However, the Congress failed to approve the amendment. As an alternative, the Justice for All Act was passed in 2004, providing substantive rights for crime victims and legal mechanisms to enforce those rights.

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