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.
A social and academic interest in the lives of violent crime victims reflects the changing role and importance of victims in the public imagination, public policy, lawmaking, criminal justice, and social service provision in recent decades. Prior to the 1960s, both the criminal justice system and the human and social service system largely ignored the plight of victims, instead focusing on the causes and nature of crime and the rehabilitation or punishment of offenders (see Wallace, 1998). The victims of crime have therefore gone largely unrecognized in public discourse and within the criminal justice system (see Elias, 1992). More importantly, until the last several decades, the impact of criminal victimization had not been a focus of public concern. Instead, the victims’ role in crime was largely filtered through their role as witnesses within the criminal justice system. Beginning in the late 1960s and taking hold in the 1970s, academic research, the medical community, and law enforcement’s concern and actions taken for victims of crime began to expand. The research, activism, and legislation helped to identify and highlight the toll of violent crime in terms of the social, physical, mental health, and financial consequences of victimization. This public concern owes much of its impetus to the actions and advocacy of grassroots organizations that organized and mobilized to offer victims the tangible assistance and support they needed in the way of shelters, crisis care, advocacy, and representation within the criminal justice system.