7: Protecting and Supporting Victims of Crime

Crime takes a tremendous toll on its victims. And with more than 8.9 million violent and 22.9 million property crime victimizations in 1998, vast numbers of Americans are affected.

OJP works to meet the needs of victims of crime, by funding a network of victim service providers, helping communities respond to crises, funding state victim compensation and victim assistance programs, and ensuring that victims' voices are heard in the justice system.

ASSISTING VICTIMS OF TERRORISM

As Americans are affected by terrorism at home and abroad, OVC helps victims and their families cope with the immediate effects of terrorism and its aftermath. In recent years, OVC has worked extensively with victims and victim families affected by bombings in Oklahoma City, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and embassies in East Africa. The 1996 Antiterrorism Act granted OVC authority and provided funding to assist American victims of terrorism abroad. Congress has also authorized assistance to families of Pan Am 103 victim families.

In FY 1999, OVC continued to assist victims and families by helping them participate in the justice system in criminal trials relating to acts of terrorism. OVC is directly helping families of victims from Pan Am Flight 103 attend the trial of two Libyan suspects by a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands, and is working with the State Department and the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York to assist victims of the East African embassy bombings. In cooperation with the U.S. Attorney's office for the District of Columbia,. OVC has also supported assistance to victims of the Khobar Towers bombing.

In the Pan Am 103 case, OVC has worked extensively with Scottish officials to ensure that victim families would have access to the unique legal proceedings. OVC is sponsoring a secure telecast of the trial to remote sites in the United States and United Kingdom. OVC is also funding travel by victim families to the trial site in the Netherlands.

To ensure that Pan Am 103 victim families have the most up-to-date information on the trial, OVC, in conjunction with Syracuse Law School, developed a secure Website. The Website provides background materials about legal developments, cases, and law relating to the bombing; criminal trial updates and legal analysis; information about OVC services for family members who plan to attend the trial; and an interactive component enabling family members to e-mail questions and be referred to appropriate resources. The Website is password-protected so that only family members and other authorized users have access.

OVC also arranged briefings for the families of Pan Am 103 victims by senior U.S. and Scottish officials in Washington, D.C. and London. The Lord Advocate of Scotland and a team including Scottish prosecuting attorneys, law enforcement, and court staff discussed the reasons for the unique trial arrangements in this case, the facilities at Kamp Zeist in the Netherlands where the trial will take place, and plans for prosecuting and investigating the case. The victims' families were provided with lengthy opportunities to ask questions of Scottish and Justice Department officials, including the Attorney General.

In May 1999, OVC arranged similar briefings for Americans who were injured and the surviving family members of Americans killed in bombings of the U.S. Embassies in East Africa. The survivors of American military personnel killed in action in Somalia also attended. The meeting gave victims and family members an opportunity to express their concerns to high-level government representatives; provided information to families about benefits, services, security, the recovery process, and other issues; and provided information to families about the investigation and prosecution of the criminal case. Speakers included the Attorney General, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and other high ranking U.S. officials. OVC also sponsored a similar briefing for victim families of the Khobar Towers bombing.

In June 1999, OVC convened the first meeting of an interagency task force on victims of terrorism abroad, formed by the Attorney General to develop a protocol and resource manual on assisting victims of terrorism abroad. The embassy bombings in East Africa made clear the need for a protocol to ensure coordinated, efficient, and sensitive intergovernmental response to the needs of U.S. citizens and employees who are victims of terrorism in other countries. Federal agencies with overseas operations are represented, as well as agencies responsible for employee benefits and assistance.

PROTECTING CHILD VICTIMS

Too often, a child's first contact with the justice system is as a victim of or witness to violence. An NIJ study shows that a child who experiences serious violence is 50 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, and nearly 40 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult. Child victims are also more likely to be victims of crime as adults, and children who experience violence are at significant risk for substance abuse, mental illness, and suicide. Intervening in the lives of victimized children before negative patterns of behavior, low self-esteem, and damaged character are established is essential to preventing future violence.

In December 1998, the President announced the Justice Department's Children Exposed to Violence Initiative, directed by Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder. The purpose of this initiative is to focus public attention on the crime and violence that directly affect and confront our children, and to challenge those who work with these children to break the cycle of violence through enhanced prevention, intervention, and accountability efforts.

In June 1999, OJP participated in "Safe from the Start: The National Summit on Children Exposed to Violence." The summit brought together experts in law enforcement, child development, policy, tribal justice, medicine, mental health, domestic violence, education, and the media to develop a national action plan to address the needs of child crime victims and witnesses. DAG Holder issued a call to action, asking states to convene their own summits on children exposed to violence.

At the summit, OVC released a new video and two publications. The summit opened with In Their Voices, Through Their Eyes, a video that uses children's art, writings and voices to depict how children are affected by violence. Two publications, Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Recommendations to Improve the Criminal Justice Response to Child Victims and Witnesses and Children Exposed to Violence: Criminal Justice Resources provide guidance to criminal justice and child welfare practitioners.

In FY 1999, Congress appropriated $10 million to fund the Safe Start Initiative. The goal of Safe Start is to create a holistic approach to prevent and reduce the harmful effects of family and community violence on young children. Safe Start seeks to accomplish this goal by expanding existing partnerships between service providers in key areas such as early childhood education and development, health, mental health, child welfare, family support, substance abuse prevention and intervention, domestic violence crisis intervention, law enforcement, courts, and legal services. These partnerships will create a comprehensive community service delivery system that will meet the needs of children and their families at any point of entry into the system.

In FY 1999, OJJDP made awards to nine Safe Start demonstration sites for long-term projects, as well as three awards to facilitate program expansion and service coordination in the area of children's exposure to violence.

OJP's Safe Kids-Safe Streets: Community Approaches to Reducing Abuse and Neglect initiative is helping communities implement a comprehensive, community-wide program to break the cycle of childhood victimization. OJP supports the program at five sites, providing funding and technical assistance to help communities implement Safe Kids-Safe Streets strategies to improve the handling of child abuse cases, coordinate parenting programs and support services for at-risk youth, enhance data collection, and launch prevention and education campaigns that target detection, reporting, and prevention of child abuse.

In May 1999, the Attorney General presented the Officer of the Year Award for Missing and Exploited Children Investigations to three officers from Bellmead, Texas in recognition of their excellent work in recovering missing children. The award presentation was part of the 16th annual National Missing Children's Day ceremony, sponsored by OJJDP's Missing and Exploited Children Program. The ceremony commemorated the first anniversary of the publication of When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide. Drawing on the experience of parents of missing children, the guide describes the steps that should be taken in cooperation with law enforcement to find a missing child. The publication offers a checklist of what a parent should do when a child is first missing, as well as advice on working with law enforcement, the media, and volunteers. More than 80,000 copies of this award-winning document have been distributed, including one to each law enforcement agency and public library in the country. OJJDP funded a Spanish translation of this guide for release in FY 2000.

In FY 1999, the Missing and Exploited Children Program also funded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, published guides for law enforcement, and sponsored training and technical assistance for more than 4,500 law enforcement, prosecutors, social services, and health and family services professionals. OJJDP also sponsored the Internet Crimes Against Children program, described in Chapter 8, to prevent, detect, and prosecute online child exploitation.

ASSISTING VICTIMS

OVC administers the Crime Victims Fund, which is funded entirely by money paid in fines and penalties by federal criminal offenders -- not taxpayer dollars. Fines collected in one year by U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Courts, and the Bureau of Prisons are deposited into the fund and are available for grant awards in the following year.

In FY 1999, OVC awarded a total of $324 million from the Crime Victims Fund to aid crime victims. States received a total of $305 million in formula grant funds for victim assistance and victim compensation programs. These funds supported nearly 3,000 local victim assistance agencies and served approximately two million crime victims. Funding helps state victim assistance programs provide funds to community agencies that promote crisis intervention, criminal justice advocacy, counseling, emergency shelter, and other services. Victim assistance funds also support children's advocacy centers and comprehensive victim service centers. Compensation programs reimburse victims for out-of-pocket crime-related expenses such as medical bills, mental health counseling, and lost wages.

OVC also funds demonstration projects to improve service to victims nationally. One such project is a partnership with the Center for Mental Health Services, located within the Department of Health and Human Services, to support the development of appropriate crisis response capabilities and mobilization protocols, ensuring a rapid, coordinated response to the victims of mass violence and terrorism.

OVC also uses discretionary funds to respond to community crises. In response to the tragedy at Columbine High School, OVC supplemented victim assistance and victim compensation funds in Colorado to ensure that victims and victim families received immediate and long-term assistance.

OVC supports victim services programs in Indian Country by making grants directly to federally recognized Indian tribes for victim assistance. Also, under the Children's Justice Act, $1.5 million was allocated in FY 1999 for programs to improve the handling of child abuse cases in Indian Country.

In addition to providing state and local assistance, OVC also coordinates the response to victims in the federal justice system. In FY 1999, OVC led a project to revise and update the Attorney General's Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance. This document provides policy guidelines on the treatment of crime victims and witnesses to all Department of Justice components. OVC is providing training to federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents on the Department's standards for victim and witness assistance.

RECOGNIZING SERVICE TO VICTIMS

On April 25-May 1, 1999, OVC sponsored the annual commemoration of National Crime Victims' Rights Week. The 1999 theme, "Victims' Voices: Silent No More," recognizes the extraordinary progress that crime victims and advocates have made in improving victims' status in the criminal justice system. The 1999 observance paid special tribute to those individuals who have worked to secure basic rights for crime victims, including the right to participate and be heard. As in past years, OVC produced a commemorative poster and a resource guide to help the field plan activities for the week. OVC also funded the production of a public service announcement, which was sent to victim services programs and local television stations across the country.

In September 1999, the Attorney General presented Crime Victims Fund awards to three individuals and seven teams from throughout the Department of Justice for their efforts in collecting criminal fines, which are deposited into the Crime Victims Fund. The Antitrust Division received special recognition for its efforts in prosecuting corporations that violated criminal antitrust laws. The fines imposed against large companies for criminal antitrust violations comprise a large percentage of recent deposits into the Crime Victims Fund.

TRAINING VICTIM SERVICE PROFESSIONALS

In February 1999, OVC convened the second National Symposium on Victims of Federal Crime. This biannual conference is the premier training event for federal employees who work with crime victims. A special focus of the 1999 symposium was domestic terrorism and mass casualty response. Other workshop tracks include child victims, white collar victims, basic victim witness program issues, and legal issues, as well as discipline-specific areas such as military programs, corrections programs, and law enforcement programs.

In June 1999, OVC sponsored the fifth annual National Victim Service Academy. The week-long academy, held simultaneously at five universities, provided victim service professionals with important updates on victims' rights and victim services, as well as new developments in the victim assistance field. The 1999 class included more than 350 delegates from every area of the criminal justice system, specialists in sexual assault, domestic violence and child victimization, as well as those who serve elderly victims, survivors of homicide victims, and victims of juvenile offenders. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and American Samoa were represented. There were also two students from South Africa and one student from Japan. Topics included child victimization, domestic violence, gang violence, drunk driving, campus crime, financial fraud, international issues in victim service, and serving the needs of underserved victims of crime.

Back to OJP FY 99 Annual Report