What Is the Office for Victims of Crime?
The mission of the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) is to enhance the Nation's capacity to assist crime victims and to provide leadership in changing attitudes, policies, and practices in ways that will promote justice and healing for all victims.
The Office for Victims of Crime is charged by Congress with administering the Crime Victims Fund, a major source of funding for victim services throughout the Nation. Established by the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) in 1984, the Fund supports thousands of programs annually that represent millions of dollars invested in victim compensation and assistance in every U.S. state and territory, as well as training and demonstration projects designed to enhance the skills of those who provide services to victims.
The Fund is unique in that it is composed primarily of criminal fines, special assessments, and bond forfeitures from convicted federal offenders, making it a self-sufficient source of income.1 Its main funding streams include state victim compensation and assistance formula grants; discretionary grants; support for victim-witness coordinators in U.S. Attorneys' Offices, FBI victim specialists, and the Federal Victim Notification System; and formula grants to states through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as mandated by the Children's Justice Act.
Altogether, VOCA funds support a broad array of programs and services that focus on helping victims in the immediate aftermath of crime and supporting them as they rebuild their lives. Although the specific type of outreach provided varies by need and location, the common goal of OVC and VOCA is to reach out with a compassionate, skilled, and effective response to victims who have suffered physical, sexual, emotional, and financial harm as a result of crime.
Compensation and Assistance Programs Serve Victims
OVC administers two major formula grant programs that account for 90 percent of the VOCA funds allocated annually to states and territories. VOCA formula grants for crime victim compensation supplement state funds that reimburse victims for out-of-pocket expenses resulting from the crime. In FY 2008, VOCA state compensation payments totaled $432 million, most of which reimbursed victims of assault, homicide, child abuse, and robbery. Costs related to medical and dental care accounted for nearly half of these costs, followed by funeral and burial expenses. Compensation is paid only when other financial resources, such as private insurance and offender restitution, do not cover the loss.
VOCA formula grants for crime victim assistance, awarded through subgrants to state agencies and local service providers, are the most visible and far-reaching demonstration of OVC's commitment to crime victims. VOCA funding supports direct services to crime victims in every state, the District of Columbia, and five territories; it includes services such as crisis intervention, counseling and referrals, criminal justice advocacy, and emergency transportation.
In FY 2008, 3.8 million crime victims, including 1.8 million victims of domestic violence, benefited from more than 5,000 subgrants awarded to emergency shelters, rape crisis centers, and victim service units in law enforcement agencies, prosecutors' offices, hospitals, and social service agencies. While responding to victims of the most frequently occurring crimesdomestic violence, sexual assault, and child abusestates also provide support to meet the needs of the historically underserved, such as victims of stalking, elder abuse, and drunk drivers.
Although these formula grants account for the majority of funding made available for services to crime victims, OVC also administers discretionary grants in various program areas to meet emerging needs and fill gaps in existing services. These grants fund a broad range of program development and dissemination projects.
Assisting Victims in Tribal Communities
The poverty, isolation, lack of services for victims, and high crime rates in many American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities make this underserved population a high priority for victim services. OVC is committed to enhancing efforts that serve victims directly and to providing training and technical assistance for service providers that is culturally relevant and therefore more effective.
Tribal governments work closely with state and federal agencies to help ensure continuity of support for victims. OVC provides funding to strengthen these collaborations and improve services in AI/AN communities. For example, funds from the Children's Justice Act Partnerships for Indian Communities Grant Program are used to improve the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases in Indian Country. Funds from the Tribal Victim Assistance Grant Program are used to develop culturally appropriate training curricula; encourage mentoring and information sharing; and otherwise improve victim services. The Counseling and Faith-Based Services for Crime Victims in Indian Country Grant Program links faith-based organizations, spiritual leaders, and traditional healers with local service providers to strengthen and refine services for victims in AI/AN communities.
In addition to training and technical assistance supported by these grant programs, OVC awards a grant to plan, organize, and deliver an Indian Nations Conference every 2 years, which serves to build the skills of the service providers and criminal justice professionals who work with victims in Indian Country. Meanwhile, the District Specific Training Program is an ongoing effort to help U.S. Attorneys comply with federal victims' legislation and to improve the response of federal criminal justice personnel to victims' rights and needs.
Responding to Terrorism and Mass Violence at Home and Abroad
The threat of terrorism and mass violence has increased in recent years in the United States and abroad. The emotional impact of such crimes can be devastating, leaving victims and emergency personnel in urgent need of services to reduce the immediate trauma they experience as well as to provide long-term assistance to help restore a sense of normalcy to their lives. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Congress amended VOCA to authorize OVC to set aside up to $50 million annually for an Antiterrorism Emergency Reserve fund, which has helped ensure that victims get the assistance they need without diverting funds from ongoing, standard victim services. The Reserve supports the following programs:
Program Development, Education, and Outreach Benefit Victims
OVC is dedicated to continuously improving the national response to crime victims by identifying emerging needs and gaps in existing services, enhancing the skills and abilities of service providers to better meet these needs, and promoting greater public awareness of the issues that victims face. Discretionary funding through contracts, grants, and other funding mechanisms supports the development of demonstration projects, promising practices, model programs, training and technical assistance, and other initiatives, often at the community level. These innovative programs and practices are packaged and widely disseminated to service providers, advocates, and others seeking to improve the services they provide to victims.
OVC's communication products are presented in various formats to better inform and educate a variety of audiences on a broad range of subjects. First Response to Victims of Crime,a multimedia package designed to educate first responders about working with various types of crime victims, as well as specific victim populationsis among OVC's most popular products. Others in high demand include educational and informational materials that focus on serving sexual assault victims, responding to victims of trafficking, promoting the legal rights of crime victims, and working effectively with victims who have disabilities.
Training and Technical Assistance
OVC works to ensure that every victim has access to a well-trained, knowledgeable service provider. OVC's Training and Technical Assistance Center(OVC TTAC) provides training opportunities for providers and advocates at all levels of victim services:
OVC continues to build service capacity by offering a schedule of regional training and developmental support in critical areas such as needs assessment, program design, strategic planning, and evaluation. OVC also manages state and national conference support programs that assist nonprofit organizations interested in hosting conferences on victim-related issues. Additionally, OVC operates a professional development scholarship program and maintains a speaker's bureau and a database of consultants who are available to support OVC's initiatives nationwide.
While OVC TTAC coordinates OVC's training and technical assistance activities, the OVC ResourceCenter (OVCRC) produces and disseminates information resources for victim service providers and other key audiences. As part of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, OVCRC has access to the most comprehensive criminal justice library in the world. OVCRC information specialists are on call to answer victim-related questions, and they tailor their responses using regional and national victimization statistics, research findings, and a network of victim advocates and organizations.
The input that OVCRC receives influences the strategic development of future publications, products, and other efforts to make information more accessible through OVC's Web site, print media, and multimedia products. Accessing these products is quick and easy; users can visit the Web site and locate printer-friendly documents, tools, curricula, videos, and supporting materials in a self-service fashion. OVCRC also disseminates products and information via three methods:
Some of OVC's most popular means of education and information dissemination are specially designed tools for its Web site (see sidebar). OVC continues to develop new and efficient means of reaching out to key audiences, so visitors to the OVC Web site should always watch for more tools and features to come.
SIDEBAR: Federal Partnerships Develop Innovative Services
OVC, in partnership with other government agencies, works to provide innovative services to address the wide range of issues that crime victims face. The following programs, among others, are making a significant impact by helping victims in fundamental ways:
SIDEBAR: OVC's Most Popular Resources
Calendar of Events
Online Directory of Crime Victim Services
TTAC Training Center
OVC Web Forum
SIDEBAR: NCVRW: Honoring Victims, Informing the Public
Each April, OVC sponsors National Crime Victims' Rights Week to honor victims, survivors, and those who serve them throughout the Nation. To promote local outreach, OVC disseminates multimedia resources based on a unifying theme for communities to use in the special activities and events they plan to increase awareness of victims' rights and services. As a prelude to NCVRW in the Nation's Capital, OVC annually hosts a candlelight observance and awards ceremony, where the National Crime Victims' Service Awards are presented. These events provide a national platform where victims may share their stories of triumph over tragedy. Recent speakers include the late Dominick Dunne and Mark Lunsford, who each lost a daughter to homicide and became advocates for victims' rights. See the OVC Gallery for more information.
As new and greater challenges in the realm of crime arise, OVC will address them and continue to work diligently to assist victims. Issues such as identity theft, elder abuse, and human trafficking are among the major concerns receiving OVC's attention today; new initiatives and outreach are now in development. Meanwhile, OVC continues to fulfill its commitment to ensure that victims of sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence, and other prevalent crimes get the prompt, high-quality assistance they need.
1 The Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA PATRIOT Act) expanded the possible sources of Fund deposits by authorizing the deposit of private gifts, bequests, or donations into the Fund beginning in Fiscal Year 2002.