Services to Crime Victims
Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act (Selected Excerpts)
1. A responsible official* shall—
U.S. Attorneys’ offices in the Department of Justice are committed to ensuring federal crime victims are provided the opportunity to receive information and services as required under federal law and the Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance (Guidelines). Crime victims’ services were introduced into early-1980s victims’ rights legislation; however, they were not actually put into law until 1990 with the passage of the Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act (VRRA), a section of which is set forth below.
The VRRA and the Guidelines direct how, when, and in what manner U.S. Attorneys’ offices’ victim-witness personnel will assist crime victims throughout the prosecution of a federal case. The fair and respectful treatment of victims can have an enormous impact on a victim’s experience with our federal criminal justice system and ultimately the victim’s own recovery process. Therefore, it is critical that every victim is provided assistance required under the VRRA and the Guidelines which includes, for example, information about services, case status, restitution or other relief, and counseling, support or other treatment programs. Equally important is the responsibility for ensuring a victim’s safety. Offices can arrange for a victim to receive reasonable protection through court-issued protective orders or other means available to law enforcement.
Many crime victims are emotionally affected by their experiences and, although everyone reacts differently, many people report reactions such as anger, feelings of panic and/or anxiety, nightmares and sleep pattern changes, feelings of self-doubt or shame, reliving what happened, depression, difficulty concentrating, and increased concern for personal safety and the safety of their family. Many victims continue to have these responses for some time after the crime. The U.S. Attorneys’ offices can assist victims in finding appropriate support services.
Furthermore, particularly vulnerable victims (e.g., children) and victims of specific types of crimes (e.g., human trafficking; sexual assault) require a number of additional services aimed at addressing their unique and challenging needs. U.S. Attorneys’ offices’ victim-witness personnel are trained to assess victims’ needs and make appropriate service referrals.
Lastly, while participation in the criminal justice process is generally considered a right under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, victim-witness personnel go to great lengths to assist victims with the logistics of participating in court proceedings by, for example, coordinating translation services and providing information about transportation and child care. They also accompany victims to court proceedings so that victims can ask questions and victim-witness personnel can explain the court process, which is often an unfamiliar and confusing experience for victims. The support victim-witness personnel lend to victims during prosecution is extensive and can often last many years.
The Federal Crime Victim Assistance Fund (FCVAF or Fund) is available to U.S. Attorneys’ offices to assist federal crime victims with services of an immediate nature. Money to support the FCVAF comes from the Crime Victims’ Fund, which is comprised of criminal fines and assessments paid by criminal defendants. The FCVAF is intended to be used when no other resources are available--the funding source of last resort. Services the FCVAF can be used for include, but are not limited to, transportation costs, emergency shelter, crisis intervention, and services to assist victims in participating in the criminal justice system. Services can only be provided if charges have been filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office or if there is an open investigation within the office. The following are examples of how the fund has been used this year.
In Alabama, the Fund was used for translation services for three Korean human trafficking victims. The victims were rescued from a Korean massage parlor operating in Alabama. Interpreter services were required to facilitate victim assistance for the three women.
In California, a defendant pled guilty to murdering his wife while aboard a cruise ship. The defendant punched, kicked, stomped, and strangled his wife. The Fund was used to assist the victim’s parents, son, and daughter with travel costs to attend the hearing at which the defendant pled guilty.
In Illinois, the Fund was used to assist the mother and stepfather of a six-month-old child to speak at the sentencing hearing of the child’s biological father, who had molested the child and aired a live visual depiction of the crime via the Internet. The defendant was convicted for the production, distribution, receipt, and possession of child pornography as well as producing advertisements seeking and offering to receive, produce, display, and distribute images of child pornography.
In New Mexico, a man robbed a bank and attempted to escape police apprehension. Two victims were on a lunch break and returning to work. The victims were stopped at a traffic light when the defendant lost control of his car, jumped the median, and slammed broadside into their car. One victim died at the scene and other was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital. The Fund was used to enable the victims’ family members to attend the defendant’s trial in New Mexico.
In another case, the Fund was used to provide counseling for a mother whose three-old-son was killed by his stepmother. The child sustained multiple blunt trauma injuries to his body, and the defendant claimed the child fell down the stairs. The victim’s biological mother suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and received professional counseling to deal with her child’s death.