National Crime Victims’ Rights Week
When I heard that this was National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, my first impulse was to think, "Crimes happen to other people, not me." Then I remembered my identity was stolen last year. I thought about the two men who tried to grab my purse as a friend as I walked home one night. And I sighed in disgust as I pictured the front hood of my car which bears the scars of a recent hit and run. (My car was hit, I didn’t run.)
The fact is, an estimated 33 million Americans are crime victims each year. For example:
- In 2006, victims of violent crimes experienced $1.8 billion in losses, and victims of property crimes experienced $16.5 billion in losses
- Only 49 percent of violent crimes are reported to the police
- In 2006, about 905,000 children were found by protective services agencies to be victims of abuse or neglect
- About 17,000 people were murdered in the United States in 2007
- In 2005, 13% of children had received unsolicited sexual solicitations via the internet
- Each year, a quarter of the people who have been diagnosed with severe mental illness are crime victims
And it’s only in the last 25 years that we’ve really started to take care of crime victims. In 1984, Congress passed the Victims of Crime Act which helps victims deal with the physical, financial, mental and emotional effects of the crime committed against them. One of the act’s biggest legacies: the creation of the Crime Victims Fund.
The Crime Victims Fund is paid for though fines paid by criminals. It funds about 4,400 victims’ assistance and compensation programs nationwide, as well as victims’ advocates and victim notification systems.
Victims’ assistance programs offer a variety of services, such as emergency transportation and shelter, counseling, intervention assistance and victims’ advocates to help navigate the criminal justice system. These organizations and agencies often focus on specific types of crime victims. For example, your town may have a victims’ assistance program that works with rape victims and another program that works only with domestic violence victims.
Victims’ compensation programs help pay for a victim’s medical care, counseling, lost wages, funeral costs and/or crime scene cleanup. These funds, administered by the individual states, allow victims to file a claim for reimbursement of crime-related expenses. Each state sets a cap on the maximum amount that may be awarded to a victim, and caps are usually in the range of $10,000 to $25,000.
If you have been the victim of a crime, or know someone who is crime victim, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime has created a database of available resources. These resources include local victims’ assistance and compensation programs, and well as state resources that explain your rights as a crime victim.