Crime victims have rights and are entitled to consideration under the law. Learn more about victims compensation programs and how to seek restitution.
The FBI defines violent crimes as those that involve force or threat of force.
Nearly 1.25 million violent crimes occur each year, including murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. ¹
An average of one out of six women and one in 33 men are victims of rape or attempted rape during their lifetime. ²
About 65 percent of reported violent crimes are categorized by law enforcement as aggravated assault. Aggravated assault is the unlawful attack by a person intending to inflict severe bodily injury. It can include the use of everything from fists to firearms. ³
Every jurisdiction in the United States offers special assistance to crime victims and their families. Compensation funds are available to help with the cost of medical expenses, mental health services, and much more.
Understanding the Crime Victim Rights Act
The Crime Victim Rights Act of 2004 is a bill of rights for victims of federal crimes. The act defines victims as anyone directly and proximately harmed by such crimes.
Today, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam have acts protecting crime victims’ rights.
Use this map provided by the Office for Victims of Crime to locate Crime Victims’ Services in your area.
Crime victims’ rights acts also give victims a platform for recognition within the judicial system. Before victims’ rights were legally established, many victims got lost in the system and had to suffer in silence. The rights of accused criminals often seemed more important than the victims’ financial and personal losses.
With the enactment of crime victims’ rights acts across the country, victims no longer need feel alone and marginalized. Crime victims now have a say in the administration of justice as it applies to the accused and themselves.
Crime victim’s rights include:
- The right to dignified and respectful treatment by prosecutors and law enforcement
- The right to reasonable protection from the person or persons accused of the crime
- The right to notification of court proceedings and parole hearings
- The right to speak at court when the accused is entering a plea or receiving a sentence
- The right to speak at court hearings when probation is under consideration
- The right to speak at parole hearings dealing with the convict’s early release from prison
- The right to speak with the prosecutor about issues related to your case
- The right to restitution from the criminal
The Violence Against Women Act
The federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed into law in 1994, providing $1.6 billion towards the investigation and prosecution of crimes against women, and establishing the Office of Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice.
The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) was formed in 1995 to provide financial and technical assistance to communities and tribal counsels throughout the United States.
The VAWA requires the Office of Violence Against Women to strengthen services for victims of:
- Domestic Violence
- Dating Violence
- Sexual Assault
The OVW administers federal funds to communities all over the country through grants that total approximately $450 million annually. However, the OVW does not provide services directly to victims or victim’s families.
Crime Victim Compensation Funds
Crime victim compensation programs throughout the United States help victims of violence every day. Compensation funds help by paying for the costs of medical care, mental health counseling, and lost time at work, as well as funerals and other expenses that families face after the murder of a loved one.
Nearly $500 million is paid every year for more than 200,000 individuals suffering criminal injury, including victims of partner and child abuse, rape, assault, and drunk driving, as well as families of homicide victims.
Find your State Crime Victim Compensation Program for contact information, application deadlines, and compensation benefit details.
Every state has different benefits available for crime victims and families of murder victims, and varying limits. There is no coverage for pain and suffering.
The most common crime victim benefits include payment for:
- Medical expenses for the victim – may be secondary to other sources, like Medicaid
- Mental health counseling for the victim, some offer services to indirect victims like partners and children
- Lost wages, some with enhanced benefits for permanent disability
- Moving expenses when recommended by a therapist or police
- Home security
- Travel expenses to medical providers and court appearances
- Rehabilitation for disabled victims, like job retraining and vehicle modification
- Funeral expenses
- Grief counseling
- Crime scene cleanup for homicides in private residences
- Attorney fees
- Emergency expenses
Most state victim’s service programs are funded with fines and restitution imposed through the courts against lawbreakers.
Eligibility for Victim Compensation
Every state has different eligibility guidelines. In general, to qualify for financial victim’s compensation assistance, you must:
- Promptly report the crime to law enforcement
- Cooperate with the police investigation
- File for fund benefits before the state deadline
- Have verified damages, such as medical costs
- Not be involved in causing the crime
Most states don’t require child victims to abide by the reporting and filing deadlines. Deadlines may be waived for adult crime victims on a case-by-case basis for good cause.
Applying for Victim Compensation
As a crime victim or the family of a murder victim, you have the right to apply for compensation from your state or county victims’ compensation fund.
You can apply directly to the compensation fund in the state where the crime occurred. Application forms can be filled out online, or forms can be mailed to you. Your information is kept secure and confidential.
You can get help with your application from the local:
- Prosecutor’s Office
- State or County Police – Crime Victim Liaison
- Victim Advocates – such as family violence or rape crisis center
Decisions on applications are usually made by the Victim’s Compensation Fund Program Administrators. If your application is denied, you’ll be given information on the appeals process.
Proving Your Financial Losses
It’s very important to have your financial losses well-documented.
Medical Care: Make sure you have bills and receipts for medical and counseling bills. If you have medical benefits through Medicaid, Medicare, or other health insurance, you’ll need to provide your insurance information. Most compensation funds won’t pay for expenses already covered.
Lost Wages: If you missed work while receiving treatment for injuries from a violent crime, ask your employer for a written statement verifying the dates you missed work and the amount of wages you lost as a result.
Child Care: If you had to pay for child care while getting treatment for your injuries, attending court hearings or meetings with the prosecutors or law enforcement, make sure you bring receipts that directly correlate to the dates and times of the meeting or court hearings.
Home Security: Take photos of any property damage. Attach receipts for the repair or replacement of broken doors, windows, and the like.
Transportation: Keep receipts for the cost of cabs, bus fare, or gasoline. If driving, track your mileage to medical appointments and court hearings.
Funeral Expenses: The funeral home will provide a detailed breakdown of funeral and burial expenses, as well as fees for death certificates and other necessities.
The Victim’s Right to Be Heard
Crime victims have a right to be heard at court before a criminal is sentenced for the crime and anytime the criminal is under consideration for probation or parole.
Tell the prosecutor you want to be notified of court proceedings involving the accused. Ask to meet with the prosecutor to explain how the crime has affected you personally and financially.
Make sure the prosecutor knows you would like a consultation before they make any agreements on plea deals or the amount of restitution the accused has to pay to compensate you for your losses.
Your Victim Impact Statement
A victim impact statement is the crime victim’s description, in their own words, of how the crime has affected them. Victim impact statements can be written down, or the crime victim may choose to speak in court.
Some states allow victims to record their statement. Children may be allowed to draw pictures to show how the crime affected them.
Victim impact statements provide information about your injuries, pain, fear, and other damages that might not otherwise be known. The judge or parole board will use the information you provide in determining how long the criminal should be incarcerated, and if they ever deserve a chance of parole.
Victim impact statements may include descriptions of your:
- Physical injuries caused by the crime
- Emotional damage caused by the crime
- Medical and mental health treatments since the crime
- Financial losses
- Need for financial restitution from the criminal
In some states, the victim is also allowed to offer their opinion on the crime, the criminal, and what kind of sentence should be imposed.
It can be hard to think about how the crime affected your life, yet many victims are relieved to have the opportunity to confront the criminal who hurt them.
Your district attorney’s office or other victim advocate offices in your community can answer questions about victim impact statements in your state. Advocates will also help put together your statement.
Crime Victim Hotlines and Helpful Links
National Hotline for Crime Victims
Office for Victims of Crime, Directory of Crime Victim Services
Offers links to programs and services available to crime victims
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255) [24/7 hotline]
National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards
Links to every state’s compensation program
National Child Abuse Hotline
National Sexual Assault Hotline
1-800-656-4673 [24/7 hotline]
Legal information for victims of abuse, including information on protective orders
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