Informational Brochure: Victims’ Rights and Services


Assignment 2: Informational Brochure: Victims’ Rights and Services

Power-point Imagine this scenario: You have been hired to create a brochure on victims’ rights and services. The brochure will be distributed to businesses, schools, community centers, places of worship, and other areas where exposure is high. The brochure will focus on crime and victims in Washington, D.C.

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The Assessment:

Perform research in the Walden Library and the Internet to find scholarly resources that focus on crime and victim statistics in Washington, D.C. You can also utilize crime mapping tools and crime statistics databases.

Subject Research: Criminal Justice & Security

Develop a brochure that includes the following:

  • A cover/title panel with graphics and statistics
  • The Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights
  • The Crime Victims Compensation Program in Washington, D.C.
  • Types of victims
  • Community resources in Washington, D.C.
  • Volunteer opportunities in Washington, D.C.

Module Journal: Reflection

At the end of each module, you will reflect on what you learned in the module. Write 1–2 paragraphs in which you discuss what you found most interesting, and explain. Discuss whether factors of class, race, and sexual orientation affect the perception of the victim by different constituents, including the public, the court system, and the media.

Reading material

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2018, from 

National Center for Victims of Crime. (2012). Retrieved March 13, 2018, from



National Center for Victims of Crime. (2012). Victim impact statements. Retrieved from

Reading material

Daigle, L. E. (2018). Victimology (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing.

Chapter 5, “Victims’ Rights and Remedies” (pp. 59–74)

Victimology, 2nd Edition by Daigle, L.E. Copyright 2018 by Sage College. Reprinted by permission of Sage College via the Copyright Clearance Center.

Chapter 5 Victims’ Rights and Remedies

Let’s revisit Polly now that it has been a few days since she was victimized. Remember that Polly is a young undergraduate student who was accosted by two offenders as she was walking home. Her school bag was stolen, and she was assaulted. Unlike most victims, Polly called the police to report what had happened to her. She had to have 10 stitches at the hospital. Clearly a victim, she was still questioned by the police about why she was walking home alone at night. She very well may have felt victimized by this questioning—and we know that she had a hard time emotionally after being victimized. She found it hard to get out of bed, and she missed several classes—she even altered her schedule and stopped going out alone at night.

In Chapter 3, you considered the toll this victimization took on Polly—on her emotions and her lifestyle, and of course financially. As you know, Polly is not alone in suffering these costs. Many victims experience real costs and consequences. But how do victims deal with these outcomes? Are they left to recover on their own, or are services available to them? Whose responsibility is it to help crime victims? What happens when crime victims do not get the help they need and deserve? All these questions are addressed in this chapter, and as you will see, a variety of rights and resources are available to crime victims today.

Victims’ Rights

Once essentially ignored by the criminal justice system and the law, victims are now granted a range of rights. These rights have been given to victims through legislation and, in 32 states, through victims’ rights amendments to state constitutions (National Center for Victims of Crime, 2009). The first such law that guaranteed victims’ rights and protections was passed in Wisconsin in 1979; now, every state has at least some form of victims’ rights legislation (Davis & Mulford, 2008). Despite each state having laws that afford victims’ rights, they differ in whom the law applies to, when the rights begin, what rights victims have, and how the rights can be enforced. Common to all these state laws, however, is the goal of victims’ rights—to enhance victim privacy, protection, and participation (Garvin, 2010).

Common Victims’ Rights Given by State

Slightly less than half of U.S. states give all victims rights (Howley & Dorris, 2007). In all states, the right to compensation, notification of rights, notification of court appearances, and ability to submit victim impact statements before sentencing are granted to at least some victim classes (Deess, 1999). Other common rights given to victims in the majority of states are the right to restitution, to be treated with dignity and respect, to attend court and sentencing hearings, and to consult with court personnel before plea bargains are offered or defendants released from custody (Davis & Mulford, 2008). Other rights extended to victims are the right to protection and the right to a speedy trial. Importantly, some states explicitly protect victims’ jobs while they exercise their right to participate in the criminal justice system. These protections may include having the prosecutor intervene with the employer on behalf of the victim or prohibiting employers from penalizing or firing a victim for taking time from work to participate (National Center for Victims of Crime, 2009). Some of these rights are discussed in more detail next, and others are discussed in separate parts of this chapter. To see an example of what rights a state grants, see the box on victims’ rights in Virginia.


The right to notification allows victims to stay apprised of events in their cases. Notification is important for victims at various steps in the criminal justice process. In some jurisdictions, victims have the right to be notified when their offender is arrested and released from custody after arrest, such as on bail. Victims may also have the right to be notified about the time and place of court proceedings and any changes made to originally scheduled proceedings. Notification may also be given if the offender has a parole hearing and when the offender is released from custody at the end of a criminal sanction. Notification responsibilities may be placed on law enforcement, the prosecutor, and the correctional system. To make notification more systematic and reliable, some jurisdictions use automated notification systems to update victims (through letters or phone calls) about changes in their cases. These systems are often also set up so that a victim can call to receive updates. Some states have also moved to allowing e-mail updates for notification purposes. For instance, Maryland recently passed such legislation in 2014 (Basu, 2014). Victims of federal crimes can register to participate in the national automated victim notification system.

Box 5.1 Victims’ Rights in Virginia

The Victim Services Unit provides the following services to victims of crime:

Advocacy on behalf of crime victims

Notification of changes in inmate transfers, release date, name change, escape, and capture Explanation of parole and probation supervision process

Accompaniment to parole board appointments when requested by the victim

Ongoing support, crisis intervention, information, and referrals

Training, education, and public awareness initiatives on behalf of victims of crime

Victims can register to be notified through Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE).

VINE is a toll-free, 24-hour, anonymous, computer-based telephone service that provides victims of crime two important features, information and notification. Victims may call VINE from any touch-tone telephone, any time, to check on an inmate’s custody status. For inmate information, call 1-800-467-4943 and follow the prompts.

Participation and Consultation

One of the overarching goals of the victims’ rights movement was to increase participation and consultation by victims in all stages of the criminal justice system. One way victims are encouraged to participate is by submitting or presenting a victim impact statement, which is discussed later in this chapter under “Remedies and Rights in Court.” Another way victims may participate is by consulting with judges and/or prosecutors before any plea bargains are offered or bail is set. Consultation may also occur before an offender is paroled or sentenced (Davis & Mulford, 2008).

Right to Protection

Victims may also need protection as they navigate the criminal justice process. Victims may be fearful of the offender and the offender’s friends and family. Participation in the criminal justice system may, in fact, endanger victims. In response to this potential danger, many states include safety measures in their victims’ rights, falling under the category of right to protection. For example, victims may be able to get no- contact or protective orders that prohibit the defendant from having any contact with the victim. Victims may also be provided with secure waiting facilities in court buildings. Victim privacy is also protected ever-increasingly in states; some disclose only minimal victim information in criminal justice records—such as law enforcement and court records (Davis & Mulford, 2008).

Right to a Speedy Trial

You have probably heard of offenders having a right to a speedy trial, but did you know that about half of all states also provide victims with this right? Although not as explicit as an offender’s right, this right given to victims ensures that the judge considers the victim’s interests when ruling on motions for continuance. In other words, in states that give victims this right, decisions about postponing a trial cannot be made without consideration of the victim. Some states also explicitly provide for accelerated dispositions in cases with disabled, elderly, or minor children victims (Davis & Mulford, 2008).

Rights Related to Evidence

In general, crime victims have the right to have any of their property that has been taken as evidence returned to them. In addition to this general right, recent attention has been given to the storage and testing of evidence, particularly as it relates to sexual assault and rape cases. In some states, victims are protected from having to pay for evidence collected such as a rape kit. They also do not have to pay for the testing of these kits. Other states have passed legislation related to notification of the status of their kits and whether a match has been identified. California’s Sexual Assault Victims’ DNA Bill of Rights (2003) provides victims of sexual assault the right to be informed of the status of their kit and whether a match has been identified. Similar legislation was passed in 2013 in Texas. Texas grants victims the right to receive notice when evidence is compared to DNA profiles stored in databases (National Center for Victims of Crime, n.d.-c).

Issues With Victims’ Rights

Although victims’ advocates have hailed the adoption of legislation and state-level amendments that give victims rights, the adoption of victims’ rights has also come with problems. There has been some resistance to states and the federal government giving victims formal rights. Remember that criminal law is written in such a way as to make crimes harms against the state rather than the victim. Also think about how the U.S. Constitution provides widespread rights to those persons suspected of committing crimes. The U.S. Constitution does not currently include any language that provides victims with rights—but it does for persons suspected of committing crimes. Although this omission has been identified by some as deserving remedy, others argue that victims’ rights do not have a place in our Constitution (R. Wallace, 1997). Concerns have also been expressed that providing victims with rights will create a burden on our already overburdened criminal justice system (Davis & Mulford, 2008).

Also problematic is what to do when victims’ rights are not protected. What happens if a victim is not notified? Who is responsible? Does the victim have any recourse, legal or otherwise, when a right is violated? Many states do not have specific enforcement strategies in place in their victims’ rights legislation, although states that have constitutional amendments generally have enforceable rights in the event that a state official violates a victim’s constitutional rights. Victims may also seek a writ of mandamus, which is a court order that directs an agency to comply with a law (National Center for Victims of Crime, 2009). For other victims, although they are given rights on paper, there is little they can do if their rights are not protected. To remedy this, some states—such as California, in its passage of Marsy’s Law—have passed legislation that is more comprehensive and includes language that gives victims the right to enforce their rights in court, called legal standing (National Victims’ Constitutional Amendment Passage, n.d.). Some states have set up a designated agency to handle crime victims’ complaints (National

Victims may register with VINE for an automated notification call when an inmate is released, transferred, escapes, and to learn of an inmate’s parole status if the inmate is parole eligible.

Victims of crime can address the Parole Board if they have any concerns regarding the release of an offender. Victims have the option of voicing their concerns through letters or through an in-person appointment with the Parole Board.

If victims would like a staff member of the Department of Corrections, Victim Services Unit to accompany them to the appointment, they can contact the Department of Corrections, Victim Services Unit.

Source: Virginia Department of Corrections, Victim services. Retrieved from

Center for Victims of Crime, 2009). Despite these developments, many state victims’ bills of rights specifically note that when victims’ rights are violated, the crime victim does not have the ability to sue civilly a government agency or official. Whatever the redress allowed to victims, you can probably see that for victims, not having their rights protected may feel like an additional victimization and one that they can do little about—at least not easily.

Federal Law

Thus far, we have discussed common rights that states grant to victims of crime, but the federal government has also recognized the importance of protecting the rights of crime victims. (See Table 5.1 for a timeline and brief description of key pieces of federal legislation related to victims’ rights.) In 1982, the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime published a report that included 68 recommendations for how victims could receive recognition and get the rights and services they deserve. These recommendations led, in part, to the development of legislation that would grant victims their first federal rights. The first such piece of legislation passed was the federal Victim Witness Protection Act (1982). This act mandated that the attorney general develop and implement guidelines that outlined for officials how to respond to victims and witnesses. Two years later, the Victims of Crime Act (1984) was passed to create the Office for Victims of Crime and to provide funds to assist state victim compensation programs. The funds are generated from fines and fees and from seized assets of offenders who break federal law. A critical step in victims’ rights also occurred with passage of the Child Victims’ Bill of Rights (1990), which extended victims’ rights to child victims and witnesses. Child victims and witnesses were granted rights to have proceedings explained in language they can understand; to have a victims’ advocate present at interviews, hearings, and trials; to have a secure waiting area at trials; to have personal information kept private unless otherwise specified by the child or guardian; to have an advocate to discuss with the court their ability to understand proceedings; to be given information about and referrals to agencies for assistance; and to allow other services to be provided by law enforcement. The Crime Control Act (1990) and the Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act (1990) were also passed, creating a federal bill of rights for victims of federal crime and guaranteeing that victims have a right to restitution. Specifically, victims of federal crimes were given the right to

Table 5.1 Federal Legislation Pertaining to Victims’ Rights Legislation Timeline Key Provisions

Victim Witness Protection Act (1982)

Provided for the punishment of anyone who tampers with a witness, victim, or informant

Required notification, if victim provided address and telephone number, for arrest of the accused, times of court appearances at which victim may appear, release or detention of accused, and opportunities for victim to address the sentencing court

Recommended federal officials consult with victims and witnesses regarding proposed dismissals and plea negotiations

Required that officials not disclose the names and addresses of victims and witnesses

Victims of Crime Act (1984)

Established the Crime Victims Fund, which promoted state and local victim support and compensation programs

Amended, in 1998, to require state programs to include survivors of victims of drunk driving and domestic violence in eligibility for federal funds

Child Victims’ Bill of Rights (1990)

Children who are victims or witnesses are provided these rights:

Proceedings explained in language children can understand

A victims’ advocate present at interviews, hearings, and trial

A secure waiting area at trial

Certain personal information kept private unless otherwise specified by the child or guardian An advocate to discuss with the court their ability to understand proceedings

Information provided about agencies for assistance and referrals made to such agencies

Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act (1990)

Provided victims with the right to

be reasonably protected from the accused;

receive reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public proceeding involving the crime or any release or escape of the accused and to not be excluded from such proceedings;

be reasonably heard at any public proceeding involving release, plea, or sentencing;

confer with the attorney for the government in the case;

be given full and timely restitution as provided by law;

have proceedings free from unreasonable delay; and

be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy.

Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994)

Violence Against Women Act (1994)

Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (1996)

Victims’ Rights Clarification Act (1997)

Provided $1 billion to programs designed to reduce and respond to violence against women Increased funding for victim compensation programs and established a national sex offender registry

Made restitution mandatory in violent crime

Expanded compensation and assistance to victims of terrorism

Gave victims the right to provide victim impact statements during sentencing in capital and noncapital cases, and the right to attend the trial of their offender was clarified

Allocated $1.6 billion to fight violence against women

Included money for victims’ services and advocates and for rape education and community prevention programs

Violence Against Women Act (2000)

Provided additional protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence

Authorized funding for rape prevention and education, battered women’s shelters, and transitional housing for female victims of violence; addressed violence against older women and those with disabilities

Justice for All Act (2004)

Provided additional federal protections of crime victims’ rights

Provided funding to test the substantial backlog of DNA samples collected from crime scenes and convicted offenders

Violence Against Women Act (2013)

Gave tribal courts authority to prosecute offenders in their communities even if not Native American Prohibited survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault from being evicted from federally subsidized housing programs

Required colleges and universities to record incidents of dating violence, to implement programs to prevent its occurrence, and to provide resources to victims

Prohibited discrimination of LGBTQ survivors of violent crimes when seeking assistance from victim services and/or protection

Strengthened provisions for immigrant survivors

Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting Act (2013)

Provided for the auditing of samples of sexual assault evidence awaiting testing

Ensured collection and processing of DNA by law enforcement agencies was done in a timely fashion and in alignment with established protocols and practices

Required the FBI to establish and publish protocols and practices that identified how DNA evidence should be collected for accuracy, timeliness, and effectiveness

a. be reasonably protected from the accused;

b. receive reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public proceeding involving the crime or any release or escape of the accused and

not be excluded from such proceedings;

c. be reasonably heard at any public proceeding involving release, plea, or sentencing;

d. confer with the attorney for the government in the case;

e. receive full and timely restitution as provided by law;

f. be assured of proceedings free from unreasonable delay; and

g. be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy.

The acts also provide that the court ensures that crime victims are afforded these rights.

The 1990s also saw the adoption of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994), which included the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act (1994) (VAWA) that gave more than $1 billion to programs designed to reduce and respond to violence against women. It also increased funding for victim compensation programs and established a national sex offender registry (Gundy-Yoder, 2010). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (1996) was also passed, making restitution mandatory in violent crime cases and further expanding compensation and assistance to victims of terrorism. Victims were given the right to provide victim impact statements during sentencing in capital and noncapital cases, and the right to attend the trials of their offenders was clarified via the Victims’ Rights

Clarification Act (1997).

Victims’ rights were further expanded in the first part of the 21st century. The Violence Against Women Act (2000) was signed into law as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. It reauthorized some previous VAWA funding. This legislation also authorized funding for rape prevention and education, battered women’s shelters, and transitional housing for female victims of violence and addressed violence against older women and those with disabilities. This act also expanded the federal stalking statute to include stalking over the Internet. The Violence Against Women Act (2013) was reauthorized 13 years later. Among other provisions, it expands housing protections for victims of domestic violence in all federally subsidized housing programs and protects victims of sexual assault, adds additional protections for dating violence on college campuses, and expands protection for LGBTQ survivors of violence from discrimination so they can receive services. The Justice for All Act (2004) strengthens federal crime victims’ rights and provides enforcement and remedies when there is not compliance. It also provides monies to test the backlog of rape kits. Further attention has been given to the testing of rape kits at the federal level. The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting Act (2013) (SAFER), which became law as part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, amended the Debbie Smith Act (2004) to create grants to audit the sexual assault kit backlog (the Debbie Smith Act provided federal funding for state and local governments to address the backlog of kits at laboratories). It also mandates that at least 75% of allocated funding must be used to reduce the backlog and increase capacity of labs to process these kits through 2018 (National Center for Victims of Crime, n.d.-a).

Despite the provision and expansion of victims’ rights at the federal level, there is still not a federal constitutional amendment. This lack of adoption may be somewhat surprising because the National Victims’ Constitutional Amendment Network and Steering Committee was formed in 1987 and federal victims’ rights constitutional amendments were introduced in both the House and the Senate in 1996. Additional victims’ rights constitutional amendments were introduced in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, and 2004 (Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, 2007). Such an amendment has yet to be adopted.

Financial Remedy

In Chapter 3, you read about the substantial costs that victims face after being victimized. Some of these costs are financial. Victims may lose time from work, have hospital bills, seek and pay for mental health care, need a crime scene cleaned, or lose income from a loved one’s death. To help assuage some of these costs, victims can apply for financial compensation from the state, receive restitution from the offender, or seek remedy civilly.

Victim Compensation

One way victims can receive financial compensation for their economic losses is through state-run victim compensation programs. First begun in 1965 in California, victim compensation programs now operate in every state. Money for compensation comes from a variety of sources. A large portion of funding comes from criminals themselves—fees and fines are collected from people charged with criminal offenses. These fees are attached to the normal court fees offenders are expected to pay. In addition, the Victims of Crime Act (1984) (VOCA) authorized funding for state compensation and assistance programs. Today, the VOCA Crime Victims Fund provides more than $730 million annually to states to assist victims and constitutes about one-third of each program’s funding (National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards, 2014). Not only did VOCA increase funding for state programs, but it also required states to cover all U.S. citizens victimized within the state’s borders, regardless of the victim’s residency. It also required that states provide mental health counseling and that victims of domestic violence as well as drunk driving be covered. In the 2-year budget deal struck in 2015, $1.5 billion was diverted from the Crime Victims Fund, so it remains to be seen how the fund will continue to operate in the future and how states will fund their programs (Sowyer, 2015).

Not all victims, however, are eligible for compensation from the Crime Victims Fund. Only victims of rape, assault, child sexual abuse, drunk driving, domestic violence, and homicide are eligible, because these crimes are known to create undue hardship for victims (Klein, 2010). In some states, victims must have experienced physical injury, whereas in others, if they experienced serious emotional trauma from the victimization, they are also eligible (Evans, 2014). In addition to the type of victimization, victims must meet other requirements to be eligible:

Report the victimization promptly to law enforcement, usually within 72 hours of the victimization, unless good cause can be shown, such as being a child, incarcerated, or otherwise incapacitated

Cooperate with law enforcement and prosecutors in the investigation and prosecution of the case

Submit application for compensation that includes evidence of expenses within a specified time, generally 1 year from the date of the crime

Show that costs have not been compensated by other sources such as insurance or other programs

Ensure they have not participated in criminal conduct or significant misconduct that caused or contributed to the victimization

Victims can be compensated for a wide variety of expenses, including medical care costs, mental health treatment costs, funeral costs, and lost wages. Some programs have expanded coverage to include crime scene cleanup, transportation costs to receive treatment, moving expenses, housekeeping costs, and child-care costs (Klein, 2010). Other expenses for which victims may be compensated include the replacement or repair of eyeglasses or corrective lenses, dental care, prosthetic devices, and forensic sexual assault exams. Note that property damage and loss are not compensable expenses (Office for Victims of Crime, 2012), and only two states (Hawaii and Tennessee) currently pay for pain and suffering (Evans, 2014). States have caps in place that limit the amount of money a crime victim may receive from the Crime Victims Fund, generally ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 per incident. On average, the maximum victims can receive is $26,000. Some states also allow for monies for catastrophic injuries and permanent disability, ranging from $5,000 to $150,000 (Evans, 2014).

Although compensation clearly can provide a benefit for victims, there are some problems with current compensation programs. One problem is that only a small portion of victims eligible for compensation actually receive monies from these funds. In addition, even when people do apply for compensation, there is no guarantee they will receive benefits. Data from victim compensation claims in 2012 showed that about one- fourth of claims were denied (Office for Victims of Crime, 2013). The programs also do not seem to encourage participation in the criminal justice system. There is little evidence that persons who receive compensation are any more satisfied than others (Elias, 1984) or that they are more likely to participate in the criminal justice process (Klein, 2010).


Unlike monies from crime victims’ funds, restitution is money paid by the offender to the victim. Restitution is made by court order as part of a sentence—the judge orders the offender to pay the victim money to compensate for expenses. Much like compensation programs, expenses that may be recovered through restitution include medical and dental bills, counseling, transportation, and lost wages. Restitution can also be ordered to cover costs of stolen or damaged property, unlike in crime victim compensation programs. Restitution cannot be ordered to cover costs associated with pain and suffering; it is limited to tangible and documentable expenses.

Restitution has its benefits. It is based on the notion of restorative justice, which seeks to involve the community, the offender, and the victim in the criminal justice system. Paying restitution helps restore both the offender and the victim to their precrime status. Problematic, however, is that the offender must first be caught for restitution to be ordered. Often, crimes go unreported and offenders remain free from arrest. Even if an offender is arrested, it may be difficult for the court to determine an appropriate amount for restitution. How much money should be paid in restitution to a victim whose mother’s engagement ring was stolen? The ring’s worth to the victim may far outweigh the dollar amount a judge would require the offender to pay in restitution. In addition, many offenders lack sufficient funds to pay victims immediately, even when court ordered. As a result, restitution may not be met.

Civil Litigation

Although compensation and restitution programs may significantly aid victims in recouping crime victimization costs, not all economic costs may be covered. Recall, too, that neither program addresses pain and suffering costs (except for the two states that allow compensation for pain and suffering). To seek redress for these uncompensated costs, victims may pursue civil litigation against the offender. There are some key advantages afforded to a plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) in a civil suit. That person is a party to the lawsuit and is allowed to make key decisions regarding whether to accept a settlement—unlike in criminal court, where it is the state versus the defendant (National Crime Victim Bar Association, 2007). Persons can seek money for emotional as well as physical harm.

In addition, the burden of proof is different in the civil justice system. Liability must be proved by a fair preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard of proof in the criminal justice system. If the court finds that the defendant is in fact liable, then the offender is held financially accountable for the harm caused to the defendant. Much like with restitution, however, the likelihood of the victim actually receiving the money awarded is tied to the offender being identified and the offender’s ability to pay. Accordingly, it may be quite difficult for the victim to recover damages awarded. Also, the costs of entering into a civil lawsuit must be borne by the victim and can be quite expensive. The victim may have to hire an attorney, and civil lawsuits can sometimes drag on for years.

Remedies and Rights in Court

Rights are also afforded to crime victims in other phases of the criminal justice system. Although not discussed in detail in this chapter, police are often the first level of criminal justice with which crime victims interact. The response that victims receive from them may shape how they view the criminal justice system as a whole and may impact their future dealings (or not) with the system should they be victimized again. It seems that when police meet victims’ expectations, victims report high levels of satisfaction. When victims’ expectations are not met, however, victims report lower levels of satisfaction (Chandek & Porter, 1998). That is, it is expectation in conjunction with what the police do that impacts overall satisfaction with the police. In addition to the police, the prosecutor and the courts also provide crime victims with rights. These rights are discussed next.

Victim Impact Statements

As previously discussed, the criminal trial involves two parties in an adversarial system that reflects crime as a harm against the state. As such, historically, victims seldom played more than the role of witness in the criminal trial. Not until the 1970s did victims receive rights that guaranteed them at least some voice in the criminal trial process. One of these rights was first adopted in 1976 in Fresno, California, and it gave the victim an opportunity to address the court through a victim impact statement (VIS). The VIS can be submitted by direct victims and by those who are indirectly impacted by crime, such as family members. The VIS is either submitted in writing or presented orally (victim allocution).

Photo 5.1. A victim delivers her victim impact statement in court during sentencing.

© Legg

In the VIS, the harm caused is typically detailed, with psychological, economic, social, and physical effects included. Depending on the jurisdiction, the victim or others presenting a VIS may also provide a recommendation as to what the offender’s sentence should be. Take a look at Box 5.2, “Excerpt From Stanford Rape Victim’s Impact Statement,” to see an example of a VIS. In this case, the woman who was raped wrote a 13-page 7,000-word VIS and read it during sentencing. Her assailant, although convicted of three felonies—sexual assault of an unconscious person, sexual assault of an intoxicated person, and sexual assault with intent to commit rape—was ultimately sentenced to 6 months in jail and 3 years of probation (Murdock, 2016). Not only may the victim enter a VIS at sentencing, but most states allow for the victim to make a VIS at parole hearings as well. In some cases, the original VIS is included in the offender’s file and will be considered during the parole process. In others, the victim is allowed to update the original VIS and include additional information that may be pertinent to the parole board. Less common, the victim may be allowed to make a VIS during bail hearings, pretrial release hearings, and plea bargaining hearings (National Center for Victims of Crime, 1999). Importantly, despite the victim’s wishes, the VIS is used only as information and may impact the court’s decision, but not always. As noted by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in State v. Johnson (1993), although the victim’s wishes are important, they are not the only consideration or determinate in the prosecutor’s decision to bring a case to trial.

There are many reasons to expect a VIS to benefit victims. It gives victims a right to be heard in court and allows their pain and experience to be acknowledged in the criminal justice process. As such, a VIS may be therapeutic, especially if a victim’s statement is referred to by the prosecutor or judge and if the victim’s recommendation is in accordance with the sentence the offender receives. In addition to this potential therapeutic benefit, a VIS may also provide valuable information to the court and criminal justice actors that allows them truly to understand the impact criminal behavior has on victims. It may help the judge give a sentence that is more reflective of the true harm caused to the victim. Also, it may prove beneficial to offenders to hear the impact of their crimes. Hearing the extent to which their actions hurt another person makes it more difficult for offenders to rationalize their behavior.

Despite these proposed benefits, not all victims use the right to make a VIS. For example, recent data from Texas show that only 22% of VIS applications distributed to crime victims were returned to district attorneys’ offices. The type of victimization for which a VIS was submitted was most commonly sexual assault of a minor, followed by robbery (Yun, Johnson, & Kercher, 2005).