NATIONAL CRIME VICTIMS AGENDA
A ten-point plan to address the needs of our nation’s diverse victims of crime.
Despite substantial increases in criminal justice expenditures over the last three decades, the majority of crime survivors do not receive support to recover from harm. In 2018, more than 3 million Americans were the victim of at least one violent crime. While nearly eight out of ten survivors say their life had been affected by the crime, fewer than 1 in 3 receive the kind of help they would need to recover from the crime.
As efforts to reform the criminal justice system grow nationwide, it has never been more important to envision approaches to safety and justice that reach all victims and meet the safety needs of communities most harmed and least helped.
The National Victims Agenda is a plan to:
EXPAND VICTIMS' RIGHTS
INCREASE LEGAL PROTECTIONS TO PREVENT JOB AND HOUSING LOSS AS VICTIMS RECOVER FROM CRIME
In each state, some legal protections exist to prevent victims from losing housing or employment while recovering from traumatic stress, but these protections must be strengthened. Regulations relating to extended employment leave policy, housing payment delays, or emergency lock changes should be reviewed and expanded to ensure victims can maintain stability in times of crisis.
EXPAND CIVIL LEGAL SERVICES TO HELP ALL VICTIMS RECOVER
The legal system is very difficult to navigate and a host of legal issues arise in the process of recovering from crime. Civil legal services programs reduce burdens on victims and help them stabilize when in crisis.
These vital legal services provide support for everything from housing and employment matters to immigration or family law assistance. Yet, too few victims are aware of or able to access them. Policymakers should ensure the establishment of legal services that can reach all victims in need of assistance and engage in widespread public education to ensure victims are aware of—and can access—these services in their communities and in culturally and linguistically appropriate settings.
ENSURE DIGNITY, RESPECT, AND SUPPORT FOR VICTIMS OF UNSOLVED CRIMES
The majority of crime goes unsolved. Too often, the only survivors that attain information or help from the justice system are those for whom an arrest or prosecution is underway or has occurred. Victims and surviving family members of unsolved crimes can suffer extreme stress and chronic trauma, in part arising from not having information or knowing what happened. These survivors have rights, too. Real justice should ensure dignity and support for all victims of crime. Justice system officials must ensure responsivity to these survivors, treat them with respect, and ensure they are connected to recovery services and support.
EXPAND VICTIM SERVICES ELIGIBILITY TO ALL VICTIMS OF CRIME AND VIOLENCE
Bureaucratic processes and unfair eligibility regulations exclude millions of people harmed by violent crime from attaining victim services in their time of need. While important benefits and protections for victims exist in many states, such as victim compensation, those benefits and protections are not readily available to all crime survivors. Policymakers must end discriminatory rules or practices that treat victims differently depending on status or demographics. Expanding eligibility to services and compensation for all victims is crucial to support healing and stop trauma cycles. This includes ending eligibility exclusions that blame victims for their own victimization and bar eligibility to witnesses to violence, family members of violence victims, people with prior records or on probation or parole, and victims of police violence. Eligibility determination requirements should also not require police reports when other types of reliable documentation are available.
ENSURE EQUAL ACCESS TO COMPENSATION AND SERVICES
While people from all walks of life are impacted by crime and violence, its impact is concentrated and unequal. Services are not universally available, and eligibility restrictions have been reported to result in disproportionate denials of compensation or services to victims of color. Victims of color also report experiencing significant difficulty actually attaining access to recovery services, whether an application was approved or not. Policymakers must track and publish data by race and other key demographics on denial or approval rates of compensation applications and victim access to services. In order to ensure equal access to help, disparities in application approvals or access to services must be immediately addressed. Policymakers should establish survivor advisory councils to review data and information collected, and these councils should be empowered to set policy.
MORE URGENT HELP, LESS RED TAPE
REACH MORE SURVIVORS IN CRISIS—AND FASTER
The majority of crime survivors have never heard of victims compensation or other programs designed to help survivors. Policymakers must expand outreach programs and ensure those programs are available in multiple languages, through multiple platforms, and are delivered in all the places frequented by underserved survivors. Everyone who works with victims of crime on a daily basis, including law enforcement, service providers, and health professionals must be trained to understand how to access the help and protections that support victims. Once aware of available benefits, many survivors still report being unable to access them because the response time for urgent needs is too slow. Bureaucratic processes and protocols deny people help when they need it. Emergency financial support must be available as broadly as possible and must be processed quickly so people can get timely help, and nonemergency applications for help must be resolved within a reasonable amount of time.
COVER ACTUAL COSTS OF RECOVERY AND EXTEND DEADLINES FOR HELP
Aid designated for victims to help with recovery and/or bereavement must be meaningful enough to cover the actual costs that victims incur. Policymakers should increase benefits designated to help victims recover to match the actual costs of grieving and recovery for a wide range of victims. Policymakers should also ensure that benefits fully cover burial expenses and funerals, and expand outreach for this benefit. Recognizing that navigating trauma is difficult and can take years, especially if a person is harmed as a child or youth, policymakers need to extend the deadlines to apply for aid to ensure more victims can access help and to account for the process of trauma.
ENSURE TRAUMA RECOVERY SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE
The vast majority of survivors of violence, especially repeat violence, experience one or more symptoms of trauma. Unaddressed trauma can cause a lifetime of debilitating outcomes for people’s physical health, mental health, and economic stability. The solutions exist—but they are not supported at scale to reach and support the number of people in need. Model trauma recovery programs that provide wraparound case management and mental health supports, as well as peer-to-peer support, can help survivors heal. Policymakers must expand the number of Trauma Recovery Centers and expand trauma support programs in schools to reach children and youth traumatized by violence. Providing survivors with a real right to recover from trauma should be a fundamental goal of our public safety systems.
INVEST IN COMMUNITY-BASED VICTIM SERVICES PROVIDERS
People turn to family, friends, trusted local leaders, and community-based local support services in times of crisis. That’s where the vast majority of survivors of violence and crime go for help. Yet, these programs struggle to stay open and meet the needs for services, especially in times of crisis. Culturally competent community-serving programs, rooted in neighborhoods that experience concentrated violence and crime must be supported with multiyear flexible funding and sufficient resources to meet the need, and scaled up across the country. Public agencies that distribute victim services funds must prioritize community-based organizations. Specialized requests for proposals should be expanded to increase funding opportunities for these organizations, and resource sharing between established providers and newer organizations should be encouraged. The application processes to disperse funds to community based organizations and reimbursement processes governing how these organizations are funded must become user-friendly. It should be the mission of every government agency that works with victims to eliminate barriers to resources reaching the organizations with the most community credibility and connection.
FUND URGENT CRISIS NEEDS—NOW
In the context of a global pandemic, many millions of people are in acute crisis and less support is available. Homicide and violence rates have increased, a predictable outcome of large-scale occurrences of job loss, school closures, food and housing insecurity, and loss of life arising from COVID-19. At the same time, frontline crisis assistance service providers are either closed or operating with limited capacity.
Policymakers should provide substantially increased investments to frontline service providers to help quell the violence and get survivors the crisis assistance support they need, and increase the allocation of state general fund dollars to victims compensation programs and the other state grant programs to meet the true community victimization needs. Policymakers should increase flexible, general support dollars to community-based crisis assistance providers that can help provide survivors and communities immediate cash assistance to meet basic needs. Laws, budgets, and practices must increase the ability to leverage federal grants to ensure funding is available to community-based organizations providing critical services.