A NATIONAL CRIME VICTIMS AGENDA

A ten-point plan to address the needs of our nation’s diverse victims of crime.

The National Victims Agenda is a plan to:

  • EXPAND VICTIMS RIGHTS
  • END DISCRIMINATION
  • MORE URGENT HELP, LESS RED TAPE

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. Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice represents 46,000 survivors from across the country and regularly surveys representative groups of survivors to understand their needs. In a  National Victims Agenda, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice offers policymakers a plan to address the needs  of the most harmed and the least helped based on our track record of changing laws, budgets and practices  around the country.  

EXPAND VICTIMS RIGHTS

1. INCREASE LEGAL PROTECTIONS FOR VICTIMS TO PREVENT JOB AND HOUSING  LOSS WHILE 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.

2. EXPAND VICTIMS’ 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 victims stabilize in crisis.  
These vital 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 these vital legal services.  Policymakers should ensure the establishment of victims’ legal services that can reach all victims in need  of legal 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. 

3. 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 these victims with respect, and ensure they are connected to  recovery services and support.  

END DISCRIMINATION

4. 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 to 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.

5. ENSURE EQUAL ACCESS TO COMPENSATION AND SERVICES

While people from all walks of life are impacted by crime and violence, its impact is also 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 a benefits  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, and  immediately address disparities in application approvals or access to services to ensure equal access to  help. 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

6. REACH MORE SURVIVORS IN CRISIS—AND FASTER

The majority of crime survivors have never heard of victims compensation or other benefits programs  designed to help survivors stabilize. Policymakers must expand outreach programs and ensure those  programs are available in multiple languages, through multiple platforms, and are delivered in all the places  underserved survivors frequent. 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 help,  the civil legal protections that exist, and how to ensure victims can access help. 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 can mean that people don’t get 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. 

7. 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. 

8. 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. 

9. 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  must be 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. 

10. 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 10
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.