Victims and Victim Programs
Every single day thousands of people fall victim to a crime. A child walking home from school could be abducted, a woman walking home in the dark could be raped, a teenager could be mugged in a dark alley, and a violent spouse could break their partner’s nose. All of these crimes result in the victimization of one party. These crimes affect victims in various ways, often destroying their mental, emotional, social, and physical health. The government and different non-governmental bodies have made resources available to victims of crimes to help them get justice and heal from their ordeals. Some key areas in addressing the topic of victims are crimes that lead to victimization, the costs and effects of victimization, and the programs available to victims.
Crimes that lead to Victimization
Victims bear the brunt of crimes, although they do not receive the attention that they deserve for the terrible experiences they endure. Some of the major crimes resulting in victimization include assault, rape, child abuse, drunk driving, arson, and drug abuse. The number of child abuse cases is difficult to estimate as many cases go unreported or uninvestigated. Parents and guardians are expected to be the primary caregivers who keep their children safe, but sometimes this is not the case. The Department of Child and Family Services is tasked with responding to any issues related to child abuse. In the United States, the National Incidence and Prevalence Survey of Child Abuse and Neglect tracks child abuse incidences in the country (Lee, 2019). One of the significant challenges with child abuse statistics is that they are mainly obtained from adults, meaning they may not convey an accurate picture.
Rape is another serious crime with thousands of victims. It is, however, difficult to get an accurate number of victims for this crime because many cases go unreported. Contributors of unreported rapes are victim-shaming (Felson & Palmore, 2018), lack of evidence, fear on the part of the victim, and the relationship between the rapist and the victim. One example of victim-shaming is that victims are often told they must have done something to deserve their abuse, or they did not try hard enough to stop it. Male victims of rape are often shy to report because they might be ridiculed. The National Sexual Violence Center reports that in 2018, the incidents of rape stood at 734,630. Only 25% of these cases were reported to the police (Morgan & Oudekerk, 2019), showing that most victims did not get any justice. Rape is one of the crimes where victims suffer in silence due to various factors, something that causes a lot of trauma and suffering.
Assault as a crime has the highest number of victims every year. Assault takes many forms, one example being domestic violence. Assault may or may not result in injury. There are so many types of assault, ranging from verbal abuse and threats to bodily harm that results in injury. Examples of assault include throwing objects, threats of violence and death, verbal insults, pointing a weapon at someone, among many others. Intimate partner violence is a serious issue because many cases of domestic assault go unreported, mainly due to fear on the part of the victims. Unfortunately, some of these assault cases result in death. The Bureau Of Justice Statistics reports an average of 6 million instances of violent assault in the year 2018 (Morgan & Oudekerk, 2019). An important point to note is that assault can either be simple or aggravated depending on the characteristic of the crime. Simple assault does not involve a weapon and may result in either no injury or minor injuries. Aggravated assault involves a weapon, which may be used to attack a person or used as a threat of attack. Other crimes that lead to victimization include drunk driving and arson.
Effects and Costs of Victimization
Being the victim of a crime has many devastating consequences on one’s mental, emotional, physical, and social wellbeing. These consequences are both tangible and intangible. One significant tangible effect of being a victim of a crime is the medical costs associated with the crime (Lugo et al., 2018). The extent of injury depends on the nature of the crime. For example, if the victim sustains severe knife or gunshot wounds, they may need extensive surgery, which is quite costly. Less serious injuries also have medical costs associated with them, as even minor ones require a trip to the emergency room. Other medical expenses include the cost of transportation to a hospital in case of an emergency, costs of rehabilitation, and funeral costs in case of death. In many cases, victims and their families have to foot these bills, causing imposing financial consequences and strain upon them.
Being the victim of a crime severely affects the mental health of a victim and those around them. Victims often suffer from mental health struggles in the aftermath of their crimes, which might go on for the rest of their lives. An example of this is paranoia and fear of public spaces. Victims may live the rest of their lives constantly looking over their shoulders, thinking that someone is following them. Victims could also suffer from other problems such as hallucination, depression, anxiety, and dissociative personality disorder (Scott et al., 2018). Victims of serious crimes such as aggravated assault, rape, and domestic violence often suffer severe mental health disorders due to their ordeal. Treatment of these mental illnesses also puts a financial strain on the victims and their families. Victims may need long-term therapy for their mental health struggles to help them lead a relatively normal life.
Victims could lose some valuable property as a result of crimes committed against them. This is usually most pronounced during crimes such as burglary and arson. Property taken and not recovered factors into the tangible costs of being a crime victim. Damaged property is also a serious issue, especially where the property was uninsured. The cost of processing an insurance claim in terms of money and time also puts strain on the victim of the crime.
Victims’ productivity in various areas of their lives suffers as a result of a crime committed against them. They may be forced to skip school, work, or other important events for a period after. Skipping work could lead to a person being fired or going on unpaid leave, which causes a loss of wages for that person and their dependents. Productivity costs are not just on the victims but also on their family, coworkers, employers, schoolmates, and other people close to them. For example, a family member may need to stay home from work or school to care for a victim of a crime, affecting their productivity. Some victims of crimes end up permanently disabled, requiring long-term care, or they may even lose their lives.
For children, the consequences of crimes bear a lot of weight. The children may not fully understand what happened to them at a young age. Crimes tend to affect children’s development; for example, abused children have delayed milestones such as talking and socializing with others. Jud et al. analyzed the effects in a published article titled, ‘On the incidence and prevalence of child maltreatment: a research agenda.’ The authors explain that the impacts of child abuse are wide-ranging and have lasting effects well into adulthood and even old age. One of the consequences is on the children’s psychological wellbeing. Abused children tend to suffer from mental problems such as depression, paranoia, low self-esteem, and even suicide (Jud et al. 2016). Their social lives are also affected, and the abused children tend to keep to themselves or isolate due to the trauma they endured. All of these patterns, if left untreated, persist till later in life, negatively affecting their quality of life.
There are other costs related to victims of crimes, such as the costs of first responders like police and fire departments (Lugo et al., 2018). When a crime happens, the most practical course of action is to alert the police. This may be done by concerned citizens, witnesses, and victims of the crime. Police and other response teams are valuable resources who have to be paid for their role in keeping us safe. Additionally, there have to be investigators and other professionals who look into the crime to determine the extent of damage and find the criminals. All of these resources utilized in aid of the victim cost money and contribute to the overall costs of being a crime victim. Crimes do not just affect individuals but communities as a whole.
Over the years, response programs for victims have improved tremendously with more resources allocated to these programs. Today, victims of crime can get the help they need with a mere phone call. The federal Office for Victims of Crime website details the growth of the victim program over the years. California made history as the first state to set up a victim compensation program in the year 1965, and other states soon followed suit. In 1972, Missouri, California, and D.C. set up the country’s first victim assistance programs (Miers, 2014). Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974, allocating resources for abused and neglected children. Four years later, two critical federal programs were set up to support victims; the National Coalition against Sexual Assault (NCASA) for victims of sexual violence and the National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCADV) for battered women. All of these organizations lay the foundation for improved support and services for victims of various crimes.
President Ronald Reagan stepped up the support for crime victims by setting up the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime which would explore the experiences of crime victims in the justice system. The task force reported that victims play a critical role in the criminal justice system, so it was important for people to understand their experience. Victims had their lives forever changed as a result, and taskforce members got to understand this as they met with many victims. The task force made many recommendations, one of which was the establishment of the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) in 1988 to administer the Crime Victims Fund across the country. Over the years, the fund has deposited hundreds of millions of dollars which have been critical in aiding victims of crimes. The OVC plays vital roles, including creating legislation to protect the rights of victims, training professionals dealing with victims (Office for Victims of Crime, 2019), and establishing a national resource center.
The passing of the Violence Against Women Act (NAWA) in 1994 by Congress marked an important milestone in protecting female victims of crime, specifically sexual assault and intimate partner violence. One landmark case in 1988, State v. Ciskei became the first to allow an expert to testify on the mental state of rape victims. The expert explained that when one has been a victim of repeated physical and sexual abuse, they may not immediately alert the authorities on their abuse. This is referred to as battered woman syndrome (Khanna & Sachdeva, 2015), which marked an important step against victim shaming and blaming by understanding how abuse history affects the victim’s response. There are many other programs designed for victims from specific groups that continue to promote victims’ rights to this day. One of these is the National Center on Elder Abuse, which collects and provides data and resources on elder abuse around the country.
The legislature has passed many other bills designed to promote victims’ rights over the years, giving the victims hope that justice shall be served. Drunk drivers cause a lot of injuries and deaths to innocent victims every day. The Federal Drunk Driving Prevention Act passed in 1988 set the legal drinking age at 21, reducing the chances of younger individuals drinking and driving due to a proper lack of judgment. Additionally, Congress passed legislation proposed by Mothers against Drunk Driving that blocked drunk drivers from filing for bankruptcy and avoiding charges. Children are an essential part of victim protection and rights, and there are various laws that protect and uphold the rights of child victims. One of these is the PROTECT Act of 2003, more popularly referred to as the Amber Alert (Griffin et al. 2016), where information on missing or kidnapped children is broadcast to the community to facilitate faster response.
These victim programs offer a wide range of protection and services for victims of crimes. Before these programs were established, victims were primarily left on their own, exposed to many challenges. For example, rape victims could be ignored by authorities if they could not afford their own legal resources. Such situations left victims feeling alone, angry, ashamed, and blaming themselves for what happened to them. Today, various resources are available to ensure that victims of crimes receive the help and the justice that they need to move forward with their lives. Some of the resources offered under victim programs include shelter, advocacy, medical services, legal services, mental health services, and monetary compensation for damage, injury, and loss. The criminal justice system recognizes the crucial role that victims play and that they need a lot of support and protection.
In summary, victims are a significant part of the criminal justice system. In many cases, people find reasons to blame the victims, shame them for their ordeal and leave them without the justice they deserve. Being the victim of a crime takes a significant toll on one’s life. The most common crimes that lead to victimization include rape, assault, and child abuse, among others. Depending on the nature of the crime, victims could be afraid to come forward due to fear of repercussions. Crimes affect victims’ emotional, social, mental, and physical wellbeing. Over the years, the government has created various programs to help victims of different crimes. These programs are usually tailored specifically to the victims of a particular crime so that trained professionals work with victims. Children, the elderly, victims of rape, victims of domestic violence all have different organizations mandated to help them navigate the aftermath of their crimes. For victims, getting justice is one of the most critical paths to healing. A rape victim will breathe easier knowing their rapist has been punished and that they will no longer hurt anyone else. Society needs to take a more empathetic stance towards victims, and the criminal justice system needs to ensure that justice is served for every crime committed.
Griffin, T., Williams, J. H., Wooldredge, J., & Miller, D. (2016). Does AMBER Alert ‘save lives’? An empirical analysis and critical implications. Journal of crime and justice, 39(4), 490-511.
Jud, A., Fegert, J. M., & Finkelhor, D. (2016). On the incidence and prevalence of child maltreatment: a research agenda. Child and adolescent psychiatry and mental health, 10(1), 1-5.
Khanna, D., & Sachdeva, A. (2015). Battered woman syndrome: its repercussions and implications on women of the present era. International journal of clinical and experimental medical sciences, 1(2), 7-10.
Lee, S. (2019). “Crime Victim Awareness and Assistance Through the Decades.” National Institute of Justice (NIJ), US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, & United States of America.
Lugo, K., Przybylski, R., Farley, E., Howley, S., Liberman, A., Yahner, J., … & Garcia, O. (2018). Estimating the financial costs of crime victimization. Office of Justice Programs. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/254010.pdfMiers, D. (2014). Offender and state compensation for victims of crime: Two decades of development and change. International Review of Victimology, 20(1), 145-168.
Morgan, R., & Oudekerk, B. (2019). Criminal victimization, 2018 (NCJ 253043). U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv18.pdfOffice for Victims of Crime (OVC), US Dept of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, & United States of America. (2019). OVC Help Series for Victims of Crime.
Felson, R. B., & Palmore, C. (2018). Biases in blaming victims of rape and other crime. Psychology of Violence, 8(3), 390.
Scott, K. M., Koenen, K. C., King, A., Petukhova, M. V., Alonso, J., Bromet, E. J., … & Kessler, R. C. (2018). Post-traumatic stress disorder associated with sexual assault among women in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. Psychological medicine, 48(1), 155.