|National Crime Victims' Rights Week is April 26-May 2|
|Written by Shawna Bergstrom, Director of Phillips/Sedgwick Victim Assistance|
Last year in Phillips County, a man left work after arguing with his boss. He stopped for a few drinks and then drove home in a foul mood. When he found his wife outside caring for the children instead of making dinner, he flew into a rage. As the children watched in horror, he threw his wife on the ground, kicked her and when she tried to get up, twisted and fractured her arm. It was the fifth such attack in three months.
A neighbor saw the commotion and called the police, who arrived immediately. After witnessing the woman’s injuries and arresting the husband, the police called a victim advocate. The advocate responded to the scene, provided someone to talk to, information about local resources available to the woman and her children and information about filing for victim compensation.
The director followed up with the victim, providing assistance with filling out the victim compensation claim for health care and counseling and support for the woman as the criminal case proceeded through the criminal justice system. The victim was assisted with filing a civil protection order and was notified when her husband was released from jail. For the first time, she and her children were on the road to a safer life.
Twenty-five years ago, most of the services that helped this victim were in short supply. Although many states had victim compensation, most programs were poorly funded. A few grassroots victim assistance organizations had formed throughout the nation, but relatively few victims had access to their services.
Victims whose cases reached the criminal justice system found the courts bewildering and indifferent to their needs. No one helped them negotiate the court system, find services or stay safe.
Then in 1984, in response to a report from President Ronald Reagan’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, Congress passed the landmark Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). VOCA established the Crime Victims Fund—supported by fines from offenders rather than tax payers—to fund victim compensation and victim services throughout the nation as well as training for service providers.
In the past 25 years, the Fund has grown from $68 million to more than $2 billion, disbursed in amounts determined by Congress every year. In 2006, VOCA grants helped fund more than 4,400 public and nonprofit agencies serving almost four million victims throughout the country.
For our local domestic violence victim, VOCA opened the door to safety and hope. VOCA helped fund the pamphlets about her rights as a victim, the victim advocate director who assisted her and the victim compensation that paid for health care and counseling. Other services—such as VOCA-funded hotlines—were available if she had sought them. Every year, for this victim and millions like her, VOCA offers the tools to build a better life.
This year, National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 26-May 2) celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Victims of Crime Act. The theme, “25 Years of Rebuilding Lives: Celebrating the Victims of Crime Act,” spotlights the network of lifelines VOCA has extended through our nation.
In 25 years, VOCA has become “a part of what we are and...how we take care of people,” said Kathryn Turman, director of the FBI Office of Victim Assistance. “The better job we do in taking care of victims, the healthier our communities will be.”
Note: the domestic violence case described here is a fictional “composite” drawn from many actual domestic violence cases.