Address Specific Concerns
Although no amount of money can erase the trauma and grief suffered by victims of crime, financial assistance can be critical in helping victims through the recovery process. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 3 of the 5 U.S. territories have victim compensation programs established by law to compensate victims and families for financial losses caused by crime.15 For some victims, these funds can help preserve the stability and dignity of their lives; for many others, access to compensation can alleviate stress and trauma in the aftermath of victimization.
National Directory of Crime Victim Compensation Programs Allows you to locate state programs and information on how to file for crime victim compensation.
National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards Promotes an exchange of information and ideas through a nationwide network of victim compensation programs and includes online publications, information on upcoming events and VOCA grants, and links to programs throughout the country.
States and territories determine by law who will be compensated and how much the compensation will be. The vast majority of the money to fund compensation programs comes from offender fees and fines rather than taxpayer dollars, with about a third coming from federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funds.
Most state laws require criminal justice officials to inform victims about the availability of compensation benefits. Typically, victims learn about these benefits and receive application forms from police, advocates, prosecutors, or medical and mental health professionals.
Various barriers prevent victims from accessing victim's compensation. The following guidelines, adapted from the Sexual Assault/Victims Compensation Assistance Program Manual,16 may reduce those barriers:
- Help victims with the claim process, which may require multiple conversations.
- Respect the victim's decision to file a claim, and explore their options with them.
- Coordinate with a broad range of community agencies that are best positioned to meet victims' financial needs, and develop guidelines for donations with your community partners well before services are needed. Through that coordination, you can consider adding the following benefits, if they are not already provided:
- Relocation expenses, which can include first and last month's rent if the offense occurred at the victim's residence.
- Installation or upgrade of alarm systems.
- Paid and unpaid leave to allow victims to obtain protective orders and seek counseling.
- Allowances for crime scene cleanup.
- Short- or long-term counseling for family members who witness sexual assaults.
- Employer and creditor intervention, when requested by victims.
- Reimbursement for what victims may have already paid to service providers.
- Travel expenses. The It Happened To Alexa Foundation, for example, assists sexual assault victims and their families with travel expenses during criminal trials.
- Consider creating a tracking system for claims to make sure that victims don't fall through the cracks.
- Assess your community's practices.17
In addition, Dr. Lisa Newark recommends outreach efforts that expand the reach of compensation programs to require communities to determine18
- How well victims' financial needs are being met, regardless of the payment sources.
- What the most effective strategies are for helping victims access compensation.
- What other programs and entities pay crime-related expenses.