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Victims - Compassion Joins Compensation

programs rape abuse child

After victim compensation efforts were established, an understanding soon developed that crime victims often suffer from difficulties beyond those that can be remedied by money. In a study of victim compensation in an eastern American state, for instance, Robert Elias found that applicants to the program felt more discontented than they would have been had the program not existed. The programs led victims to anticipate that they would be helped in an expeditious and kindly manner. When they encountered delays and bureaucratic barriers to getting the money they had come to expect, they became alienated from the system and hostile to it.

When the burgeoning women's movement turned its attention to the subject of crime, it too acknowledged that victims may need more than money to render them whole. Feminist leaders took up the cause of prostitutes, seeing them as exploited victims of a patriarchal society. Difficulties arose when many prostitutes rejected this definition, insisting that they preferred what they were doing to the menial and low-paying office or sales jobs they might otherwise be able to obtain. They saw themselves as entrepreneurs rather than as victims, and they viewed feminist concern for their plight as condescension by middle-class women.

The women's movement, after abandoning the issue of prostitution, turned its attention to victims of rape. The offense fit particularly well with the feminist ideology of victimization by men. Overwhelmingly rape offenders are men: only two hundred or so cases each year involve arrests of women for rape, most usually as accomplices who, for instance, hold a gun on another woman while a male co-offender sexually assaults her.

Many rape victims were found to suffer profound mental anguish that could only be relieved, if at all, by participation in treatment programs. Rape victims, like victims of other offenses, also had a tendency to assume blame for what had happened to them. They would ask themselves why they had trusted the acquaintance who assaulted them, or why they had not attended to the obvious clues about their assailant's true character. Why had they gone out that night?–and to that particular neighborhood? Why had they not fought back more forcefully or been able to talk their way out of the offense? Why had the man picked on them and not somebody else? Which attributes made them vulnerable and "victimizable"?

The pioneering victim-support programs, often devoted exclusively to rape victims, stumbled along, generally understaffed (and usually depending largely on volunteers), until the passage by Congress in 1984 of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). VOCA provided subsidies not only to state victim-compensation programs (35 percent of their costs) but to victim-assistance efforts as well. In 1988, VOCA-supported programs were further authorized to claim subsidies to aid victims of domestic violence and of drunken driving.

The embrace of victim-assistance programs primarily extends to victims of sexual and spousal abuse (including marital rape, a criminal offense newly defined in the 1960s) and child abuse, again offenses largely committed by men against women and children. Somewhat cynical onlookers point out that these offenses have always existed and that the intense limelight suddenly focused on them is based primarily on political and ideological maneuvering rather than on an increase in their number or seriousness. Some claim that deep concern with child abuse is the result of efforts by medical doctors to aggrandize their own position (and increase their income) by creating the issue of battered-child syndrome and defining a social problem as a medical matter, one calling for greater recourse to X rays and physician intervention. Attorneys are said to have prospered by filing suits against real and alleged child abusers (Costin, Karger, and Stoesz). The movement against child abuse also gave rise to a number of well-publicized cases in which adults claimed to have recovered long-repressed memories of abuse, usually by their father. Similarly, there have been numerous cases accusing child-care workers of sexual abuse of their young charges. In many of these situations strong evidence emerged that the child had been induced to give damning testimony by leading and suggestive questioning tactics (Ceci and Bruck).

Services to victims and witnesses customarily include crisis counseling (that is, short-term help with emotional difficulties), practical assistance, such as help in locating a new place to live, obtaining pregnancy tests and tests for sexually transmitted diseases, changing locks and repairing windows, and/or filing a criminal complaint. Referrals might be made to other social service agencies, such as welfare offices, and for psychiatric treatment. In addition, there has been a proliferation of shelters where women who are victims of abuse may find refuge and support. Some programs will transport a victim to the courtroom where the assailant's hearing or trial will be held, thus allowing the victim to become familiar with the setting beforehand. That defense witnesses do not usually have the advantage of this strategy is deplored by some, but usually is regarded by those aiding victims as a justified attempt to counterbalance the procedural advantages said to be enjoyed by defendants.

A survey published in 1999 found that nearly eight out of ten persons in the United States reported that they were very or somewhat satisfied with the services they received from victim-assistance programs. The major complaints involved slipshod operating methods and poor follow-through. A typical criticism was this: "They had me fill out forms and I never received any feedback. When I contacted them again they had me fill out the same old forms and nothing happened" (Davis, Lurigio, and Skogan (1999), p. 112).

In 1997, Congress passed a law permitting money in the federal Crime Victims Fund to be allocated to pilot programs that can help those injured by white-collar crimes, although the victims themselves cannot receive direct financial aid. Ironically, most of the money that goes into the fund is derived from fines paid by white-collar criminals.

Coordination of the network of victim service agencies is done by the National Organization of Victim Assistance, headquartered in Washington, D.C. A federal agency, the National Center for Victims of Crime, provides a web site detailing developments in the field and a computerized list of some twenty thousand federal and state victim-related statutes. The center also has created a database of approximately ten thousand court decisions dealing with crime victims and a roster of attorneys who handle civil cases for victims.

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