3 minute read

Crime Victims

Victim Rights, Women Victims, The Right To Sue And Bear Witness, Victim Compensation Laws

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) almost twenty-three million Americans over twelve years of age were victims of violent crimes, property crimes, or both, in 2002. The term "victimization" is often used to describe the physical harm victims suffer from assault, rape, or murder, or financial loss due to theft, vandalism, or business corruption. Some 5.3 million crimes in 2002 were violent and 17.5 million were property crimes. Statistics from 1999 when crime rates were slightly higher showed there were 33 violent crime victims and 198 property crime victims for every 1,000 people over the age of twelve. The value of stolen property in 1999 was just less than $15 billion including $4.7 billion from theft and $7 billion in stolen vehicles.

For the first half of the twentieth century, crime victims received little attention in the criminal justice system. After the U.S. Supreme Court strengthened the constitutional rights of defendants in the 1960s, it seemed victims had fewer legal rights than criminals. Some victims became so distressed by the justice process they refused to testify in trials.

Families and friends are often deeply affected along with the victims of a crime. Candace Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in 1980 after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver. (AP/Wide World Photos)

During the 1970s a number of states began establishing victim compensation funds to help victims survive the financial losses caused by crimes against them. In the 1980s a growing victims' rights movement brought change to the criminal justice system, and victims had an active role in the prosecution of their offenders. Society also came to believe it had an obligation to provide services to victims and help them recover from the effects of crime. By the early twenty-first century, over ten thousand victim assistance programs existed across the nation. Victims had finally gained significance in the criminal justice process.

Who qualifies

Each state varies how its funds are applied and who qualifies. For many states only low-income victims are considered; other states allow any victim to apply as long as the individual in no way contributed to the crime, such as picking a fight. Some states only provide payment for those physically injured or to families of victims who were killed. They do not compensate for property losses. For property crimes, victims who have insurance will be compensated through their insurance company. Those who do not have insurance must rely on offenders or their insurance to pay, or in rare cases a state that allows for property loss compensation.

To receive funds, victims or their families must file an application to state officials immediately after the crime occurs, identifying their loss or injuries. Funds are available to help victims even if the criminals are not caught or successfully prosecuted.

Studies at the end of the twentieth century indicated only about 15 percent of victims who report crimes receive compensation, usually those considered the most in need. Those who did not apply probably had strong support from family and friends, while others may not have been aware of the services and money available, especially in the more rural areas.

For More Information


Austern, David. The Crime Victims Handbook: Your Rights and Role in the Criminal Justice System. New York: Viking, 1987.

Belknap, Joanne. The Invisible Woman: Gender, Crime, and Justice. Toronto: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2001.

Elias, Robert. Victims of the System: Crime Victims and Compensation in American Politics and Criminal Justice. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1983.

Gordon, Margaret, and Stephanie Riger. The Female Fear. New York: Free Press, 1989.

Jerin, Robert A., and Laura J. Moriarty. Victims of Crime. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall Publishers, 1998.

Karmen, Andrew. Crime Victims: An Introduction to Victimology. 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2001.

Stark, James, and Herman Goldstein. The Rights of Crime Victims. Chicago, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985.

Web Sites

"Helping Crime Victims Rebuild Their Lives." The National Center for Victims of Crime. http://www.ncvc.org (accessed on August 19, 2004).

National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA). http://www.try-nova.org (accessed on August 19, 2004).

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/welcome.htm (accessed on August 19, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law