Victim assistance programs provide services to victims as they recover from the crime and proceed through the criminal justice process. Attempts to meet victims' needs have been forged on two fronts: victims' rights advocates lobby for and assert the rights of victims to have a primary role in the administration of justice, while community support groups attempt to address the personal crises that may follow from victimization.
A number of purposes of victim assistance programs have been suggested:
- to provide legal representation to victims of crime, so that victims are not revictimized by the system's neglect of them;
- to meet victims' physical and psychological needs; and ultimately
- to give victims an opportunity to successfully reintegrate into society as restored individuals.
Victims' rights advocates recognize a conflict of interest that, they argue, arises when the government prosecutor claims to represent both the State and the victim. This has given rise to the emerging field of crime victims' representation. For example, the State may offer a plea bargain to the offender that is unacceptable for the victim, but the victim has no voice in the decision. Moreover, the offender may be punished in ways that satisfy the State's need for retribution, without making reparation to the victim.
Some victims' advocates argue that victims ought to have the right to be represented by legal counsel at all stages of the proceedings--i.e., victims should be considered interested parties with legal standing. Others urge as a minimum that victims should have access to information at all stages of the proceedings; should be able to receive reparation from the offender for their injuries; and should be permitted to make impact statements at sentencing once the offender is convicted.
For victims of crime, physical and psychological trauma related to the crime may make attending to daily responsibilities difficult. Some victim assistance programmes respond by attempting to meet victims' specific material and psychological needs. For example, a victim suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) could be referred to mental health resources. A victim of burglary may draw on the support of the community groups who offer to replace broken door locks and hinges. The State of Minnesota appropriates funding for sexual crisis services for victims of sexual assault.
Neighbors Who Care (NWC), an example of a church-based organization, comes to the aid of victims of crime by offering connections to support mechanisms and services provided by the church in the first days after victimization.
This document prepared by Christopher Bright. Copyright Prison Fellowship International.