Victims of crime sometimes require compensation to cover the expenses associated with being a victim (e.g., medical expenses). Victim compensation was established in the 1960s to provide financial relief to victims of crime, enhance public safety, and encourage citizen cooperation with the criminal legal system. Prior to victim compensation programs, many victims and survivors were not able to access financial reparation for costs associated with their victimization or loss because some offenders are never apprehended, and many who are arrested and convicted do not have the means to pay restitution or simply refuse to pay. To increase victim and survivor access to this important resource, enhanced awareness about victim compensation is needed.
Funding Victim Compensation
- The federal Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA) initiated the Crime Victims Fund, a federal funding source that reimburses victim-related expenses and funds crime victims’ services using funds from criminal offenders, not taxpayers. The Crime Victims Fund include fines, penalties, forfeited bail bonds, forfeitures of profits from crime, and convictions charges required as payment from persons convicted of federal crimes.
- VOCA also provides funding to state compensation programs to cover victims of federal crimes and provided initial funding to victim compensation programs in 14 states that did not have them prior to VOCA’s enactment.
- As of 2020, the Crime Victims Fund has a cap on disbursement amounts that Congress instituted in FY2000 to account for receipt of wide-ranging fund amounts and to ensure sufficient funding for future years. The FY20 cap was a 21 percent reduction from FY19 ($3.353 billion).
Victim Compensation Program Services And Access
- All state victim compensation programs cover expenses associated with medical treatment, mental health counseling, lost wages, and funeral costs.
- Most state compensation programs cover travel, crime scene cleanup, attorney fees, and rehabilitation costs.
- The average maximum amount of compensation that victims and survivors can receive is ~$26,000, which varies across states.
- Several states offer additional funds ranging from $5,000 to $150,000 for catastrophic injuries, permanent disability, or funeral expenses.
- Victim compensation is considered a payer of last resort, meaning that reimbursements only cover expenses that are not already covered by restitution, insurance, or other financial sources.
Requirements for Access
- Reporting of the crime.
- Filing of an application for compensation.
- Cooperation with law enforcement and prosecutors in the criminal investigation prosecution of offenders (involvement in the crime negates receipt of victim compensation).
- Some states have additional requirements, such as reporting the crime within a reasonable time (usually 72 hours) or filing a police report within 5 to 10 days.
- Most states require victims to file claims for compensation within 1 to 2 years, but some states allow submission of claims within 3+ years.
- Several states (e.g., California, Missouri, Ohio) restrict individuals convicted of a felony in the past 10 years from receiving victim compensation.
Addressing Barriers For Victims Accessing Compensation
There are several barriers that may prevent victims from accessing the services they qualify for:
- The National Crime Victimization Survey estimates that 42 percent of victims do not report even serious violent crimes to law enforcement officials. Victims who are young, male, and Black are less likely to report having been the victim of a violent crime. To address this barrier, policymakers can encourage the use of best practices for victims’ disclosure and help-seeking.
- Language barriers prevent some victims from applying for compensation. Victim service providers, also largely funded through the VOCA Fund, can help guide victims (regardless of native language) through the recovery process, including walking them through applying for the appropriate resources such as victim compensation.
- Awareness of victim compensation programs is often low because victims eligible for compensation are not always informed of their right to receive it. Increasing public awareness about victim compensation and victim services through awareness campaigns could be beneficial.