Throughout this document, we use the term “victim assistance” because it is broad and includes both services and advocacy. We also use “victim,” due to the term’s prevalence and common use by providers from a variety of service settings and backgrounds. Some members of the field prefer the term “survivor,” particularly for its recognition of the strength and resilience of having lived through a traumatic event. “Survivor” may also apply to family members and loved ones of crime victims, as these persons may also suffer serious trauma and receive services. Consequently, we use both of these terms or the combined term “victim/survivor” when referring to those affected by crime. We recognize that many programs based in the criminal justice system also serve witnesses of crime who may not be direct victims or survivors; we intend our broad “victim/survivor” terminology to include witnesses to crime, as well.
The following working definition outlines the basic contexts and activities of victim assistance:
Victim assistance providers include paid and unpaid individuals working in a variety of settings to respond to the mental, physical, financial, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of crime victims and survivors. Their work derives from the theory, methods, and ethics of multiple fields, including criminal justice, public health, social work, psychology, theology, marriage and family therapy, women’s studies, sociology, biological and health sciences, law, political science, and others.
Victim assistance providers may offer intervention, risk reduction, and prevention services to both direct and indirect victims and survivors of crime. These crimes range from personal and property crime to acts of terrorism or mass violence. A number of victim assistance providers also lend aid during community crises, including natural disasters. Included among recipients of victim assistance are family members, friends, significant others, coworkers, community members, and others impacted by the crime’s/disaster’s effects on people and environments.
Victim assistance providers perform many roles, including advocate and supporter for individual victims/survivors and their families, public educator, trainer or peer mentor to other professionals, supervisor to volunteers and paid staff, consultant to justice personnel and health care providers, administrator of victim service programs, and social-change activist within institutions, communities, tribes, states, regions, and nations.
They work in institutional and grassroots settings, and within private, government, and nonprofit sectors, including, but not limited to, domestic violence programs, sexual assault programs, telephone and online hotline services, crisis centers, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices, correctional agencies, juvenile justice systems, probation and parole services, mental health clinics, social services, community centers, refugee resettlement agencies, hospitals, homeless shelters, legal clinics, substance abuse treatment centers, schools and universities, tribal services, crime victim compensation programs, faith-based programs, and state, regional, and national organizations.
Typical services and tasks performed by victim assistance providers include crisis intervention, safety planning, assessment of basic victim/survivor needs, assistance with compensation and restitution applications, provision of information about victims’ rights and the criminal justice process, court accompaniment, advocacy within human services, child and adult protective services, housing assistance, public assistance, the criminal and juvenile justice systems, information and referral, intermediate and long-term support services, case planning, staff supervision, consultation with other professionals, education and risk reduction, legislative reform and social change, and administration of victim service policies, programs, and activities.
Victim assistance as a field of practice and study is directed toward expanding knowledge of criminal victimization and applying this knowledge to improve the condition of both individuals and society. Ever informed by the voices of survivors, victim assistance providers strive to help the public develop an informed understanding of victim-related issues, services, and policies. Victim assistance programs fill an important role within the social service, child welfare, public health, mental health, and criminal and juvenile justice systems of a community.