Victims of violent crime may suffer financial stress as devastating as their physical injuries and emotional trauma. Recovering from violence or abuse is difficult enough without having to worry about how to pay for the costs of medical care and counseling, or about how to replace lost income due to disability or death.
The good news is that every state has a crime victim compensation program that can provide substantial financial assistance to crime victims and their families. And while no amount of money can erase the trauma and grief victims suffer, this aid can be crucial in the aftermath of crime. By paying for care that helps restore victims’ physical and mental health, and by replacing lost income for victims who cannot work and for families who lose a breadwinner, compensation programs are assisting victims in direct ways.
Compensation programs are now serving an ever-increasing number of victims with larger amounts of benefits than ever before. Despite a substantial decline in violent crime (there are a third fewer crimes committed each year now, compared to 1993) applications and payouts continue to grow in most states. The national total of benefits is at record-high levels, and programs are addnig new compensable costs and expanding outreach to ensure that more victims’ needs are met.
Crime victim compensation was the first type of organized victim assistance in the United States. The earliest compensation program was created in 1965 in California, and nine states were operating such programs by 1972, when the earliest programs providing other types of direct victim assistance were established. Today, compensation programs across the country are paying out close to $500 million annually to more than 200,000 victims. Fittingly, most of this money comes from offenders rather than tax dollars, since a large majority of states fund their programs entirely through fees and fines charged against those convicted of crime. Federal grants to compensation programs, providing about 35% of the money for payments to victims, also come solely from offender fines and assessments.
Victims of rape, assault, child sexual abuse, drunk driving, and domestic violence, as well as the families of homicide victims, are all eligible to apply for financial help. Statistics show that victims of assault comprise about half of the claimants for compensation, with more than a third of those claims being paid to domestic violence victims. Child sexual abuse victims comprise 29% of the victims helped by compensation programs. About 10% of benefits overall are paid to families of homicide victims, and 8% goes toward sexual assault victims.