Victim Compensation

An Overview

Crime victim compensation programs across the country offer crucial financial assistance to victims of violence. This overview provides information on how the programs operate and what victims can do to seek help.

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.

Compensation programs can pay for a wide variety of expenses and losses related to criminal injury and homicide. Beyond medical care, mental health treatment, funerals, and lost wages, a number of programs also cover crime-scene cleanup, travel costs to receive treatment, moving expenses, and the cost of housekeeping and child care if a victim is unable to perform those tasks. And states continue to work with victims and advocates to find new ways to help victims with more of the costs of recovery.

While each state operates under its own law, all compensation programs have the same basic criteria to determine eligibility for benefits. It is very important, however, to check with the individual state to see exactly what its requirements are (and the Program Directory on this Website can be useful in doing that). Generally, the victim must (a) report the crime promptly to law enforcement, and cooperate with police and prosecutors (many states allow exceptions to this requirement, particularly for child victims); (b) submit a timely victim compensation application (again, some exceptions may be possible); (c) have a cost or loss not covered by insurance or another government benefit program (victim compensation programs pay only after other collateral sources are used); and (d) not have committed a criminal act or some substantially wrongful act that caused or contributed to the crime (the eligibility of family members generally depends on the behavior of the victim when programs assess this requirement). Apprehension or conviction of the offender is not required.

Maximum benefits available from the states average $25,000, with some states able to offer more, and some states having lower limits. Lower caps within the maximum are common for some types of benefits, like funeral and burial costs, mental health counseling, or lost wages.

Telling victims about compensation is the responsibility of every individual who works in victim services and law enforcement. This resource also should be made known by those who provide medical and counseling services. Compensation programs depend largely on these professionals who work with victims daily to get the message out that financial assistance is available, and programs typically expend a great deal of time and effort in providing training and information to them. We encourage everyone with a role in helping victims to get more details from the program in their state by contacting it directly.