Victim Media Advocacy:
How to Facilitate Sensitive and Respectful Treatment of Crime Victims
All victim assistance professionals may be called on to provide information about victims’ constitutional and statutory rights, as well as trends and data related to crime, victimization, and victim assistance.
Victim service providers should be able to articulate important information about victims’ rights as defined by state constitutions, statutes, and case law. They can also explain specific victims’ rights that apply within an individual justice agency. In general, there are seven victims’ rights that are applicable to most victims in all jurisdictions that advocates should be prepared to explain to the media:
Right to Be Treated With Dignity and Respect: This right is articulated in most states’ “victims’ bills of rights” and offers a global guideline to fair treatment of victims throughout criminal and juvenile justice processes.
Right to Notification: Victim notification is essential to help victims understand and become informed about criminal justice processes and supportive services available to help them. In general, victims are notified about the status of their case, the status and location of the alleged or convicted offender, and services that can help them rebuild their lives in the aftermath of crime.
Right to Reasonable Protection: Victims of crime may have important concerns about their personal safety and that of their family and loved ones. Often, victims’ concerns about safety arise from the trauma of victimization; from real or implied threats made by the alleged or convicted offender and his or her colleagues; or from not knowing or understanding their rights to protection as defined under law and the range of services available to address their safety concerns. When victims have concerns about safety and they identify these concerns to criminal justice and victim assistance officials, a variety of approaches can be developed that promote their safety.
Right to Be Heard: Victims have the right to be heard at various stages of the criminal justice process, including at the time of sentencing and at any parole release hearing. The victim impact statement is the victim’s opportunity to describe how the crime affected him or her—emotionally, physically, financially, and spiritually. The “voice of the victim” is clearly heard through the victim impact statement process.
Right to Restitution: Victim restitution is the payment to cover crime-related expenses to a victim from an offender who is convicted of a crime. It is designed to help crime victims recover out-of-pocket expenses that result from the crime, such as medical treatment for physical injuries, the costs of mental health counseling, and the loss of or damage to property. It generally does not cover costs such as those resulting from “pain and suffering.” When an offender is found guilty, the court can order that he or she pay restitution to the victim based on financial losses resulting from the crime.
Right to Victim Information and Referral: Victims of crime often have needs, issues, and concerns about how they feel, what is going to happen, their role as a victim or witness, and what services are available to help them. There is a wide range of services to help victims cope in the aftermath of a crime and to help them make informed decisions about their lives. Many services are available to all victims of crime, while some victims’ rights and services require that a victim reports the crime to law enforcement and cooperates with the investigation and prosecution of a criminal case. In addition, some specialized services are available to help victims of specific types of crime.
Right to Apply for Victim Compensation: State victim compensation programs provide financial assistance to victims of nearly every type of violent crime, including rape, robbery, assault, sexual abuse, drunk driving, domestic violence, and survivors of homicide victims. Compensation programs reimburse for expenses such as medical care, mental health counseling, lost wages, and, in cases of homicide, funerals and loss of support. These expenses or costs cannot be covered by insurance or some other readily available “collateral source.” Each state has eligibility requirements that victims must meet to qualify for compensation benefits.
In some states, victims may also have additional rights, including, but not limited to, the following: prompt return of property, a speedy trial, and measures to ensure compliance with their constitutional and/or statutory rights.
It is important for victim service providers to be fully informed of key victims’ rights so they can describe these rights to victims, journalists, and others. Many sources can enhance victims’ rights information—such as changes in existing statutes, new laws, and court decisions that become case law—including state legislatures, state and local victim assistance coalitions, state and national organizations, training programs, and research findings (please see “Resources” on the Justice Solutions website).
When covering individual victim cases or a specific type of crime and victimization, journalists often seek additional information that can expand a story’s scope and overall impact. For example, a reporter covering a local domestic violence homicide may want information and statistics about trends and the scope of the problem nationally. A reporter for a national news program about sex offender laws may want state-specific information and the opportunity to speak with the parents of a child who was sexually abused. When a major national research report is issued that addresses a specific type of victimization or changes in the prevalence of certain crimes, victim service providers often have an opportunity to help develop a story with a local angle.
As part of an overall media plan, victim service providers can prepare information and assess opportunities to provide journalists’ access to victims as sources, thereby shaping the story to ensure victim issues are included and victims’ voices are heard. It is important that all information provided is timely and accurate and that interview sources are reliable and capable of dealing with the stress and consequences of being interviewed.
The types of additional information that victim service providers can provide to journalists include—
- Statistics and trends about specific types of crime and victimization (national data are important but state and local data are more relevant).
- “Myths and facts” about different types of crime and victimization that can enhance accurate reporting.
- State and federal laws related to crime and victimization, including information about victims’ constitutional and statutory rights and case law.
- Brief overviews about the dynamics of different types of victimization.
- Research-based information about crime victims and perpetrators.
- A “glossary of terms” related to different types of victimization, as well as relevant justice proceedings.
- How people can report crimes to authorities.
- Community-based and system-based resources for victim assistance.
- Reliable local, state, and national experts—including crime victims and survivors—who can offer additional insights and perspectives on the issue.