Victims of Crime

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Becoming a crime victim can have serious consequences—outcomes the victim neither asks for nor deserves. A victim rarely expects to be victimized and seldom knows where to turn. Victims may end up in the hospital to be treated and released, or they may be confined to bed for days, weeks, or longer. Injuries may be temporary, or they may be permanent and forever change the way the victim lives. Victims may lose money or property, or they may even lose their lives—the ultimate cost for which a victim and his or her family can never be repaid.

The effects of crime are not limited to the victim. Families as well as victims may experience feelings of fear, anger, shame, self-blame, helplessness, and depression—emotions that can scar life and health for years after the event. Those who were attacked in their homes or whose homes were entered may no longer feel secure anywhere. They often blame themselves, feeling that they could have handled themselves better, or done something different to prevent being victimized.

In the aftermath of crime, when victims most need support and comfort, there is often no one available who understands. Parents or spouses may be dealing with their own feelings of anger or guilt for not being able to protect their loved ones. Friends may withdraw, not knowing what to say or do. As a result victims may lose their sense of self-esteem and no longer trust other people.


The fear of becoming a victim is often much greater than the likelihood of being one. Fear of crime has permeated our society so completely that it plays a daily role in our lives. In Perceptions of Neighborhood Crime, 1995 (Carol J. DeFrances and Steven K. Smith, Washington, D.C., 1998), the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that about 7.3 percent of U.S. households believed that crime was a major problem in their neighborhoods.

Households in central cities (14.5 percent) were twice as likely as other households to feel that crime was a serious problem. In 1995, 19.6 percent of black central-city households identified crime as a neighborhood problem, compared to 13 percent of white central-city households.

In 2000, despite a steadily declining crime trend, 34 percent of respondents to a Gallup Poll felt that there was more crime in their area than the year before. Of those, a third lived in urban areas, 31 percent in suburban areas, and 41 percent resided in rural areas. About 34 percent of white respondents felt that crime was worse than the year before, compared to 31 percent of black respondents. Thirty-six percent of females and 32 percent of males who responded felt that there was more crime in their area than in the previous year.


In 1972 the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration established the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). The survey is an annual federal statistical study that measures the levels of victimization resulting from criminal activity in the United States. The survey was previously known as the National Crime Survey, but it was renamed to emphasize the measurement of victimization experienced by citizens.

Sponsored by the BJS, the survey was created because of a concern that the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) did not fully portray the true volume of crime. The UCR provided data on crimes reported to law enforcement authorities, but it did not estimate how many crimes went unreported.

The NCVS is designed to complement the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. It measures the levels of criminal victimization of persons and households for the crimes of rape, robbery, assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and larceny. Murder is not included because the NCVS data is gathered through interviews with victims. Definitions for these crimes are the same as those established in the FBI's UCR.

Many observers believe the NCVS is a better indicator of the volume of crime in the United States than the FBI statistics. Nonetheless, like all surveys, it is subject to error. The survey depends on people's memories of incidents that happened up to six months before. Many times, a victim is not sure what happened, even moments after the crime occurred.

Errors can come from other factors as well. Individuals who have been repeatedly victimized—by spousal or parental abuse, for example—may not remember individual incidents, or may remember only the most recent event. For instance, the NCVS found that a disproportionately large number of incidents are reported to have occurred at the end of the time period covered by the survey when the victim's memory was perhaps fresher. In addition, the NCVS limits the data to victims age 12 and older—an admittedly arbitrary age selection. Despite these factors, however, the BJS claims a 90 to 95 percent confidence level in the data reported in the NCVS.

The NCVS and the FBI's UCR are generally considered the primary sources of statistical information on crime in the United States. Like all reporting systems, both have their shortcomings, but each provides valuable insights into the status of crime in the United States. Over the years some significant differences have occurred in their findings. For example, the Uniform Crime Reports saw a 15 percent increase in crime from 1982 to 1991, while the NCVS reported a leveling off and, in 1990, a decrease in crime. These differences require the reader to evaluate both sets of statistics carefully, not relying solely on one or the other.

Redesigned Survey

Beginning in 1979, the NCVS underwent a thorough, decade-long redesign. The new design was expected to improve the survey's ability to measure victimization in general and particularly difficult-to-measure crimes, such as rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Improvements included the introduction of "short cues" or techniques to jog respondents' memories of events. Generally the redesign, as anticipated, resulted in an increased number of crimes counted by the survey. Therefore pre-1992 data cannot be directly compared to the later data.


Despite the continuing media spotlight on the high crime rate in the nation's cities, the findings from the 1996 NCVS indicated that overall crime victimization had declined from its peak in 1981. These findings support the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, published in Crime in the United States.

Continuing the decline from 1997 to 1998, the rates of violent crime, personal theft, and property crime fell 6.6 percent, 18.8 percent, and 12.4 percent, respectively. Overall from 1993 to 1998 the violent victimization rate dropped 26.7 percent, the personal theft rate plummeted by 43.5 percent, and the property crime rate fell 31.8 percent. From 1998 to 2000 rates of criminal victimization (personal crimes) declined by 23.2 percent, while the overall rate for victims of property crimes dropped by 18.1 percent. (See Table 3.1.)


The figures for 2002 show a continued decline in the crime rate. In 2002 U.S. residents ages 12 and older were the victims of approximately 23 million crimes, down by almost 12 percent from the 25.9 million victimizations in 2000. About 17.5 million were property crimes. Another 5.4 million were violent crimes. Victimization rates for both violent crimes and property crimes were down for 2002, with the violent crimes rate at 23.1 per 1,000 persons, down from 27.9 in 2000, and the property crimes rate at 159 per 1,000 persons, down from 178.1 in 2000. (See Table 3.2.)

Victims of Violent Crimes

The 5.4 million violent victimizations in 2002 included 247,730 rapes/sexual assaults, 512,490 robberies, 990,110 aggravated assaults, and 3.5 million simple assaults. Attempted or threatened violent crimes accounted for 3.5 million of all crimes of violence. The NCVS reported that there were 1.1 rapes/sexual assaults and 0.3 attempted rapes for every 1,000 persons ages 12 and older. In 2002 there were 1.7 completed robberies, resulting in injury to 0.7 victims per 1,000 persons ages 12 and over. The rate for victims of aggravated assault was 4.3 per 1,000, and 15.5 for simple assaults in 2002. (See Table 3.2.)

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, homicide rates for all age groups showed a general decline from 1976–2000, though rates rose from 1986 to 1991 for the age groups under age 35. From 1991 to 2000 the murder rates dropped by almost half for all age groups. In 2000 persons age 18–24 were murdered at a rate higher than all other age categories. Since 1986 this age group has consistently had the highest rate of homicides. Prior to 1986 the age group from 25–30 had the highest rate. (See Figure 3.1.)

Victims of Property Crimes

In 2002 property crimes accounted for about 76 percent of all victimizations. The NCVS reported 17.5 million property crimes, including household burglaries, motor vehicle thefts, and thefts of other property. Households experienced 780,000 completed vehicle thefts, 2.5 million completed household burglaries, and 13.4 million

Victimization rates (per 1,000 persons age 12 or older or per 1,000 households)
Percent change3
Type of crime199319941998199920001993–20001994–20001998–20001999–2000
Personal crimes452.254.137.933.729.1−44.3%1−46.2%1−23.2%1−13.6%1
Crimes of violence49.951.836.632.827.9−44.11−46.11−23.81−14.91
Completed violence15.015.411.610.19.0−40.01−41.61−22.41−10.92
Attempted/threatened violence34.936.425.022.618.9−45.81−48.11−24.41−16.41
Rape/sexual assault2.−52.01−42.91−20.0−29.41
Rape/attempted rape1.−62.51−57.11−33.31−33.31
Attempted rape0.−71.41−71.41−50.01−33.3
Sexual assault0.−37.52−16.7−16.7−37.51
Completed robbery3.−39.51−42.51−14.8−4.2
With injury1.−46.21−50.01−12.5−12.5
Without injury2.−36.01−38.51−20.06.7
Attempted robbery2.−59.11−60.91−25.0−25.0
With injury0.−25.0−
Without injury1.−66.71−64.71−33.31−33.31
With injury3.−55.91−54.51−40.01−25.01
Threatened with weapon8.−51.21−51.21−17.61−10.6
With minor injury6.−27.91−35.31−17.010.0
Without injury23.324.718.216.313.4−42.51−45.71−26.41−17.81
Personal theft52.−47.81−50.01−7.733.3
Property crimes318.9310.2217.4198.0178.1−44.2%1−42.6%1−18.1%1−10.1%1
Household burglary58.256.338.534.131.8−45.41−43.51−17.41−6.7
Forcible entry18.116.912.411.09.6−47.01−43.21−22.61−12.72
Unlawful entry without force29.129.219.717.617.3−40.51−40.81−12.21−1.7
Attempted forcible entry10.910.−55.01−52.01−23.41−10.9
Motor vehicle theft19.018.810.810.08.6−54.71−54.31−20.41−14.02
Less than $5098.793.558.653.243.4−56.01−53.61−25.91−18.41
$250 or more41.641.835.131.729.3−29.61−29.91−16.51−7.6
Note: Victimization rates may differ from those reported previously because the estimates are now based on data collected in each calendar year rather than data about events within a calendar year. Completed violent crimes include rape, sexual assault, robbery with or without injury, aggravated assault with injury, and simple assault with minor injury.
In 1993 the total population age 12 or older was 211,524,770; in 1994, 213,135,890; in 1998, 221,880,960; in 1999, 224,568,370; and in 2000, 226,804,610. The total number of households in 1993 was 99,927,410; in 1994, 100,568,060; in 1998, 105,322,920; in 1999, 107,159,550; and in 2000, 108,352,960.
1The difference between the indicated years is significant at the 95%-confidence level.
2The difference between the indicated years is significant at the 90%-confidence level.
3Differences in annual rates shown in each column do not take into account any changes that may have occurred during interim years.
4The NCVS is based on interviews with victims and therefore cannot measure murder.
5Includes pocket picking, purse snatching, and attempted purse snatching.
6Includes thefts with unknown losses.
source: Callie Marie Rennison, "Table 8. Rates of Criminal Victimization and Percent Change, 1993–2000," in Criminal Victimization 2000: Changes 1999–2000 with Trends 1993–2000, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, Washington, DC, 2001

completed thefts of other property. For every 1,000 households in the United States, 27.7 households were burglarized, down from 31.8 in 2000; 7.1 had a motor vehicle stolen, up from 5.9 in 2000; and 118.2 suffered other thefts, down from 132 in 2000.

In 2002 about 58 percent of all property crimes were thefts. Of the 13 million completed thefts, 4.1 million were thefts of less than $50. Another 4.4 million were between $50 and $249, and 3.2 million were of $250 or more. The value of the loss in the remaining thefts was unknown. (See Table 3.2.)

Reporting Crime to Police

Fewer than five of every ten violent crimes (48.5 percent) committed in 2002 were reported to the police. Women were more likely to report crimes of violence than were men. White female victims reported 50.7 percent of the violent crimes that they experienced, but white male victims reported only 44 percent. Black female victims reported 61.7 percent of the violent crimes committed against them compared to the black males rate of 48 percent. Hispanic females reported 55.5 percent of violent crimes against them,

Type of crimeNumber of victimizationsPercent of all victimizationsRate per 1,000 persons or households
All crimes23,036,030100.0%
Personal crimes5,496,81023.9%23.7
Crimes of violence5,341,41023.223.1
Completed violence1,753,0907.67.6
Attempted/threatened violence3,588,32015.615.5
Rape/sexual assault247,7301.11.1
Rape/attempted rape167,8600.70.7
Attempted rape177,4700.30.3
Sexual assault279,8700.30.3
Completed/property taken385,8801.71.7
With injury169,9800.70.7
Without injury215,8900.90.9
Attempted to take property126,6100.50.5
With injury42,6000.20.2
Without injury84,0200.40.4
With injury316,2601.41.4
Threatened with weapon673,8502.92.9
With minor injury906,5803.93.9
Without injury2,684,51011.711.6
Purse snatching/pocket picking155,4000.70.7
Completed purse snatching55,4000.20.2
Attempted purse snatching2,140 *0.0 *0.0 *
Pocket picking97,8600.40.4
Total population age 12 and over231,589,260
Property crimes17,539,22076.1 %159.0
Household burglary3,055,72013.327.7
Forcible entry1,017,6604.49.2
Unlawful entry without force1,579,6506.914.3
Attempted forcible entry458,4102.04.2
Motor vehicle theft988,7604.39.0
Less than $504,186,57018.237.9
$250 or more3,270,53014.229.6
Amount not available1,127,7404.910.2
Total number of households110,323,840
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
Percent distribution is based on unrounded figures.
…Not applicable.
1Includes verbal threats of rape.
2Includes threats.
source: "Table 1: Personal and Property Crimes, 2002, Number, Percent Distribution, and Rate of Victimizations, by Type of Crime," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2002 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003

with 47 percent of Hispanic males making such reports. (See Table 3.3.)

Victims reported 40.2 percent of all the property crimes that they experienced. Motor vehicle theft was the most reported property crime, while theft of property worth less than $50 was the least reported.


BJS reports indicated several factors in reporting or not reporting a crime. For example, victims are more likely to report incidents to police if:

  • Violent crimes were committed.
  • The crime resulted in an injury.
  • Items valued at $250 or more were stolen.
  • Forcible entry occurred.

Victims of violent incidents most often cited the desire to prevent future acts of violence as a reason for reporting the crime. They also reported incidents because they thought it was the right thing to do. Victims of personal and property thefts frequently reported the incidents to enable recovery of their stolen property and to collect insurance.

Among victims who chose not to report a violent crime to the police, many indicated that the incident was private or personal in nature. In other cases, the incidents had not

Percent of all victimizations reported to the police
CharacteristicCrimes of violence*Property crimes
Total48.5 %40.2 %
Note: Excludes data on persons of "other" races.
Excludes data on persons whose ethnicity was not ascertained.
*Includes data on rape and sexual assault, not shown separately.
source: "Table 91b: Violent Crimes, 2002, Percent of Victimizations Reported to the Police, by Type of Crime and Gender and Race or Ethnicity of Victims," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2002 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003

been completed, the stolen property had been recovered, or the victim feared retaliation from the criminal.



Males are more likely than females to become victims of violent crime. In 2002, 26.1 of every 1,000 white males were victimized by violent crime, compared to 20.9 per 1,000 white females. For black males the rate was 29.3 per 1,000, compared to 27.9 per 1,000 black females. In every category except rape/sexual assault, men were more likely than women to be victimized. (See Table 3.4.)


While teenagers and young adults were more likely than older persons to become victims of violent crime, the rates for all age groups have been falling. In 2000 the rate for teenagers 12 to 15 years of age was 60.1 per 1,000; the rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was 64.4 per 1,000; and the rate for 20- to 24-year-olds was 49.5. These rates were lower than rates during the previous 17 years. (See Table 3.5.) The rates fell even lower by 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In that year the rate for those 12-15 years of age was 44.4 per 1,000; the rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was 58.2; and the rate for 20- to 24-year-olds was 47.4. Older adults were least likely to be victims of violent crimes. Individuals 50 to 64 years of age had a rate of 10.7 per 1,000, and the rate for those 65 and over was 3.4 per 1,000.

According the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Washington, D.C.), research has shown that there can be long-term consequences to being victimized as an adolescent. When compared to adults who were not victimized as adolescents, adults who were adolescent victims were more likely to have drug problems and more likely to perpetrate violence. (See Figure 3.2.) They also committed more acts of domestic violence and were more often victims of domestic violence than adults who were not victimized as adolescents. In addition, they were almost twice as likely to become adult victims of violent crime.

Race and Ethnicity

In 2002 blacks were more likely than whites or persons of other races to be victims of most types of violent crimes. (See Table 3.3.) Hispanics experienced higher rates of violent victimization than non-Hispanics for robberies and personal theft, but lower rates in rape/sexual abuse and assaults.

For every 1,000 households in 2002, 157.6 white households, 173.7 black households, and 139.8 households of other races were victims of property crimes. The highest rate of burglaries occurred among black households (41.3 per 1,000), while the rates for white households (26 per 1,000) and households of other races (19.4 per 1,000) were considerably lower. Black households also experienced more motor vehicle thefts and general thefts. Hispanic households (17.7 per 1,000) were more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic households (8.0 per 1,000) to suffer a motor vehicle theft. (See Table 3.6.)

Income, Marital Status, and Area


The less money that people or households earn, the more likely they are to become victims of violent crime. In 2002 the very poor (earning less than $7,500 annually) suffered violent crime at a higher rate (45.5 per 1,000 persons) than any other income group and more than double the rate for those earning $75,000 or more (19.0 per 1,000). Property crime rates for those earning less than $7,500 per year were also more elevated than those in higher income categories. (See Table 3.7.)


In 2002 the violent crime rate for persons who never married (43.3 per 1,000) was nearly four times higher than the rate for married people (10.6 per 1,000). The rate for divorced or separated persons (30.7 per 1,000) was almost three times higher than the rate for married people. The victimization rates for rape/sexual assault, robbery, and both kinds of assault (aggravated and simple) were significantly higher for never-married, divorced, or separated persons than for married or widowed persons. (See Table 3.8.)


Those living in the West and in urban areas are more likely to be victimized by property crimes. In 2002, 219.9 of every 1,000

Rate per 1,000 persons age 12 and over
Type of crimeNumberRateNumberRateNumberRateNumberRate
All personal crimes2,459,57026.1386,13029.32,065,52020.9438,40027.9
Crimes of violence2,394,33025.4381,78029.01,998,29020.3423,65027.0
Completed violence683,1207.2107,1608.1747,3907.6164,04010.4
Attempted/threatened violence1,711,21018.1274,62020.91,250,90012.7259,61016.5
Rape/Sexual assault119,160*0.2*9,610*0.7 *144,6301.562,4104.0
Completed/property taken173,5701.860,1704.6101,9801.038,1302.4
With injury76,8900.825,970*2.0 *42,9200.417,810*1.1 *
Without injury96,6801.034,2102.659,0600.620,320*1.3 *
Attempted to take property61,7900.715,310*1.2 *33,4600.34,420*0.3 *
With injury25,720*0.3*3,130*0.2 *9,040*0.1*2,100*0.1 *
Without injury36,0700.412,180*0.9 *24,430*0.2*2,330*0.1 *
With injury145,2801.519,260*1.5 *122,6201.226,710*1.7 *
Threatened with weapon340,4803.678,7706.0179,6601.868,1604.3
With minor injury357,9703.827,730*2.1 *422,2504.365,6304.2
Without injury1,296,08013.7170,92013.0993,69010.1158,19010.1
Purse snatching/pocket picking65,2400.74,340*0.3 *67,2200.714,750*0.9 *
Population age 12 and over94,313,90013,164,83098,643,08015,706,600
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
Excludes data on persons of "other" races.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
…Not applicable.
1Includes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault.
source: "Table 6: Personal Crimes, 2002, Number of Victimizations and Victimization Rates for Persons Age 12 and Over, by Type of Crime and Gender and Race of Victims," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2002 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003

households in the West, and 215.3 per 1,000 urban households experienced property crimes. Rates in all categories of property crime in the West and in urban locations were higher than rates in other regions and locations. The lowest rates were found in rural areas (118.3 per 1,000 households), while the Northeast had the lowest rate for property crimes (117.0). (See Table 3.9.)

Victim/Offender Relationship

In 2002 strangers were often the most common perpetrators of violent crimes. Strangers accounted for 14.3 per 1,000 violent crimes for males, the largest rate for all relationship categories, but only 6.4 per 1,000 for female violent crime victims, the highest for females being persons well-known to them (7.0 per 1,000). For black victims of violent crime, 11.3 per 1,000 were committed by strangers, while the white rate for strangers was 10.2 per 1,000. For all groups of violent crime victims, relatives were least likely to be the assailants. (See Table 3.10.) Strangers were more likely to use a weapon in committing a violent crime than were persons known to the victim. Firearms were used by strangers in 11.3 percent of violent crimes, while non-strangers used a firearm only 3.2 percent of the time. (See Table 3.11.)


According to the NCVS, crime happens at all times of the day and night, though particular crimes exhibit different patterns. Violent crimes occur between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. in 52.7 percent of cases. Simple assaults occur 57.6 percent of the time during these same hours, as do 42.2 percent of aggravated assaults. Approximately two-thirds (63.2 percent) of rapes/sexual assaults occur at night. Most property crimes occur during the day, except for motor vehicle theft, which occurs 71.7 percent of the time at night.

Crime may also occur in any place. According to the NCVS, in 2002 nearly one-third (31.7 percent) of violent crime incidents occurred at or near the victim's residence. Other common locales for crime were schools (15.1 percent), commercial establishments (11.3 percent), and parking lots and garages (7.6 percent).

Victims' Activities

Most victims of crime were engaged in activities at home (26.3 percent), while 22 percent reported being involved in some form of leisure activity away from home when victimized.

Age of victim
Note: Because of changes made to the victimization survey, data prior to 1992 are adjusted to make them comparable to data collected under the redesigned methodology. Estimates for 1993 and beyond are based on collection year while earlier estimates are based on data year. Due to changes in the methods used, these data differ from earlier versions.
Violent crimes included are homicide, rape, robbery, and both simple and aggravated assault.
source: "Violent Victimization Rates by Age, 1973–2000," in Key Facts at a Glance, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2002 [Online] [accessed March 18, 2004]

Another 18.7 percent mentioned they were at work or traveling to or from work when the crime occurred; 14.2 percent reported being at school or traveling to or from school. Rapes occurred most often at home (31.8 percent) or while engaged in leisure activity away from home (30.3 percent). Robberies took place in a variety of situations:

  • One in five (20.8 percent) during leisure activities
  • One in five (20.2 percent) during travel
  • One in four (23.7 percent) at home
  • One in nine (10.8 percent) at work or while commuting to/from work


Trends, 1973–2000

The NCVS, like the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, found that the overall level of crime decreased from 1973 to 2000. (Although the 1993–2000 survey results cannot be directly compared to earlier statistics, adjusted data can be used to highlight trends.) More than 41 million personal and household crimes were committed in 1981. The 1981 adjusted rate of approximately 52.5 violent crimes per 1,000 persons was significantly higher than at any time before 1977. The victimization rate for violent crimes increased between 1977 and 1981 and then declined until 1986. From 1986 to 1994 the violent crime rate increased, reaching 51.8 per 1,000 in 1994. From 1994 to 2000, however, violent crime rates fell 44.1 percent, and property crime rates declined by 44.2 percent.

Property crime rates fell dramatically between 1973 (adjusted data) and 1995. After a slight increase from 1973 to 1975, the rates dropped more or less consistently through 1995. Only motor vehicle theft remained relatively stable over this period.

Violent victimizations by age dropped from 1973 to 2000. The proportion of victimizations across age groups has varied. For example, in 1973, 16- to 19-year-olds were about twice as likely to be victimized by violent crime as persons 35 to 49 years of age; this rate increased to about three times as likely by 2000. For those ages 16–19, the violent victimization rate dropped by one-fifth between 1973 and 2000. For 12- to 15-year-olds, the rate

Rate per 1,000 households
All racesWhiteBlackOther
Type of crimeNumberRateNumberRateNumberRateNumberRate
Property crimes17,539,220159.014,527,440157.62,434,780173.7576,990139.8
Household burglary3,055,72027.72,396,81026.0578,88041.380,03019.4
Forcible entry1,017,6609.2727,1807.9260,68018.629,800*7.2*
Unlawful entry without force1,579,65014.31,353,16014.7183,36013.143,13010.4
Attempted forcible entry458,4104.2316,4703.4134,8409.67,100*1.7*
Motor vehicle theft988,7609.0695,4107.5241,67017.251,67012.5
Less than $504,186,57037.93,646,50039.6409,72029.2130,36031.6
$250 or more3,270,53029.62,766,82030.0396,33028.3107,39026.0
Amount not available1,127,74010.2923,68010.0152,29010.951,76012.5
Total number of households110,323,84092,182,32014,013,8504,127,670
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
…Not applicable.
source: "Table 16: Property Crimes, 2002: Number of Victimizations and Victimization Rates by Type of Crime and Race of Head of Household," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2002 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003

of violent victimization dropped by one-quarter. For those ages 20–24, the rate fell over 40 percent. Rates of victimization remained within a much narrower range for those 50 to 64 years of age yet still dropped 20 percent between 1973 and 2000. (See Table 3.5.)

Trends, 1994–2000

The 2000 rates of violent victimization continued the general decline of the previous several years. From 1994 to 2000 the rate of violent crime decreased by 46.1 percent. In 1994 there were 51.8 violent victimizations per 1,000 population compared to 27.9 per 1,000 in 2000. The robbery rate fell 49.2 percent and the aggravated assault rate dropped 52.1 percent. Personal theft declined 50 percent from 1994 to 2000.

The rates of all property crime categories continued to decrease from 1994 to 2000. Motor vehicle theft showed a 52.8 percent decline. Theft rates fell 41.2 percent, continuing a steady decline that began in 1979.


Several different ways are available for a crime victim to consider his or her loss. Direct costs to the victim are easy to pinpoint, but indirect costs must be shared by the entire society (the expenses of the criminal justice system, for instance). In 2002 victims suffered a total economic loss of some $15.5 billion to crime. This amount refers to the actual loss of property and not to such additional expenses as medical or insurance costs. While material losses are very important, emotional costs can affect the victim for the rest of his or her life, sometimes producing radical and permanent changes in his or her lifestyle.

A National Institute of Justice Study

In Victim Costs and Consequences: A New Look (National Institute of Justice, Washington, D.C., 1996), Ted R. Miller, Mark A. Cohen, and Brian Wiersema estimated that from 1987 to 1990 personal crime cost $105 billion per year in medical costs, lost earnings, and public program expenses related to victim assistance. This amounts to about $425 per person (including children) in the United States. These tangible losses, however, do not account for the full impact of crime on victims. If the intangible factors of pain, suffering, reduced quality of life, and risk of death are included, victims' costs increase to an estimated $450 billion annually, or $1,800 per person.

The study excluded several crimes that also have large cost impacts, such as many forms of white-collar crime, personal fraud, and drug crimes. Also excluded were the costs of operating the nation's correctional institutions, an additional expense of approximately $40 billion annually.


Violent crime, including drunk driving and arson, accounted for $426 billion of the annual total. Property crime accounted for $24 billion. Rape was considered the costliest crime, accounting for $127 billion

Rate per 1,000 persons age 12 and over
Type of crimeLess than $7,500–$7,500–$14,999$15,000–$24,999$25,000–$34,999$35,000–$49,999$50,000–$74,999$75,000 or more
All personal crimes47.232.030.827.426.019.319.7
Crimes of violence45.531.530.027.025.618.719.0
Completed violence18.712.
Attempted/threatened violence26.819.518.617.718.813.813.4
Rape/Sexual assault2.5**0.9*0.2*0.4*
Rape/Attempted rape2.3**0.3*0.1*0.2*
Attempted rape11.7*1.3*0.2*0.5*0.2*0.0*0.1*
Sexual assault20.3*0.4*0.8*0.4*0.6*0.1*0.2*
Completed/property taken5.
With injury2.4*1.3*1.1*0.8*0.5*0.3*0.4*
Without injury2.7*1.1*1.31.1**
Attempted to take property1.3*1.7*0.5*1.0*0.3*0.6*0.2*
With injury0.3*0.9*0.1*0.4*0.0*0.2*0.1*
Without injury1.0*0.8*0.4*0.6*0.3*0.4*0.1*
With injury4. *0.9
Threatened with weapon7.
With minor injury8.
Without injury16.912.813.313.714.111.211.2
Purse snatching/Pocket picking1.7*0.5*0.8*0.3*0.4*0.6*0.7
Population age 12 and over8,347,65015,608,21023,872,20024,104,81031,655,16033,713,64043,139,380
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
Excludes data on persons whose family income level was not ascertained.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
1Includes verbal threats of rape.
2Includes threats.
source: "Table 14: Personal Crimes, 2002, Victimization Rates for Persons Age 12 and Over, by Type of Crime and Annual Family Income of Victims," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2002 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003

annually. Rape and sexual abuse costs represented 28.2 percent of the total costs.

The study estimated that violent crime accounts for 3 percent of all U.S. medical spending and 14 percent of injury-related medical spending. The wage losses caused by violent crime are equivalent to 1 percent of American earnings. Violent crime may also account for as much as 10 to 20 percent of expenditures for mental health care, primarily to treat victims. About half of these expenditures are for child abuse victims who are receiving treatment for abuse experienced years earlier. These estimates do not include any treatment for the perpetrators of violence.


The study claimed that, by conservative estimates, personal crime reduced the average American's quality of life by 1.8 percent. Violence alone caused a 1.7 percent loss. These estimates include only costs to victimized households, ignoring the broader impact of crime-induced fear on society.


The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) study found that crime victims and their families pay the bill for some crimes, while the public largely pays the bill for others. Insurers pay $45 billion annually due to crime, about $265 per every American adult. The federal government pays $8 billion annually for restorative and emergency services for crime victims, plus perhaps one-fourth of the $11 billion paid in health insurance payments. For arson and drunk driving, taxpayers and insurance purchasers cover almost all the tangible costs (for example, property damage and loss, medical care, police and fire services, and victim services).

Victims pay about $44 billion of the $57 billion in tangible nonservice expenses for traditional crimes of violence (murder, rape, robbery, assault, abuse, and neglect). Employers pay almost $5 billion, primarily in health insurance premiums, because of these crimes. (This estimate excludes sick leave and disability insurance costs other than workers' compensation.) Government bears the remaining costs through lost tax revenues and Medicare and Medicaid payments. Crime victim compensation accounts for 38 percent of homeowners' insurance payments and 29 percent of auto insurance payments.

Rate per 1,000 persons age 12 and over
Gender and marital statusTotal populationCrimes of violenceCompleted violenceAttempted/threatened violenceRape/Sexual assault1TotalWith injuryWithout injuryTotalAggravatedSimplePurse snatching/Pocket picking
Never married39,330,36046.514.432.10.5*
Divorced or separated10,251,89027.*4.92.1*2.822.15.516.61.1*
Never married34,699,45039.614.625.*
Divorced or separated14,516,31032.915.217.71.3*3.42.1*1.4**
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
Excludes data on persons whose marital status was not ascertained.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
1Includes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault.
source: "Table 12: Personal Crimes, 2002, Victimization Rates for Persons Age 12 and Over, by Gender and Marital Status of Victims and Type of Crime," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2002 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003
Rate per 1,000 households
All regionsNortheast
Type of crimeAll areasUrbanSuburbanRuralAll areasUrbanSuburbanRural
Property crimes159.0215.3145.3118.3117.0126.7108.0125.7
Household burglary27.740.522.422.618.423.214.022.7
Forcible entry9.*
Unlawful entry without force14.317.812.912.910.310.17.817.5
Attempted forcible entry4.*2.7 *3.4*
Motor vehicle theft9.*
Attempted1.*0.9*1.5*0.9 *0.0*
Less than $5037.942.537.
$250 or more29.640.328.020.117.519.616.117.8
Amount not available10.213.410.
Total number of households110,323,84031,937,80051,446,98026,939,06020,821,6806,354,70010,628,6403,838,340
Rate per 1,000 households
Type of crimeAll areasUrbanSuburbanRuralAll areasUrbanSuburbanRural
Property crimes155.8221.6135.7128.3147.8222.3140.994.2
Household burglary30.757.119.424.428.245.322.222.3
Forcible entry10.524.45.06.410.720.16.09.7
Unlawful entry without force15.422.512.114.013.418.712.410.2
Attempted forcible entry4.810.12.3**
Motor vehicle theft7.920.74.81.2*7.916.06.43.3
Less than $5040.341.138.941.531.940.535.519.1
$250 or more24.931.325.219.029.744.827.320.2
Amount not available9.713.
Total number of households26,238,3406,822,00011,482,1807,934,16040,202,07010,310,59017,922,40011,969,080
Rate per 1,000 households
Type of crimeAll areasUrbanSuburbanRural
Property crimes219.9268.3196.7175.0
Household burglary31.934.233.819.0
Forcible entry9.311.010.01.9*
Unlawful entry without force18.418.619.314.7
Attempted forcible entry4.*
Motor vehicle theft14.319.813.52.6*
Less than $5050.457.341.364.7
$250 or more45.957.743.025.5
Amount not available14.516.315.17.3*
Total number of households23,061,7608,450,52011,413,7603,197,480
Notes: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding. The term "Urban" is used to denote "Central cities." The term "Suburban" is used to denote "Outside central cities." The term "Rural" is used to denote "Nonmetropolitan areas."
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
source: "Table 58: Victimization Rates by Type of Crime, Region and Locality of Residence," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2002 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003
Rate per 1,000 persons age 12 and over
Crimes of violence1Assault
CharacteristicTotal populationRelativesWellknownCasual acquaintancesStrangersRelativesWellknownCasual acquaintancesStrangers
65 and over33,083,0000.2*0.5*0.4*1.50.2*0.4*0.3*1.0
Marital status2
Divorced or separated24,768,2006.
Never married74,029,8101.613.76.419.11.411.95.615.9
Family income3
Less than $7,5008,347,6504.616.56.315.
$75,000 or more43,139,3801.


Interest in assisting victims first developed in the United States as a desire for restitution (monetary compensation) to be paid to a victim by the offender. Restitution for criminal acts has a long history, dating back to biblical times. The Bible often cites money payments for injuries, and this practice continued well into the Middle Ages. Around 1100, England's Henry I began to take a part of the restitution as a charge for holding a trial and for injury inflicted on the state because a criminal act had disturbed the peace of the kingdom. Eventually assault upon an individual became considered as an assault upon society, and the king took the entire payment.

For many years, a victim was often victimized again by the very system to which he or she turned for help. In 1982 Lois Haight observed in the "Statement of the Chairman," as part of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime (Washington, D.C., 1982), that somewhere along the way the system began to cater to lawyers, judges, and defendants. Meanwhile, the victim was treated with institutionalized disinterest.

The "revictimization" may begin with an insensitive police officer who questions whether a victim was really raped or whether she had enticed the rapist. The rape victim may sit alone in a hospital emergency room waiting to be treated. She may even have to pay for the rape examination herself. An assault victim may find that the hospital is more concerned with whether he or she can pay for treatment. Judges and lawyers may seem to be more involved with the accused than with the victim. In fact, victims may never know when the trial takes place. If they do take part in a trial, victims may sit all day in a bare hallway outside the courtroom, waiting to testify as a witness, and may never even be called to the witness stand.

Changing Attitudes toward Victims

Attitudes toward victims improved through the 1980s and 1990s. State and federal governments, the judicial system, and private groups grew more eager to help victims. By 1996 approximately 10,000 organizations offered services to victims of crime. These organizations included domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, and child abuse programs. Law enforcement agencies, hospitals, and social services agencies also provided victim services. The types of services provided include:

Rate per 1,000 persons age 12 and over
Aggravated AssaultSimple assault
CharacteristicTotal populationRelativesWellknownCasual acquaintancesStrangersRelativesWellknownCasual acquaintancesStrangers
65 and over33,083,0000.1*0.1*0.0*0.4*0.1*0.3*0.3*0.5*
Marital status2
Divorced or separated24,768,2001.51.60.6*
Never married74,029,8100.3*
Family income3
Less than $7,5008,347,6501.8*2.4*1.8*4.52.3 *
$7,500–$14,99915,608,2100.3*1.5*0.3*3.32.0 *
$75,000 or more43,139,3800.2*0.4*0.4*
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
1Crimes of violence includes data on rape, sexual assault, and robbery, not shown separately.
2Excludes data on persons whose marital status was not ascertained.
3Excludes data on persons whose family income was not ascertained.
source: "Table 35: Family Violence, 2002: Victimization Rate by Victim-Offender Relationship, by Type of Crime and Selected Victim Characteristics," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2002 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003

Victim Compensation

Victim compensation is a program that pays money from a public fund to help victims with expenses incurred because of a violent crime. Margery Fry, a British magistrate and legal reformer, began advocating a victim compensation program during the 1950s. In her book Arms of the Law (London, 1951), Fry wondered if we have neglected restitution customs adopted by our ancestors. She noted that making up for a wrong done held wide currency in earlier societies, and that it might be wise to revisit this form of punishment. Her book and articles advocating compensation programs aroused considerable discussion in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. As a result, New Zealand's legislature passed a law permitting the government to award compensation to victims. After several years of debate, the British Parliament created an experimental program in 1964.


In the United States, interest in victim compensation grew rapidly in the mid-l960s. In 1965 California became the first state to develop a victim compensation program. The idea spread across the country, with New York (1966), Hawaii (1967), Maryland (1968), Massachusetts (1968), and New Jersey (1971) soon adopting compensation programs.

By the year 2002 all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands had victim compensation programs. Most state laws include reimbursement for medical treatment and physical therapy costs, counseling fees, lost wages, funeral and burial expenses, and loss of support to dependents of homicide victims. Average maximum awards generally range from $10,000 to $25,000. Some states also require a minimum loss, most often $100, before a victim can be compensated, or a $100 deductible (amount automatically not paid for a claim).

Victim compensation normally does not cover the costs of pain and suffering, future income loss, or property loss and damage (except the loss of eyeglasses, dentures,

Percent of incidents
Weapon used
All incidentsNumberTotal incidents PercentNo weapon usedTotalTotal firearmHand gunOther gun
Crimes of violence4,923,050100 %70.3 %21.3 %7.2 %6.0 %1.1 %
Completed violence1,605,90010067.525.*
Attempted/threatened violence3,317,15010071.619.
Rape/Sexual assault1247,73010084.57.2*4.6*4.6*0.0*
Completed/property taken341,91010040.347.226.822.84.0*
With injury159,12010048.139.211.0*10.3*0.7*
Without injury182,79010033.654.240.533.76.9*
Attempted to take property116,55010044.046.422.2*14.0*8.2*
With injury39,04010037.3*56.0*17.3*7.0*10.3*
Without injury77,51010047.441.624.7*17.6*7.1*
With injury273,67010012.487.613.111.81.3*
Threatened with weapon574,360100100.*
With minor injury845,94010093.4
Without injury2,522,89010088.7
Involving strangers
Crimes of violence2,403,05010059.928.
Rape/Sexual assault183,93010070.613.5*13.5 *13.5 *0.0*
Aggravated assault486,1001002.5*97.530.025.24.2*
Simple assault21,502,49010085.1
Involving nonstrangers
Crimes of violence2,520,00010080.*
Rape/Sexual assault1163,80010091.63.9*0.0*0.0*0.0*
Aggravated assault361,9401006.0*94.021.918.72.6*
Simple assault21,866,34010093.7

etc., by the elderly). Compensation is paid only when other resources—private insurance or offender restitution, for example—do not cover the loss.

The federal government maintains the Crime Victims Fund, which is administered by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) in the U.S. Department of Justice. The Federal Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA, PL 98-473) established the fund, which administers two major formula grant programs: Victim Compensation and Victim Assistance. Like the state funds, victim compensation grants cover medical treatment and physical therapy costs, counseling fees, lost wages, funeral and burial expenses, and loss of support to dependents of homicide victims. Victim assistance funds include money for crisis intervention, counseling, emergency shelter, and criminal justice advocacy. (See below for more information on VOCA.)

Deposits into the fund come from fines, penalty assessments, and bond forfeitures collected from convicted federal criminal offenders. In 2001 legislation was passed allowing the fund to receive gifts, donations, and bequests from private entities. The federal funds from VOCA provide about 20–25 percent of the state compensation programs' total budgets through grants given to each of the states. Of every $140 awarded to a victim, $100 comes from the state and $40 comes from VOCA. Since 1985 the fund has distributed over $5.5 billion to support victim assistance and services.

Restitution Programs

Restitution programs require those who have harmed an individual to repay the victim. In the past, the criminal justice system often focused primarily on punishing the criminal, leaving victims to rely on civil court cases to regain damages. By 2000 most states permitted courts to allow restitution payments as a condition of probation and/or parole. About half of the states have laws requiring courts to order restitution or to record the reason for not doing so.

Restitution laws require that the offender be convicted before any restitution can be ordered. Most states allow a victim to claim medical expenses and property damage or loss, and most permit families of homicide victims to claim costs for loss of support. The state of Washington allows courts to determine damages for pain and suffering as well as "punitive damages" in an amount twice the victim's actual loss. In assessing damages, the courts must take into consideration the offender's ability to pay.

An offender may lose parole privileges and be imprisoned for nonpayment of restitution fees. The courts have upheld the constitutionality of incarcerating offenders for nonpayment, but the Supreme Court, in Beardon v. Georgia

Percent of incidents
Weapon used
All incidentsGun type unknownKnifeSharp objectBlunt objectOther Weaponweapon type unknownDon't know if weapon present
Crimes of violence0.1 %*4.4 %1.0 %3.1 %4.0 %1.5 %8.5 %
Completed violence0.0*3.61.7**6.8
Attempted/threatened violence0.2*4.80.7*
Rape/Sexual assault10.0*2.6*0.0*0.0*0.0*0.0*8.4*
Completed/property taken0.0*9.90.6*2.7*3.6*3.7*12.5
With injury0.0*12.8*1.3*4.1*5.4*4.7*12.7*
Without injury0.0*7.3*0.0*1.5*2.0*2.8*12.2*
Attempted to take property0.0*11.3*2.8*1.1*6.8*2.2*9.6*
With injury0.0*22.6*0.0*3.4*6.2*6.4*6.7*
Without injury0.0*5.6*4.2*0.0*7.2*0.0*11.1*
With injury0.0*7.2*9.1*26.330.21.8*0.0*
Threatened with weapon0.9*25.23.7**
With minor injury6.6
Without injury11.3
Involving strangers
Crimes of violence0.1*5.51.0 *
Rape/Sexual assault10.0*0.0*0.0 *0.0*0.0*0.0*15.9*
Robbery0.0*11.91.6 *0.9*4.5*4.6*14.4
Aggravated assault0.6*19.24.0 *20.316.57.50.0 *
Simple assault214.9
Involving nonstrangers
Crimes of violence0.1*3.41.1**5.2
Rape/Sexual assault10.0*3.9*0.0*0.0*0.0*0.0*4.5*
Aggravated assault0.6*19.77.4*11.626.86.6*0.0*
Simple assault26.3
Note: Responses for weapons used are tallied once, based upon a hierarchy. In previous editions, multiple responses for weapons were tallied.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
…Not applicable.
1Includes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault.
2Simple assault, by definition, does not involve the use of a weapon.
source: "Table 66: Percent of Incidents, by Victim-Offender Relationship, Type of Crime and Weapons Use," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2002 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003

(461 US 660, 1983), ruled that an offender could not be sent to prison for nonpayment if he or she had made a good-faith effort to pay and could not. Such an action would violate the Fourteenth Amendment. In most cases the offender must prove his inability to make the payments. When offenders prove that they cannot pay, the courts can reduce the amount, change the schedule of payments, or suspend payment.

Besides threatening offenders with imprisonment, some jurisdictions have other methods of collection. They can garnishee wages (take the payment amount from wages before the employee receives his salary) or attach (not allow a person to use) the offender's assets (bank accounts, stocks, bonds) until he or she pays the restitution. Some jurisdictions can even sell the offender's home.

Civil Suits

A victim can sue in civil court for damages without the offender having been found guilty of criminal charges. Victims often follow this route because it is easier to win civil cases. In a criminal case, a jury or judge can find an alleged offender guilty only if the proof is "beyond a reasonable doubt." In a civil case, the burden of proof requires merely a "preponderance of the evidence" against the accused. One still has to prove a crime was committed, that there were damages, and that the accused is liable to pay for those damages. Even when victims win a civil suit, they often have trouble collecting.


State Laws

Victims' rights include the right to attend criminal proceedings, to be notified of proceedings such as parole hearings, and to be free from harassment. The victims' rights movement became active through the 1980s and 1990s. While the movement did not seek to reduce the rights of the accused, it wanted the system to acknowledge that victims also have rights. As a result of this movement, by 2000 almost every state (46) had enacted a "Victims' Bill of Rights," and by 2002, 32 states had passed constitutional amendments for victims' rights.

Recent Federal Action

In addition to re-authorizing some $3.3 billion in funding for the Violence Against Women Act, other Federal legislation signed into law from 1999 to 2000 addressed the needs of crime victims.

The Child Abuse Prevention and Enforcement Act (H.R. 764, signed into law March 10, 2000) increased funding for child abuse prevention and victim assistance programs, while the Strengthening Abuse and Neglect Courts Act of 2000 (S. 2272, signed into law on October 17, 2000) provided $25 million in grants to state and local agencies to reduce the backlog of cases and improve efficiency in abuse and neglect courts.

The Insurance Discrimination Provision of the Financial Services Modernization Act (S. 900, signed into law on November 2, 1999) prohibits insurance companies from terminating coverage or raising premiums of victims of domestic violence. The Protecting Seniors from Fraud Act (S. 3164, signed into law on November 22, 2000) authorized $5 million over five years to reduce crime and fraud against the elderly, while Kristen's Act (H.R. 2780, signed into law on November 9, 2000) authorized funding to help organizations find missing adults in cases where foul play is suspected or when the adult suffers from diminished mental capacity.

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (H.R. 3244, signed into law on October 28, 2000) re-authorized the funding of rehabilitation and shelter programs for victims of international trafficking and created new laws criminalizing forms of human trafficking such as slavery, involuntary servitude, peonage, or forced labor. This includes people who are coerced into sexual or other labor by violence, threat of violence, confiscation of legal documents, and other methods. Prison terms for all slavery violations were increased by 10 to 20 years, and life imprisonment was added for violations involving the death, kidnapping, or sexual abuse of the victim. The law also allows the President to withhold financial aid from governments that do not comply with minimum standards to eliminate such trafficking.

In February 2002 the Interagency Task Force to Combat and Monitor Trafficking in Persons, a Cabinet-level organization, was established. This Task Force is headed by the Secretary of State. In December 2002 President George W. Bush issued the National Security Presidential Directive on Trafficking in Persons, which mandated cooperation among federal agencies to assist victims of trafficking and investigate and prosecute traffickers. As of 2003, identified victims of trafficking are provided by the Department of Health and Human Services with financial support, medical care, and counseling.

Victims' Participation at Sentencing

Every state allows courts to consider or ask for information from victims concerning the impact of the offense on their lives. Forty-eight states permit victim input at sentencing. Forty-two of these states allow written victim-impact statements (detailing the effect the crime has on the victim or, in the case of murder, on the victim's family). The Child Protection Restoration and Penalties Enhancement Act of 1990 (PL 101-647) permits child victims of federal crimes to present statements commensurate with their age, including drawings. While most impact statements are used at sentencing and parole hearings, victims often have input at bail hearings, pretrial release hearings, and plea-bargaining hearings.

The state legislatures have been quicker to agree on victims' rights legislation than the federal government. California's Proposition Eight, the state's "Victims' Bill of Rights," includes Penal Code Section 1191.1, which states:

The victim or next of kin has the right to appear, personally or by counsel, at the sentencing proceeding and to reasonably express his or her views concerning the crime, the person responsible, and the need for restitution. The court, in imposing sentence, shall consider the statements of victims and next of kin … and shall state on the record its conclusion concerning whether the person would pose a threat to public safety if granted probation.…

Edwin Villamoare and Virginia V. Neto, in Victim Appearances at Sentencing Hearings Under the California Victims' Bill of Rights (National Institute of Justice, Washington, D.C., 1987), found that in California there was little effect on the criminal justice system or sentencing when victims appeared at the sentencing proceedings. The victims, rather than wanting to participate in their cases, were generally more concerned with knowing what was going on with their cases. About 80 percent of the victims interviewed indicated that just the existence of the right to participate was most important, not whether they actually made use of that right. Most victims seemed only to want somebody to understand their situation and recognize their rights as victims.


In 1991 the United States Supreme Court, in Payne v. Tennessee (501 US 808), ruled that the family of a murder victim could provide victim-impact evidence during the sentencing portion of the trial.

Pervis Payne was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder for killing Charisse Christopher and her two-year-old daughter, and one count of assault with intent to commit murder for attempting to kill her three-year-old son, Nicholas. In arguing for the death penalty, the prosecutor had presented statements from the victims' family. He stated that while there was nothing the jury could do for Charisse Christopher and her daughter, there was something that could be done for Nicholas.

In the Payne opinion, written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Supreme Court majority overturned its earlier decisions in two similar cases, Booth v. Maryland (482 US 496, 1987) and South Carolina v. Gather (490 US 805, 1989). In these two cases the Court held that under the Eighth Amendment ("cruel and unusual punishment shall not be inflicted") a jury could not consider a victim-impact statement in a capital case (one punishable by death). The Supreme Court had found in Booth that

The capital defendant must be treated as a 'uniquely individual human being' and, therefore, the Constitution requires the jury to make an individualized determination as to whether the defendant should be executed based on the character of the individual and the circumstances of the crime.

In Payne, the majority found that a victim-impact statement in no way limited the defendant's right to plead his or her case, adding that "victim's impact evidence is simply another form or method of informing the sentencing authority about the specific harm caused by the crime in question, evidence of a general type long considered by sentencing authorities." The High Court concluded that prohibiting victim-impact statements unfairly weighted the case in favor of the defendant.

Justices John Paul Stevens and Thurgood Marshall, with Justice Harry Blackmun joining, dissented. Fearing that the Court was overturning constitutional liberties, Justice Stevens wrote,

Until today our capital punishment jurisprudence has required that any decision to impose the death penalty be based solely on evidence that tends to inform the jury about the character of the offense and the character of the defendant. Evidence that serves no purpose other than to appeal to the sympathies or emotions of the juror has never been considered admissible.

According to Stevens the majority had obviously been moved by an argument that had strong political appeal but no proper place in a reasoned judicial argument.

Witnessing Executions

As noted in FYI: Rights of Survivors of Homicide (1999), a publication of the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), various states have statutes allowing victims' family members to be present at executions. As of December 1998 at least 13 states had statutes allowing immediate family members of victims to witness executions: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington. Other states, though they do not have formal statutes, have informal policies permitting victims' families to view executions: Florida, Illinois, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. Most states limit the viewing to immediate family members and may limit the total number of viewers.

In Delaware in January of 1996 two sons of a victim watched the hanging of their father's murderer. In 1997 relatives of victims murdered in three different states watched the execution of an Ohio man, Michael Lee Lockart. In February of 1998 family members of the two murder victims of Texan Karla Faye Tucker witnessed her execution by lethal injection. These family members declared that seeing the execution helped put closure to their tragedy. Other witnesses to such executions, however, report that they have yet to find closure.

Just how many victims' immediate family members (over age 18) can be present at executions varies from state to state, depending on the statutes in place. In most states, the number is limited. Some states allow only a few to attend, while others set no limits. Accommodating those family members wishing to be present becomes complicated when executions involve notorious criminals, especially mass murderers.

Such was the case of Timothy McVeigh, who was sentenced to death for bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people and injuring many others. Prior to McVeigh's execution, set for June 11, 2001, more than 250 survivors and victims' relatives asked to witness the execution. In order to accommodate so many, a lottery was established to select 10 victims/family members to watch the sentence performed. Others wishing to see the execution were able to watch the event in a federal prison in Oklahoma City on closed-circuit television.


The Federal Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982

In 1982 Congress enacted the Federal Victim and Witness Protection Act, a bill designed to protect and assist victims and witnesses of federal crimes. The law permits victim-impact statements in sentencing hearings to provide judges with information concerning financial, psychological, or physical harm suffered by victims. The law also provides for restitution for victims and prevents victims and/or witnesses from being intimidated by threatening verbal harassment. The law establishes penalties for acts of retaliation by defendants against those who testify against them.

Victims who provide addresses and telephone numbers are to be notified of major events in the criminal proceedings, including the arrest of the accused, the times of any court appearances at which the victim may appear, the release or detention of the accused, and the victim's opportunities to address the sentencing court. The guidelines also recommend that federal officials consult victims and witnesses to obtain their views on such procedures as proposed dismissals and plea negotiations. Officials must not disclose the names and addresses of victims and witnesses.

Federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)

In 1984 Congress passed the Federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA, PL 98-473), which committed the federal government to promote state and local victim support and compensation programs. The act established the Crime Victims Fund (see above). Two significant changes were made in the VOCA in 1988. To be eligible for federal funds, the 1998 amendments required that state programs must also include compensation for survivors of victims of drunk driving and domestic violence. These two groups had previously been excluded from compensation.

The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1990

In 1990 President George Bush signed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act (PL 101-647) that covered many aspects of crime control, including protection for victims of child abuse, penalties for Savings and Loan fraud, and mandatory death penalties. Included in the law is the Victims' Rights and Restitution Act of 1990, which secures victims of federal crimes the right to be treated with fairness and respect, reasonably protected from the accused, notified of court proceedings, afforded an opportunity to meet with a federal prosecutor, and provided with restitution. The act also bars criminals and convicted drunken drivers from declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying restitution.

The Compensation and Assistance to Victims of Terrorism or Mass Violence Act (1996)

In spring of 1996 Congress amended the VOCA (Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act of 1996, PL 104-132). The act authorized compensation for citizens victimized by terrorist acts, both at home and abroad. The law allows the director of the Victims Crime Fund (see above) to make supplemental grants to states to assist residents who are victims of terrorism.

After the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, the October 2001 USA Patriot Act authorized the transfer of emergency supplemental appropriation funding into the Emergency Reserve account to assist victims of the attacks. On April 22, 2002, the OVC announced that it had awarded $40 million to offer mental health counseling for victims of the September 11 attacks, their families, and crisis responders who helped victims of the attacks. The grants included funds to compensate victims for counseling services and to support state and local programs that offer various forms of counseling.

The Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act

On September 22, 2001, the 107th Congress enacted Public Law 107-42, "The Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act." In addition to requiring the federal government to compensate the air carriers for losses incurred as a result of the September 11th attacks, the Act established the "September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001." The fund provides compensation to victims of the attacks who elect not to join in litigation (lawsuits) seeking additional money. The fund compensates any individual who was physically injured, or the families and beneficiaries of victims killed, as a result of the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of September 11th, 2001. The amount of non-economic loss compensation includes a $250,000 non-economic award for each deceased victim as well as $100,000 for the spouse and each dependent of a deceased victim. Although life insurance pay-outs, pensions and retirement accounts may be deducted from the final amount, the Department of Justice stated that it would be very rare that a claimant would receive less than $250,000.