You are here
Government Support: United States of America
Government Assistance to Victims
The United States (U.S) has robust laws and policies that provide victims of Federal and State crimes with rights and mandatory services during the justice process. These rights and services are available to terrorism victims. In addition, Federal and State programs allow victims of terrorism to obtain reimbursement of crime-related expenses, such as the costs of treatment for physical or psychological injuries and funerals.
In the U.S., multiple Federal and State agencies assist victims of terrorism throughout the investigative and justice process and help them access services. Federal Government offices assisting victims include the following:
The U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)
The Office for Victim Assistance (OVA) is responsible for ensuring that victims of crimes investigated by the FBI are afforded the opportunity to receive the services and notifications required by federal law. The Terrorism and Special Jurisdictions program provides emergency assistance to injured victims and families of victims injured or murdered in terrorist attacks within the U.S. and outside the U.S., and provides a variety of emergency assistance, including crisis intervention, referrals for counseling, information on financial assistance, and serves as a permanent point-of-contact within the FBI for terrorism victims. https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/victim_assistance/overview/overview
The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OVT)
The Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OVT) works with other Department of Justice offices and the FBI to support the rights of U.S. victims of overseas terrorism in foreign investigations and prosecutions. OVT provides victims with specialized assistance in their pursuit of justice when such matters are investigated and prosecuted by foreign law enforcement and justice entities. OVT has experienced prosecutors and support staff who can assist victims in understanding and navigating foreign criminal justice systems and participating in those systems to the extent permitted by foreign law. http://www.justice.gov/nsd/ovt/
The U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC)
The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) was formally established in 1988 through an amendment to the 1984 Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). Its mission is to enhance the Nation's capacity to assist crime victims by providing leadership and funding on behalf of crime victims. OVC administers the International Terrorism Victim Expense Reimbursement Program (ITVERP), which provides U.S. national and U.S. Government employee victims of international terrorism reimbursement of qualifying expenses that have not been covered by other means, such as personal medical insurance. The application is available at http://ojp.gov/ovc/itverp/ or by calling 1-800-363-0441.
The U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, Victim Witness Coordinator Program
When the Department of Justice files charges in a United States Federal Court, victims are entitled to court-enforceable rights guaranteed by U.S. law during the prosecution. The United States Attorney’s Office handling the prosecution is responsible for providing victim services in connection with the prosecution and ensuring that victims are notified of and accorded their rights.
Services provided through the Victim Witness Coordinator Program generally include:
•Information on court proceedings and case status;
•Referrals to counseling, medical and other social services;
•Special services for child victims, the elderly and handicapped victims;
•Crime victim’s compensation claims assistance;
•Assistance with completing victim impact statements;
•Assistance with travel and lodging for out of town witnesses;
•Support for witnesses throughout court proceedings;
•Assistance with restitution issues.
The U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services
The Office of Overseas Citizens Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State, is committed to assisting American citizens who become victims of crime while traveling, working, or residing abroad. Consular duty personnel are available for emergency assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at embassies, consulates, and consular agencies overseas and in Washington, D.C. Victims of a terrorist attack occurring outside the United States who are in need of emergency assistance, or family members of such victims, can contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747 (from the United States) and 1-202-501-4444 (from abroad).
Victim compensation programs and services vary by state. Generally, state governments assist all victims of terrorist attacks that occur within that state, while others additionally provide compensation for local residents that are injured by a terrorist attack while in another state. The National Organization for Crime Victims Compensation Boards (NOCVCB) has a single link for all state compensation boards. For more information, follow the link to the NOCVCB website: National Association for Crime Victims Compensation Boards.
The United States dedicates significant time and resources to training investigators, prosecutors and victim service providers to fully implement internationally recognized good practices to assist victims of terrorism. Examples of U.S.-based organizations that provide training include:
FBI/OVA: The OVA is responsible for providing training and information that helps to equip FBI agents and other FBI personnel to work effectively with victims. OVA staff includes trained social workers and other professionals who receive extensive and regular training on working with victims of violence, including terrorism.
Department of Justice: The Department of Justice sponsors regular training on crime victim rights and services, including services to terrorism victims. Federal prosecutors are required to complete training focused on victim rights laws. Sessions focusing on victim rights are included in several courses offered by the National Advocacy Center, the Department of Justice’s main training facility for prosecutors and United States Attorney Offices’ staff.
Legal Resources available to Victims
Within the U.S. justice system, crime victims have rights as set forth in the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA):
RIGHTS OF CRIME VICTIMS, 18 U.S.C. § 3771(a)
A victim of a crime has the following rights:
1. The right to be reasonably protected from the accused.
2. The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding, or any parole proceeding, involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused.
3. The right not to be excluded from any such public court proceeding, unless the court, after receiving clear and convincing evidence, determines that testimony by the victim would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding.
4. The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding.
5. The reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case.
6. The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law.
7. The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay.
8. The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.
9. The right to be informed in a timely manner of any plea bargain or deferred prosecution agreement.
10. The right to be informed of the rights under this section and the services described in section 503(c) of the Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 10607(c)) and provided contact information for the Office of the Victims’ Rights Ombudsman of the Department of Justice.
Crime victims can seek the advice of an attorney with respect to the above rights. A victim of a federal crime may file a complaint against any employee of the Department of Justice who violated or failed to provide the above rights established under the CVRA. The Department of Justice has established the Office of the Victims’ Rights Ombudsman to receive and investigate complaints filed by crime victims against Department of Justice employees, and has implemented Procedures to Promote Compliance with Crime Victims’ Rights Obligations.
Additionally, the CVRA allows either the victim or the government to assert the victim's rights in court. If the judge denies the right asserted, the victim or the government may then ask the court of appeals to review the judge’s ruling. The court of appeals must rule on the petition within 72 hours of its filing, but the statute makes clear that court proceedings may not be delayed more than five days for purposes of enforcing the CVRA. Further, in any appeal in a criminal case, the government may ask the court of appeals to review a judge’s denial of the victim's rights.
Each of the ninety-three U.S. Attorney’s Offices located across the country has a Victim Witness Coordinator Program to assist victims of crime, including terrorism offenses during U.S. prosecutions. Victims can also seek the advice of an attorney to assist them in understanding and exercising their rights.
When terrorist attacks are prosecuted abroad, the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OVT) assists American victims, and advocates for their rights in the foreign justice system. Some of the specific services that OVT offers victims includes: providing information about foreign criminal justice systems; providing information about cases being tried in foreign criminal justice systems through password protected websites, emails, phone calls and briefing meetings; assisting U.S. victims with participating in foreign systems and asserting any rights they may have under foreign law; and putting victims in touch with the appropriate Department of Justice or FBI contacts for information and assistance in connection with U.S. investigations and prosecutions.
For further information, the OVT’s website can be found at: http://www.justice.gov/nsd/ovt/
Collaboration with other Organisations
The U.S. Government collaborates with hundreds of organizations both inside and outside the U.S. to ensure that victims of terrorism are adequately supported throughout the investigation and justice process. The following is a representative sample of U.S. collaborative efforts.
- Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or community –based organizations.
The U.S. Government works closely with NGOs and community based organizations to both express solidarity with victims and support their healing. In the aftermath of terrorist attacks, particularly large-scale attacks, victims may form their own organizations. Through these organizations the U.S. Government can communicate with victims and join in commemorations and memorials. The organizations also provide a forum for information sharing about victims’ views, needs, and concerns, and the resources available to assist them in healing and pursuing justice. Examples of such NGOs include some of the many September 11th victim organizations. The U.S. Government also interacts with family groups from attacks outside the United States such as the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, Inc.
Representative examples of other nongovernmental organizations providing services to terrorism victims can be found on the OVC webpage at: http://ojp.gov/ovc/help/international_terrorism.html.
- Religious and/or cultural organizations
The U.S. Government works closely with religious and cultural organizations to both express solidarity with victims and support their healing. For example, when a shooter murdered several worshipers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the FBI worked with temple leaders to support the victims and promote community safety. The press release from a supervising FBI Agent stated: “We join the Sikh community in grieving the loss of their loved ones. We continue to work with temple leaders and all of our law enforcement partners in an effort to keep the community safe.”
- The media
The U.S. Government has offered training to encourage respectful and responsible treatment for all victims of crime – including terrorism-related crime – that safeguards victim privacy and safety. For an example of a training manual that the U.S. Government funded to educate victim services staff and media staff about crime victims’ media issues, see the following media guide: http://www.victimprovidersmediaguide.com/newsmediaguide.pdf
- The private sector
The U.S. Government works closely with the private sector to support crime victims. For example, the FBI and the Department of Justice work with employers whose employees are killed or injured in terrorist attacks to ensure that victims receive all possible benefits from the employer and the Federal Government, including ITVERP benefits, mentioned above.
- International and/or regional organizations
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
The United States has supported UNODC initiatives focused on encouraging support to victims of terrorism. The U.S. Government participated in the development of a handbook entitled “The Criminal Justice Response to Support Victims of Terrorism”, published in 2009. The handbook draws on the national experiences of a broad range of geographically representative criminal justice experts regarding programs of assistance and support for victims of acts of terrorism. The handbook shares experiences related to support mechanisms for victims of terrorism, and gives policymakers and criminal justice officials practical insights into challenges faced, and good practices developed, by their counterparts at the national and regional level.
It can be found at: http://www.un.org/en/terrorism/ctitf/pdfs/victims_rights_e-book_en.pdf . The U.S. government has participated in training sessions based on this handbook in Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF)
The United States is a founding and active member of the GCTF, which serves as an informal multilateral counterterrorism platform with 30 members (29 countries plus the EU). The GCTF regularly convenes key policymakers and practitioners from around the world, as well as experts from the United Nations and other multilateral bodies. The Forum identifies urgent needs, devises solutions, and mobilizes resources for addressing key civilian counterterrorism challenges.
On July 9-10, 2012, Spain hosted a GCTF High-Level Conference in Madrid focused on assisting victims of terrorism, which was attended by Department of Justice and State Department staff. As a follow up to the meeting, the working group developed several documents including the “Madrid Memorandum on Good Practices for Assistance to Victims of Terrorism Immediately after the Attack and in Criminal Proceedings” (Madrid Memorandum) which contains good practices for assisting victims of terrorism in the immediate aftermath of an attack and during the criminal justice process. The United States continues to support programs to assist countries to more fully implement the good practices outlined in the Madrid Memorandum, including training workshops in Indonesia (September 2013) and The Philippines (September 2015).
A copy of the Madrid Memorandum can be found at: http://www.thegctf.org/documents/10162/72352/13Sep19_Madrid+Memorandum.pdf