In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Crime Victims' Rights Movement

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Journals, Newsletters, and Databases
  • Surveys and Statistics
  • Landmarks in the CVRM
  • Advocates and Advocacy
  • Treatment and Assistance for Victims
  • Special Populations and Issues within the CVRM
  • Victims and Privacy
  • Legal Enforcement, Remedies, and Recovery of Loss
  • Constitutional Recognition
  • Significant Cases and Laws
  • Future Directions
  • CVRM Agencies and Organizations in the United States
  • International Victims’ Rights Reform

Criminology Crime Victims' Rights Movement
Mary Boland
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0164


The modern crime victims’ rights movement (CVRM) emerged as a response to World War II atrocities. Many civil law countries included victim-sensitive assistance and a role for victims in their criminal justice systems. In 1985, the United Nations adopted a resolution establishing basic principles to protect victims’ rights and extended those principles to victims of international crimes in 2005. Victims’ rights are recognized by the International Criminal Court. The CVRM in the United States emerged out of the 1960s’ civil rights and women’s movements and a renewed focus on “law and order” in the 1970s as a way to combat rising crime rates. Early grassroots efforts led to the rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters that later formed the coalitions of national organizations. Researchers began to focus on the trauma of crime to women and children. Pilot victim assistance programs were established in the criminal justice system. By the 1980s, the CVRM had expanded to include a widely diverse group of individual voices, organizations, agencies, and institutions. A new federal Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) and federal funding in the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) provided the groundwork for the CVRM to advocate for adoption of victim-oriented policies and programs. The CVRM successfully advocated for a legal framework of protections and “bills of rights” for victims in the criminal justice system. Critics emerged to argue against legal change, fearing that a greater role for victims would interfere with prosecutorial discretion and impair defendants’ rights. However, the CVRM has been largely successful in instituting many legal reforms, and thousands of laws now exist to protect victims’ interests. The majority of states have added constitutional protection for victims. These efforts to “rebalance” the criminal justice system have generated considerable debate. The sweeping reforms in the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA) gave victims a greater participatory role, but rights without remedy are illusory and securing enforcement for violations has met with more challenge. Arguably the greatest area of discussion is in the effort to add a federal victims’ rights constitutional amendment. The CVRM continues to evolve. Today, strong multidisciplinary collaborations enhance service delivery and allow for increased advocacy for previously unidentified or underserved populations. Still, some in the CVRM advocate for a more holistic approach—a parallel system of justice, in which victims are given as much consideration as those accused of crimes.

General Overviews

The works in this section provide an introduction to the origins, evolution, and status of the crime victims’ rights movement (CVRM). Weed 1995 examines the CVRM from a sociological perspective. Carrington and Nicholson 1984 examines the historical development of the victim assistance programs and efforts dating back to the 1960s. Young and Stein 2004 provides a retrospective look at the CVRM in documents archived as part of an oral history project of the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), housed at the University of Akron, which seeks to capture the evolution of the CVRM in documents and videotaped interviews with pioneers of the movement. Fletcher 1995 concludes that a strong CVRM is critical in the criminal justice system, while Koskela 1997 examines the tensions in the criminal justice system as a result of the CVRM. The American Bar Association 2006, Boland and Butler 2009, and Waller 2010 provide introductions to the development and evolution of legal rights for victims.

  • American Bar Association. 2006. The victim in the criminal justice system. Washington, DC: American Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section, Victims Committee.

    This monograph charts the course of the development of crime victims’ legal rights in the United States from the perspective of the largest attorneys’ organization in the country and its efforts to support the CVRM.

  • Boland, Mary L., and Russell Butler. 2009. Crime Victims’ Rights: From Illusion to Reality. Criminal Justice 24.1: 4.

    This article provides criminal justice practitioners with an overview of the evolution of victims’ rights and the ongoing efforts of the CVRM to provide victims with a remedy for violations of those rights.

  • Carrington Frank, and George Nicholson. 1984. The victims’ movement: An idea whose time has come. Pepperdine Law Review 11.5: 1–18.

    This article highlights the early efforts of the CVRM to gain funding to increase services and assistance to crime victims. The authors discuss some of the major crime victim rights organizations and provide an early take on the turn toward legislative reform.

  • Fletcher, George P. 1995. With justice for some: Victims’ rights in criminal trials. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

    Written by a legal scholar, this book examines the need for the CVRM viewed from the perspective of selected high-profile cases. The book examines how the criminal justice system fails victims when it allows offenders to claim victim status in defense of their acts. The book concludes that a rebalancing of the system is needed.

  • Koskela, Alice. 1997. Casenote & comment. Victim’s rights amendments: An irresistible political force transforms the criminal justice system. Idaho Law Review 34:157–190.

    This article examines the power of the victims’ rights movement as exemplified by the passage of state constitutional amendments. The author notes that the power of the CVRM has become unsettling to practitioners and scholars in that the balance in the system may be tipped toward personal, rather than public, retribution. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Waller, Irvin. 2010. Rights for victims of crime: Rebalancing justice. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Written for CVRM advocates and members of the public, this book provides a general overview of the current status of victims in the criminal justice system and proposes areas of interest that the CVRM should advocate to rebalance the focus toward victims’ rights.

  • Weed, Frank J. 1995. Certainty of justice: Reform in the crime victim movement. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

    The author examines the diverse nature of the CVRM as a social movement and identifies that the CVRM arose out of a convergence of the law-and-order movement with the feminist movement to focus on justice for crime victims. The book discusses survey results of leading organizations and agendas of the CVRM.

  • Young, Marlene, and John Stein. 2004. The history of the crime victims’ movement in the United States: A component of the Office for Victims of Crime Oral History Project. Alexandria, VA: National Organization for Victim Assistance.

    The authors identify five confluent activities that define the emergence of the CVRM: the recognition of victimology, the establishment of state victim compensation programs, a rise in crime linked to dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system, the women’s movement with its corresponding interest in domestic violence and sexual assault, and victim activism.

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