Each year, millions of Americans become victims of a crime. According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services uniform crime report for 2015, more than 70,000 violent crimes were reported and more than 300,000 crimes involving property such as burglary, theft or larceny were also reported across the state. These crimes can leave a lasting physical, emotional, and financial impact on victims and their families.
The Office for Victims of Crime, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice, designated April 2 through 8 as National Crime Victims’ Rights week to help recognize the impact these crimes have on the victims, their families, and their communities. This year’s theme was “Strength. Resilience. Justice.” During the past week, various law enforcement agencies and service providers nationwide took the time to honor victims and to make the community aware of some of the resources and services available to victims of crime.
The Office for Victims of Crime administers the federal Crime Victims Fund, which was established in 1984 by the Victims of Crime Act. The fund, which helps to pay for services and compensate crime victims, is supported by criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalties, and special assessments collected by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, U.S. Courts and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. To date, money for this fund has come from offenders convicted of federal crimes, not from taxpayers. The New York State Office of Victim Services receives some of this federal funding and disperses about $20 million in aid to victims of crime. In addition, the agency also provides roughly $43.8 million in funding to 223 victim assistance programs across the state each year. Local victim assistance programs help victims understand their rights, help them with court proceedings, help them to access services, and work to ensure that people are treated with dignity amid what can be difficult and sometimes life-changing events.
The NYS Office of Victim Services’ website features several stories about people who have been helped in the past by local agencies. One such story focused on a 10-year-old girl who was shot by a stray bullet on her porch. The bullet became lodged in her spine and she was instantly paralyzed. Thankfully, she survived the traumatic situation but when she came home from the hospital, it was hard for her to get around her home and everyday tasks became difficult. The Office of Victim Services was able to help her and her family fund modifications for the apartment and make it more accessible for her. The family credited the local advocate for help applying for financial assistance and accessing other services for the child.
Locally, we have dedicated professionals and organizations that work to support and advocate for individuals and their families who have been affected by a crime. In Oswego County, Services to Aid Families (SAF) receives funding from the Office of Victims Services. SAF is managed by Oswego County Opportunities and works in partnership with the Oswego County District Attorney’s office, the courts, and local law enforcement agencies to provide crisis intervention, individual and group counseling, emergency shelter, and advocacy to adult criminal victims. In addition, the agency helps victims apply for compensation through the New York State Office of Victim Services and manages a 24-hour hotline, (315) 342-6100. The Child Advocacy Center of Oswego County provides similar services for children. In Onondaga County, the District Attorney’s Office manages the Victim Assistance Program (VAP) to help victims and witnesses of crime so that people do not suffer unnecessary hardship as a result of a crime and the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center helps children victims in Onondaga County. In Jefferson County, the Victims Assistance Center provides similar services for both children and adults.
These agencies do important work so that victims can begin healing. Through partnerships with volunteers, professionals, law enforcement, prosecutors, physicians and other health care professionals these efforts can help lessen the trauma a crime victim experiences so the individual can have access to services they need in order to be on a path to personal recovery. To learn more about the New York State Office of Victims Services, visit ovs.ny.gov/. To contact the Child Advocacy Center for Oswego County, call (315) 592-4453. To reach the Onondaga County VAP, call (315) 435-3916 ext. 4336. To reach McMahon/Ryan, call (315) 701-2985.
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