As a special victims’ prosecutor in the late 1980’s and throughout the 1990’s, I knew surprisingly little about trauma. Of course, we all knew that people were traumatized by crime, but there was little information and understanding about how trauma really underscored our cases, especially child abuse and domestic violence prosecutions. Today, we know so much more about the neurobiology of trauma, how it affects encoding memory and recall of details and facts.
Certainly, most, if not all, of us had no appreciation for secondary or vicarious trauma of others and definitely not regarding ourselves. Many cases that I handled were unspeakably awful – but the approach then was to “man up” and pretend that it was just another day, another case. It takes a toll on people, even those who are used to dealing with horrible crimes.
Those days are over – we now have a deeper appreciation for how people react to trauma and victimization. This is good news. And the other good news is that there are over 200 programs in New York State funded by the NYS Office of Victim Services (OVS) where crime victims can get assistance to go from victim to survivor to thriver. These programs offer trauma-informed services to provide victims with help, hope and healing.
What is OVS? OVS is an executive level agency dedicated to serving innocent crime victims since 1966. The enabling legislation for the agency—only the second of its kind in the country and the first permanent program—came in response to public outcry over the murder of a young good Samaritan in a subway, leaving behind a widow with little means to care for their 15-month old child.
The mission of the Office of Victim Services (OVS) is to provide compensation to innocent victims of crime in a timely, efficient and compassionate manner; to fund direct services to crime victims through a network of community-based programs; and to advocate for the rights and benefits of all innocent victims of crime.
Funding for compensation to crime victims and grants to programs that assist victims and witnesses comes from the state’s Criminal Justice Improvement Account (CJIA) and the federal Crime Victims Fund, established by the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) of 1984. The CJIA is funded by mandatory surcharges and crime victim assistance fees assessed on certain offenders. OVS provides substantial financial relief to victims of crime and their families. This includes, but is not limited to, paying unreimbursed crime-related expenses: medical and funeral expenses; loss of earnings or support; crime scene clean-up; the cost to repair or replace items of essential personal property; reasonable court transportation expenses; counseling expenses; moving expenses; the cost of residing at, or using the services of, a domestic violence shelter.
Moreover, OVS will pay for forensic rape exams for victims of sexual assault who present at a hospital or clinic. This includes payment for the exam, a sexual assault kit and a 7 day starter pack for HIV/PeP medications. This means that victims do not have to report their victimization to the police unless they choose to, and they cannot be billed by the hospital if they want OVS to pay.
But compensation is not enough. Victims need other services including assistance with court, civil legal issues that arise from the victimization, mental health counseling, among many other services. Programs funded by OVS include domestic violence shelters, sexual assault programs, child advocacy centers, centers for elder abuse victims, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+, Latinx victims, immigrants, and so many others. There are services available for crime victims wherever they live in NY and for victims who are injured in New York, but reside elsewhere, they are also eligible for compensation and victim services.
The agency is also responsible for advocating for crime victims’ rights, needs and interests in New York State. To that end, the agency has developed legislation, subsequently enacted, that has protected and extended the rights of crime victims and expanded the services and assistance available to them. Over time, compensation coverage has been expanded to include, for example, counseling for step-family members, victims of kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment or stalking victims who are not physically injured.
OVS also has a robust and extensive training and outreach component. Part of this has been to expand available programming including a conference for victim service providers and advocates, summits on specific issues such as male survivors of sexual abuse, training academies and targeted programming such as vicarious trauma, evaluations, strategic planning, one on one executive coaching among many other options. Our outreach efforts also include conducting needs assessments, attending coalition meetings, running public service campaigns, producing publications and newsletters, and getting out into the community such as attending the State Fair.
We also work closely with other state and local agencies to determine how we can collaborate effectively. We have been very successful in working with the State Office for the Aging, Division of Criminal Justice Services, New York State Police, State University of New York, and the Department of Corrections and Community Services. This allows the agencies to build on the work already being done and learn what services need to grow.
In some ways, OVS is an unsung hero – many people do not know of the great work that is being done right here in New York. But for those people who have experienced the devastation of crime victimization, there are resources and support for them to help them heal.
Please check out our website at
www.ovs.ny.gov for more information.