Your Options

The goal of Student Victim Assistance is to encourage and support students through a difficult time in their lives and provide information and resources, so that students are able to make knowledgeable choices when they are comfortable doing so. Student Victim Assistance believes allowing students to make their own decisions rather than pushing them into making certain decisions is the best way to help them regain the sense of power and control lost during victimization when they had no control. Taking away that power and control during decision making after victimization can be re-traumatizing. There are many avenues for action after victimization. In addition, a student may choose to do nothing and instead take some time to reflect, focus on other things and heal, and that is okay too. Below is a comprehensive list of options for victims of crime. Student Victim Assistance is available to help explore these and other options and support students in the choices that they make toward their healing.

Deciding What To Do After a Crime
Anyone who is a victim of a crime may have to cope with challenges they never expected to face. They may have been wounded or lost property they can’t afford to replace. They may be overwhelmed by fear or anger. They may not know what to do next or where to turn for help. Victim advocates can help victims of crime figure out what steps to take and what choices they may need to make. Victim advocates respond to crime victims’ mental, physical, financial, social, emotional and spiritual needs. Advocates can offer advice on how to stay safe and give crime victims information on medical, mental health and victim services in their community. Below are some options for victims of crime to explore, either on their own or with the help of a victim advocate.

Seeking Justice Through the Courts
Criminal Justice System: When the victim of a crime decides to report the crime, the report to the police creates an official record of the crime and may lead to an investigation. If investigating officers find clear evidence that points to a specific suspect, they may arrest the suspect or issue a citation for him or her to appear in court at a specific time. A prosecutor examines the evidence and decides whether to file charges, go to trial or enter into a plea agreement with the defendant. The prosecutor makes the decisions about how to proceed, although the victim of a crime may request information about the progress of the case. If the case goes to court, the victim of the crime may be called as a witness. Once a verdict or plea agreement has been reached, the judge will set a date for a sentencing hearing, where the victim of the crime can submit or present a victim impact statement that describes how the crime affected him or her. The judge may consider the victim impact statement in deciding a sentence. Sentences vary widely, depending on the crime and the laws of the jurisdiction. Typical sentences include probation, time in jail or prison or time already served. Sometimes offenders are ordered to seek counseling or participate in intervention programs for battering, substance abuse or other crime-related behavior problems.

Civil Justice System: Sometimes the victim of a crime can sue the perpetrator and other people (called third parties) who bear some responsibility for the crime. The goal of a civil suit is to hold defendants liable or accountable for committing the crime or allowing it to happen. The victim of a crime will need to hire an attorney. (Many attorneys will take a civil case on a contingency basis which refers to their agreement to be paid a percentage of any financial award granted.) The attorney will decide if there is enough proof to take the case to court. If the victim of the crime wins the case, the court will order the defendant to pay him or her a specific amount of money. Victims often use civil justice awards to pay for services they need, such as medical care, counseling or repairing or replacing property.

Protective Order: Victims of domestic violence or stalking may want to seek a protective order from the court. A protective order requires the abuser to stay away from them, their home, their work or other places they regularly go. Victims can file for a protective order on their own, but they may want to seek help from a victim advocate (see below) who can help them find out if they are eligible, fill out the paperwork and guide them through the process. (In some states only people in certain types of relationships, such as marriage, domestic partnerships or shared parenthood, can get protective orders.) In most states, protective orders are issued in civil court, but prosecutors can request them as part of a criminal process, such as investigation, charges or trial.

Resources to Help You
Victim Compensation: Every state has a victim compensation program to help victims of violent crime pay for costs related to being a crime victim. Victim compensation typically covers medical treatment, counseling, burial expenses, travel for a court case, other costs and sometimes even moving expenses. Most states require victims to file their applications for victim compensation within a specific period of time after the crime. Victim compensation is considered a payer of last resort, which means that victims cannot receive victim compensation if they have any other ways to be reimbursed for the services they need, such as health insurance, life insurance or home owners’ or car insurance. A victim advocate can give victims information about victim compensation in their state.

Shelter: Many communities offer temporary shelter to victims of domestic violence and stalking. Shelters often offer a variety of services, including support groups, legal advocacy, individual counseling, safety planning and hotlines. Some shelter programs are connected to transitional living facilities, usually in confidential locations, where victims and their children can stay for several weeks or months. A victim advocate can help victims find a shelter, explore their options and decide what they want to do.

Safety Planning: A victim advocate can help victims of domestic violence or stalking plan a strategy for increasing their safety at home, work, school and other places they regularly go. Creating a safety plan involves looking at their day to day life, planning changes to their routine and learning about steps they can take that could help make them safer. Following a plan can’t guarantee safety but could improve their situation.

Counseling: Victims may want to seek individual or group counseling with a counselor or therapist to help you them with the emotional and physical impact of the crime and regain a sense of control over their life.

Support Groups: Victims may also want to join a support group with other victims to share information about the impact of crime and how to cope with it. Many support groups are run by professionals, such as counselors, therapists, and staff of sexual assault, homicide and domestic violence programs. A victim advocate can help victims find a group that meets their needs.

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Copyright 2008 by the National Center for Victims of Crime. This information may be freely distributed, provided that it is distributed free of charge, reprinted in its entirety and includes this copyright notice.