NOVA observes National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW) every year by offering free trainings and exciting events throughout the week! This year, the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC)’s official NCVRW theme is Rights, Access, Equity for all Victims. Sign up to receive updates on NOVA’s NCVRW 2022 observation.

Calendar of Events (NCVRW 2022)

1:00pm – 2:30pm ET (1.5 CEUs)

Keynote and Q&A: The Myth of “Closure”

Presenter: Jennifer Thompson / Healing Justice 

Victims of crime are led to believe that once the initial trial is over, then we will have closure.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We are rarely explained the ins and outs of the criminal justice process and therefore are unprepared for what happens next in the post-conviction setting.  Instead, we are taken into another journey that for many of us has no end, leaving us re-traumatized and without support.

Jennifer Thompson is the Founder and President of Healing Justice, which aims to address the collateral human damage of wrongful convictions to all involved. Jennifer is a nationally-known advocate for criminal justice reform, focusing on the human impact of wrongful convictions, the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, the need to combat sexual violence, and the healing power of forgiveness.

Please note CEUs are not awarded for viewing the recording.

3:00pm – 4:30pm ET (1.5 CEUs)

Campus Community

Webinar: Viewing the Clery Act through an Intersectional Lens

Presenters: Rachel Matos, Assistant Director of Programs, and Abigail Boyer, Associate Executive Director The Clery Center

If intersectionality is not applied as a framework first, the Clery Act’s provisions can limit accessibility of resources for marginalized survivors of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking (DVSAS) incidents. This session will examine the Clery Act’s reporting, timely warning, and written notification of rights and options requirements; how these areas interact with DVSAS incidents; and what campuses can do to identify barriers and convert them to inclusive supports.

Rachel Matos supports implementation and execution of programs and member services which address overall campus safety including compliance with the Jeanne Clery Act. Rachel conducts in-person and virtual trainings, webinars, and provides technical assistance on the law itself.

Abigail Boyer leads the Clery Center team in providing educational resources, training curriculum, and technical assistance tools to help improve campus safety nationwide and manages the organization’s Office on Violence Against Women technical assistance grants.

Please note CEUs are not awarded for viewing the recording.

1:00pm – 2:30pm ET (1.5 CEUs)

Webinar: Cold Case Advocacy  Project Cold Case 

Presenter: Ryan Backmann

This webinar, presented by a survivor of an unsolved homicide, will focus on providing advocacy to families of cold case homicide victims.

Ryan Backmann is the founder and executive director of Project: Cold Case, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to serving families of unsolved homicide victims. In 2009 Ryan’s father, Cliff Backmann, was shot and killed during a robbery in what remains one of the 250,000+ unsolved murders in the United States. Project: Cold Case works to publicize cold cases and link families, information, and law enforcement.

Please note CEUs are not awarded for viewing the recording.

Let’s get vocal and celebrate the work you do! Let us know your WHY. We found the #WhyWeAdvocate campaign so inspiring last year that we are bringing it back. We can’t wait to hear the reasons that push you forward in your advocacy work. 

1:00pm – 2:00pm ET (1 CEU)

Panel: Developing Collaborative Partnerships & Services in Rural Communities 

Panelists: Victoria Shanklin, Hallie Bongar White, & María Limón

María Limón is the rural technical assistance manager providing coaching and technical assistance supports to rural programs looking to build or expand their coordinated community response teams. With more than 30 years of experience, she is a skilled facilitator employing popular education principles in support of communities looking to improve the conditions of their lives. 

Victoria Shanklin is an experienced nonprofit leader who has been working in the field of victim services since 2004. For the past four years, Shanklin has headed Victims for Justice, an Anchorage-based organization that serves victims of violent crime throughout the state of Alaska. She represents victim voices in policymaking forums and advocates for improved services at the statewide level for those whose lives have been affected by violent crime.

Hallie Bongar White is the founder and Dean of the National Tribal Trial College at the University of Wisconsin Law School.  Her work to increase safety, justice, and healing for American Indian/Alaska Native communities include the indigenous public health initiative, SAFESTAR, for tribal communities lacking meaningful access to sexual assault forensic examiners and healthcare providers.


Please note CEUs are not awarded for viewing the recording.

3:00pm – 4:30pm ET (1.5 CEUs)


Victim Rights for American Indian/Alaska Native Survivors of Violent Crime Victimization

Presenter: Hallie Bongar White Southwest Center for Law and Policy

There are more than 575 “federally recognized tribes” in the United States.  American Indians/Alaska Natives, comprising close to 2% of the population, suffer the highest rates of violent crime victimization (including stalking, domestic violence, and sexual assault) and the lowest rates of reporting in the nation. This population resides in all 50 states, on tribal lands, in cities, and in rural areas, yet they are largely invisible, underserved, or poorly served. Participants will learn how these crimes can often trigger “complex jurisdictional quagmires” with the possibility of state, federal, and/or tribal investigation, prosecution, and services. The presentation will include a discussion of inter-jurisdictional collaboration, attorney and non-attorney admission to practice law in tribal courts, creative civil remedies for victims, and innovative sentencing, release, restitution, and protection order provisions.   

Please note CEUs are not awarded for viewing the recording.

1:00pm – 2:30pm ET (1.5 CEUs)

Webinar: Incorporating Anti-Ableism into Victim Services  

Presenter: Zoe Collins, Spiramind

Drawing from lived experience and the work of disability activists, “Incorporating Anti-Ableism into Victim Services: Serving Disabled Survivors” will introduce victim advocates to Disability Justice in order to understand how systemic ableism impacts survivors and compounds with other forms of systemic oppression. We will cover the basics of disability law/rights, culture, and justice, practical tips for accessibility, the unique ways disabled people experience victimization, and how to include an anti-ableist perspective in advocacy. Together, we will explore how ableism shows up within victim services and in abuse, as well as how to fight against it. Advocates’ understanding of disabled survivors will be grounded in a strengths-based approach, prioritizing dignity and collective liberation from violence. Advocates will be empowered to shift their perspectives on accessibility, improve the quality of services for all survivors and challenge the ableism that flourishes in the systems we advocate within. This presentation will emphasize that to truly address the needs of all survivors, and to prevent harm, we must root our personal and professional relationships in sustainable practices of love and accessibility.

Zoe Collins (she, her, hers), is the founder of Spiramind, an anti-ableist neurodivergent consulting firm focused on empowering people to provide high quality and accessible services to the neurodivergent community. She is a white, autistic, queer, disabled/chronically ill survivor from Denver, Colorado.



Please note CEUs are not awarded for viewing the recording.

3:00pm – 4:30pm ET (1.5 CEUs)

Wellness for Advocates

Presenter: Brianna Rose LMHC, RYT, Brianna Rose Flows

In this presentation, Licensed Therapist and Yoga Instructor Brianna Rose will lead you through a series of instantly applicable and effective body-based self-care practices. These tools are designed to help you recover from chronic stress or anxiety and ease the effects of burnout and exhaustion. This short presentation will provide you with a road map back  to feeling safe and centered in your body, as well as a basic understanding of how each exercise works to heal and balance your nervous system.

Brianna Rose LMHC, RYT, is a Licensed Therapist, Certified, Trauma-Informed Yoga Instructor, Eye Movement Integration Therapy And Trauma Incident Reduction Practitioner, and Creator of the Hack Your Nervous System Card Deck- 60 Evidence-Based Interventions to Alleviate Anxiety, Reduce Stress, and Retrain the Nervous System.

Please note CEUs are not awarded for viewing the recording.



Join us for the #NOVA5K All Day!

NOVA’s Annual Virtual 5K: Raise Awareness for Victims’ Rights! Ignite your passion. Show your advocacy in action! 

*Requests for ASL interpretation should be sent to

*CEU credit can be earned by attending the events live and completing a survey at the conclusion of each event. While recordings of some of the events may be posted later on this NCVRW webpage, CEUs will not be awarded for recorded events.

NOVA's 5th Annual Virtual 5K
On Friday 04/29 & Saturday 04/30 connect with friends and colleagues to win awards exciting awards and support survivors! Post on social media using hashtag #NOVA5K and be sure to tag us @NOVAvictims
Developing Collaborative Partnerships & Services in Rural Communities
Panel: Victoria Shanklin, Hallie Bongar White, & María Limón
Let us know your WHY and participate in our #WhyWeAdvocate online campaign on Tuesday April 26th! Use the hashtag #WhyWeAdvocate and be sure to tag us @NOVAVictims on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Let's celebrate the work you do to support survivors!

Save the Date for NOVA’s 2022 Virtual 5K! Raise awareness for victims’ rights, trauma-informed practice, and access to victim services for all! Register for NOVA’s Virtual 5K today!

Put on your NOVA Tee and show your pride for being a part of this strong and thriving community of helping professionals! Multiple colors, designs, and products are available to fit every style!

Official #NOVA5K products are available now! A big Thank You to our 5K Sponsors, Appriss Insights

Thank you to our 5K sponsors, Appriss Insights

So many smiling faces from our #NOVA5K in April of 2021!

NOVA's Board of Directors Awards

The National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) Board of Directors annually presents awards to recognize extraordinary accomplishments of individuals and programs in the victims’ movement. 

Individuals and programs may nominate themselves. NOVA Board members and programs that employ them are ineligible, as are recipients of personal awards within the past five years. Awards will be selected by the NOVA Board which reserves the right to assign award recipients to the most appropriate category. Awards are made with the NOVA Board of Directors’ sole discretion. Awards are presented at NOVA’s Reception during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.  

Nominations must be received no later than March 4, 2022. 

NOVA's #WhyWeAdvocate Campaign

Join us this year on Tuesday, April 26th, as we take over social media during NCVRW 2022 and share #WhyWeAdvocate!

All are welcome to post a quote and tag NOVA on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram throughout the day! Our handle is @NOVAVictims.

Check out these inspiring quotes from NOVA’s Staff and Board!

We look forward to hearing from our NOVA community this year! 

The 2022 NOVA Board of Directors Award Winners and Honorees

Morton Bard Allied Professional Award

The Morton Bard Award recognizes the contributions of an individual in an “allied” profession such as law enforcement, prosecution, medicine, mental health, the clergy, etc. 

Courtney Schellack

Assistance District Attorney of Morgan County District Attorney's Office

Tadini Bacigalupi Jr. Award

The Tadini Bacigalupi Jr. Award is given to a distinguished victim service program.

Crime Victim Center

Katie Dalton, Executive Director of Crime Victim Center

        Morton Bard Allied Professional Award Honorees:

  • Sally Ellis Fletcher, Newhouse
  • Katrina Brown-Kennedy, Lifelines Counseling Services
  • Ellis White, Ambassador Worship Center
  • Nick Bowman, Utah State University Police Department
  • Amber Gray, Gray’s Trauma-Informed Care Services Corp

       Tadini Bacigalupi Jr. Award Honorees:

  • Crime Survivors
  • Stay In Touch (S.I.T.) Reflection Group
  • CCAC Hispanic Outreach Center
  • Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia
  • Community Assistance Program Victim Advocates
  • Plano Police Dept Victim Services Unit
  • The Freedom Train Project Incorporated
  • Virginia Dept of Corrections’ Victim Services Unit
  • Adult Advocacy Centers
  • Central Bucks Regional Police Victim Services Unit

Marlene Young Leadership Award

The Marlene Young Leadership Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the victims’ movement by a program manager, state administrator or related professional.

Stacy Wesen, CA

Victim Services Program Director, Gallatin County Victim Services

Margery Fry Award

The Margery Fry Award recognizes outstanding service as a victim assistance practitioner.

Sherry Bennett

Victim/Witness Advocate Peoria County State’s Attorney’s Office

      Marlene Young Leadership Award Honoree:

  • Angelica Ferrer, Kent County Prosecutor’s Office Victim Witness Unit

       Margery Fry Award Honorees:

  • Clarencetta Owens, Newhouse
  • Meredith Noha, Chesapeake Regional Healthcare HOPE Program
  • Jessica Hamilton Diaz, St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Victim Services
  • Bill DeMott, The Keri Anne Demott Foundation
  • Jeanette Gambaro, Bronx DA’s Crime Victim Assistance Unit
  • Kate Kimpel, The Center for Child and Family Advocacy, Inc.
  • Christine Shaw, USF Child Protection Team
  • Megan Rhubart, Air National Guard, SAPR Program
  • Robin Turner, Victim Witness Kokua Services/Prosecuting Attorney Office

Edith Surgan Victim Activist Award

The Edith Surgan Victim Activist Award award is given to victims or survivors who demonstrate a life of commitment after their victimization to promote rights and services that help change the lives of victims. 

Katie Koestner

Executive Director, Take Back The Night

Exceptional Military Victim Advocate Award

The Exceptional Military Victim Advocate Award recognizes outstanding contributions by a military victim advocate (active duty, civilian or contractor) to service members and dependents.

Carolina Yepez

Sexual Assault Response Coordinator United States Navy

       Edith Surgan Victim Activist Award Honorees:

  • Katie McMahon, San Diego City Schools
  • Kilomarie Granda, Unspoken Voices
  • Michele Short, Coos County Crime Victim’s Assistance
  • Lavinia Masters, Hope Saves
  • Maude Gorman
  • Kendall Alaimo, University Alliance on Human Trafficking
  • Amber Gray, Gray’s Trauma-Informed Care Services Corp
  • Lovern Gordon, Love Life Now Foundation

       Exceptional Military Victim Advocate Award Honorees:

  • Cheryl Hendrix, SAPR-VA/DCMA
  • Kelly Donner, WI Air National Guard
  • Wayne McGonigal, United States Navy
  • Megan Rhubart, Air National Guard, SAPR Program
  • Donna Johnson, Family Advocacy Program
  • Trudy Tyson, GA National Guard, SAPRO
  • Linda Bates, U.S. Army Human Resources Command
  • Scott Wynn, 310th ESC US Army Reserve
  • Keri Burke, USAF 105 AW Stewart ANG Base
  • Larissa Martinez, Circle of Arms

Special Recognition Award

Ryan Backmann

Founder of Project: Cold Case, Inc.

Learn about Victims' Rights

To ensure that they can participate fully in the criminal justice process, every jurisdiction in the United States gives victims rights in criminal cases. This section discusses what rights victims have, how rights are enforced, and to whom they apply, as well as steps we can take to ensure victims receive their rights in court proceedings. 

While this website can provide you with a general overview of the types of rights that victims have and an understanding of how they are usually accorded, it’s important that you know the specific rights victims are entitled to in your particular jurisdiction, as the rights and definitions can vary. To find the rights available to victims in your courts, check or search online for “[jurisdiction] victim rights law,” e.g., “Alaska victim rights law.” Most state attorney general’s offices list the victims’ rights available in that state.

Every state and the federal government guarantee victims rights under the law. In some jurisdictions, victim rights are also guaranteed in the state constitution. Defendant rights are guaranteed in every state constitution as well as in the federal constitution. There is an important distinction between constitutional and statutory rights: Constitutional rights trump statutory rights. If there is ever a conflict between the rights of two individuals (e.g., the victim and the defendant), the constitutional rights will win out. Thus, where victim rights are contained in the state constitution, victims are on even footing with the defendant as pertains to state constitutional protections. However, because victims do not have rights under the federal constitution, the defendant’s federally-protected constitutional rights will prevail over rights under state law, a state constitution, or federal law.

The key to understanding the meaning of the term “victim” is the concept of harm. A victim is someone who has been harmed. If we say that someone is a victim of a recent hurricane, we mean that person was harmed by the hurricane—lost her home, for instance, or broke her arm. A crime victim, in legal terms, is someone who was injured by the crime, meaning the crime that is being investigated or prosecuted in the case.

To determine whether someone is a victim entitled to rights in the case, ask three questions:

  1. Did the person suffer harm? Harm can be physical or financial. In some jurisdictions, solely emotional harm is sufficient to entitle someone to rights, as well, though the individual’s ability to recover restitution for purely emotional harm may be limited.
  2. What caused the harm? Was the harm caused by the crime that is being investigated or prosecuted? A person may have abused his wife, but if the crime under investigation is fraud, his wife does not have rights in the case.

Is there some reason this person cannot or should not receive rights in the case? In some states, only victims of certain types of crimes (violent crime, for instance, or felonies) are entitled to rights. In addition, those who are culpable for the crime (unindicted co-conspirators) may not be able to assert rights in the case. Finally, those who are minors, incapacitated, incompetent, or deceased generally may have others assert rights on their behalf.

Victims’ rights vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but some rights are guaranteed in most jurisdictions. This section will discuss those.

Protection: The federal government and some state governments grant victims a right to protection, often termed a right “to be reasonably protected from the accused.” Some states phrase this as a right “to be free from intimidation, harassment, or abuse.”  

While individual protection can never be guaranteed, it is incumbent on all participants in the criminal justice system to work to enhance security for victims and witnesses. Good communication among team members is essential to ensuring protection for victims and witnesses throughout the criminal justice process. Notify prosecutors and agents on the case immediately if security issues are raised and collaborate to identify and execute a safety plan for the threatened individual. State and local resources may be helpful in relocating victims and witnesses (as well as their family members, where appropriate) and obtaining security enhancements such as alarm systems and reinforced locks for doors and windows. It is important to stress to the threatened individual, though, that such security enhancements are never absolute, and that the individual must take steps to protect himself, such as avoiding the dangerous areas and staying off social media.

Witness intimidation is generally a separate crime that may be prosecuted in appropriate cases. However, the defendant does have the right to mount a defense to the criminal charges, and thus the defendant’s merely contacting the victim or witness is generally not seen as witness intimidation. Each victim or witness can decide whether to talk with the defendant or defense counsel. If the contact has become harassing, though, the prosecutor may be able to seek a no contact order or other order limiting the communications. If you are uncertain whether contacts rise to the level of criminal intimidation, discuss it with the prosecutor.

Notice: Most jurisdictions guarantee victims the right to notice about proceedings in the criminal case. In some jurisdictions, this is handled by email or letter notices sent to the victim; in others, victims can access a website or call center for information about the case. Federal victim notification is provided through the Victim Notification System. States provide victim notice through VINE.

While the specific hearings about which victims are guaranteed notice and the precise wording of the victim notification right varies by jurisdiction, the goal of this right is to ensure that victims are kept apprised of proceedings in the criminal case. A victim who does not know about a proceeding is not able to participate in it in any way. Further, for many victims, the notifications they receive are the sole interaction they will have with the criminal justice system. Knowing that the case is proceeding apace can be incredibly comforting. To enhance victims’ ability to receive this right, practitioners should take care to obtain full and accurate contact information for victims in those jurisdictions where notice is sent affirmatively, and in other jurisdictions to ensure that victims have the information they need to register for and access VINE.

Beyond the right to notice of proceedings, many jurisdictions also guarantee victims a right to notice of their rights. It is helpful to have a standardized practice for providing this notice to victims. For instance, in many jurisdictions, law enforcement officers carry a tear sheet detailing the victim rights, which can be provided to victims at the scene of a crime or during a witness interview. It is also worthwhile to list the rights in a prominent place on the prosecutor’s or law enforcement agency’s website. Many offices develop a brochure detailing victims’ rights as well as services available and how to access them. A quick online search will provide many samples. As with all information provided to victims, it is essential to keep materials up to date. Try to ensure that any statutory or constitutional changes in victims’ rights are reflected in online and printed materials as soon as possible.

Attendance: Every state and federal jurisdiction guarantees victims a right to attend court proceedings. However, most place some limitation on the exercise of that right where the victim is also a witness in the case. For instance, the federal victims’ rights law gives victims the right not to be excluded from public court proceedings “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.” Some states grant the right only to the extent that it does not interfere with the rights of the accused. Other jurisdictions limit the right to certain proceedings, such as at “important” hearings, or at “critical stages of the criminal justice process.”

It is helpful to reach out to victims prior to the trial and any other key hearings to learn whether the victim would like to attend the proceeding, or to ask that they, as a courtesy, notify your office if they plan to attend. This allows any issues regarding attendance to be raised with the court ahead of time rather than by surprise at the start of a hearing.  

Finally, in most jurisdictions, travel costs are not guaranteed for victim attendance, but funding sources may be available where the victim is indigent.

Hearing: Every jurisdiction provides victims with the right to give input into the sentencing decision. Depending on the jurisdiction, this can be provided orally at the sentencing hearing or in writing, either in a standalone victim impact statement or as part of the pre-sentence report. What information can be included in the victim’s statement varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions limit the statement to expressions of the impact of the crime on the victim, while others also allow the victim to provide a sentencing recommendation. In some states, victims are permitted to obtain court documents, like the pre-sentence report, to help them in formulating their statement.

Some jurisdictions specifically require victims to be sworn in and subject to cross-examination as they provide their statement. Most are silent on whether victims must be sworn in and subject to cross-examination. Where silent, practice may vary, even from courtroom to courtroom. Discuss with the prosecutor whether the victim is likely to be required to be sworn in or subject to cross-examination, and apprise the victim accordingly so that he is prepared if he wishes to speak.

In some jurisdictions, victims have the right to be heard at proceedings other than the sentencing, as well. For instance, federal crime victims have the right to be heard at all public court proceedings “involving release, plea, sentencing, or parole.”

Finally, in a few states and localities, community victim impact statements are allowed. This is a way for those who do not fit the legal definition of victim but who have been impacted by the crime to let the court know how the crime has affected them and their community.

As with the right to be present, it is helpful to provide the court with prior notice if a victim wants to be heard so that, for instance, the court has not planned for a quick hearing and twelve victims show up to provide oral statements. In some jurisdictions the victim must make a prior request in order to make a statement. Most prosecutors’ offices provide victims with forms or sample statements to aid in the preparation of their statements. Victims may need assistance in understanding the types of information that can be included, and remembering all of the impacts of the crime, from financial, like medical bills and time lost from work; to physical, like headaches and nausea; to emotional, like insomnia and fractured relationships. The fuller the picture the victim can provide, the more appropriate the sentence will be to the impact of the crime.

Restitution: Restitution is an order by the court directing the offender to make payment to the victim for losses incurred due to the crime. The amount of restitution is decided by the court at the sentencing hearing. The federal government and every state give victims a right to restitution. Some jurisdictions also have separate laws specifically covering entitlement to restitution and how it should be paid. Most jurisdictions instruct the court to take into consideration the defendant’s ability to pay in making a restitution award. Some also allow courts to create a payment plan based upon the defendant’s income and expenses.

Restitution is generally limited to financial, out of pocket costs like medical bills, lost wages, funeral expenses, and property damage. In the federal courts, victims are sometimes awarded future medical or therapy costs, or even lost future income, where there is adequate evidence to support the award. Many states have explicitly limited the types of losses which may be recovered in restitution, stating that emotional distress may not be recovered. Victims also may not double recover—if a victim has been reimbursed by insurance, by a state fund like Crime Victims’ Compensation, or through a civil judgement, then any restitution will go to the entity that covered the loss or will not be awarded at all.

Finally, in the federal criminal justice system and in some states, restitution may be ordered even where actions that caused the injury are not the basis of the defendant’s guilty plea in the case. For example, imagine a case where the defendant pleads guilty to possession of child pornography, but he had used the child pornography to groom a child for a molestation. That child’s bills for medical and psychological treatment may be the basis of a restitution award even where the abuse was not charged conduct in the case, if the defendant agrees to it as part of the plea.

Confer: In most jurisdictions, victims have a right to confer, or consult, with the prosecutor. This entitles victims to discuss case matters and provide input to the prosecutor regarding their views. Many decisions by the prosecutor can have a large, even dispositive, impact on the case. For instance, the overwhelming majority of cases are resolved by plea agreement. Where the victim has a right to confer, he can share with the prosecutor his views on a possible plea. Some jurisdictions require prosecutors’ offices to reach out affirmatively to solicit victim views prior to entering into any plea agreement.

The right is often limited to conferences where “reasonable” or “practicable,” and some jurisdictions explicitly protect prosecutorial discretion. The goal of the right is for victims to have input into the prosecutor’s decisions, but not to direct the prosecution themselves. Some states specifically say that the failure to confer does not affect the validity of the plea agreement or subsequent judgment.

In some jurisdictions, this right to confer is explicitly limited to discussions regarding the plea, while others state the right more broadly as a general right to communicate with the prosecutor, or explicitly give a right to confer on other matters, like extradition or charging decisions.

Timely Disposition: In a number of states and in the federal system, victims are entitled to a “speedy trial” or to timely disposition of the case. The timely disposition right allows victims to object when a case is delayed repeatedly (or, in jurisdictions where victims do not have standing to assert their rights, for prosecutors to raise the issue with the court). For many victims, continued delays in the case affect their ability to recover from the crime. Where this right is available, it can be a powerful way to protect victims’ interests.

Privacy: Many jurisdictions grant victims a right to privacy. The federal right, for instance, is “to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy.” This right can be a valuable tool to protect victims from unnecessary and irrelevant intrusions into their privacy, to keep their identities and locations confidential, and to enhance their safety. Where possible, keeping a victim’s name and identifying information out of court records helps to secure their privacy. In some jurisdictions, victims are entitled to prior notice and an opportunity to object before records related to their private information can be obtained. Where a subpoena seeks private victim information like medical or counseling records, this right may be an option to bar or limit the information from release.

It is a common saying in law that a right is meaningless without the means to enforce it. Victim rights are much less effective where there is no way to challenge their denial. Saying that a victim has rights is one thing; allowing the victim to object to the denial of a right is something more. For instance, if a victim does not receive notice of a hearing and thus is unable to attend or speak at it, is it possible for the hearing to be held again? If the victim is not permitted to express views on a potential plea, should the plea be set aside? Of course, the best path is to ensure wherever possible that victims receive their rights in the first instance. It is worthwhile to know, however, what remedy, if any, is available for the denial of a victim’s rights.

Enforcement rights vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some do not allow any enforcement at all; some allow victims to challenge any denial of a victim right and even appeal the trial court’s order; and some allow challenges of specific denials, but not others. In some jurisdictions, victims can file complaints against prosecutors, law enforcement agents, victim assistance personnel, and even judges who violate their rights. There are nonprofit organizations that will provide free legal help to victims who want to challenge a denial of their rights. To access them, contact the National Crime Victims Law Institute or your local Legal Aid Society.

A special consideration for survivors in sexual assault cases is what is commonly called the Rape Shield Law. The Rape Shield Law is in reality a series of laws, enacted in each state of the United States as well as in the federal system, to protect sexual assault survivors from certain kinds of questions. These laws grew out of a common practice in sexual assault cases where defendants would raise the survivor’s past sexual history, purportedly as evidence that she likely consented to the attack.

The federal rule, which is similar to the rule in many states, is contained in Federal Rule of Evidence 412. It says that evidence to prove that a victim engaged in past sexual behavior or has a propensity to engage in sex is not admissible in a civil or criminal case involving a claim of sexual misconduct. There are a few exceptions—to prove that physical evidence (semen, for instance) was from someone other than the defendant; past instances of sex with the defendant, to show consent; and where necessary to protect a defendant’s constitutional rights. Different states have other exceptions, including to show that the victim has a bias against the defendant, has made false allegations of sexual assault in the past, or to show the defendant’s mistaken belief that the victim had consented. The National District Attorneys Association has a compilation of all of the states’ rape shield laws here: 

As you probably gathered from seeing the exceptions to these laws, a prosecutor can never guarantee that a victim’s personal life will remain private during a case. Remember, though, that the overwhelming majority of cases do not go all the way through a trial where a victim would need to testify. Even in those cases that do go to trial, the prosecutor has tools to protect the victim’s privacy, like protective orders, sealing the courtroom, and using pseudonyms or initials instead of the victim’s name. Similar protections can be used at preliminary hearings where evidence is discussed. Be sure to talk with the victim about any concerns and communicate those to the prosecutor, so that she can develop a plan to address them appropriately.

Honoring Our Past. Creating Hope For the Future

Since 1981, NOVA has promoted and advanced victims’ rights during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Listen to our chat with NOVA founders and leaders in the victim rights’ movement, Dr. Marlene Young and Mr. John Stein, sharing the history of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and their vision for the future of the movement.