In 1990, the federal government adopted the
Victim's Rights and Protection Act to protect victims' rights in
federal crimes. By 1998, all 50 states had passed some form of a
statutory crime victims' bill of rights, and 29 states had amended
their constitutions to include rights for crime victims. Despite this
widespread adoption of legal protection for the constitutional rights
and civil liberties of victims, the implementation of such protection
and its impact on victims had not been widely studied, nor had much
research been directed at how this legislation influenced victim
perceptions of the criminal justice system. To address these issues,
the largest survey of crime victims to date was conducted to determine
whether state constitutional amendments and other legal measures
designed to protect crime victims' rights had been effective. This
study sought to answer the following questions: (1) Do victims' rights
statutes work? (2) Do these statutes foster fairness and respect for
the rights and interests of crime victims? This study was designed to
test the hypothesis that the strength of legal protection for victims'
rights has a measurable impact on how victims are treated by the
criminal justice system and on their perceptions of the system. A
related hypothesis was that victims from states with strong legal
protection would have more favorable experiences and greater
satisfaction with the system than those from states where legal
protection is weak. In addition to the victim survey, criminal justice
and victim assistance professionals at the state and local levels were
surveyed because these professionals affect crime victims' ability to
recover from and cope with the aftermath of the offense and the stress
of participation in the criminal justice system. It was hypothesized
that criminal justice and victim services professionals would have
greater awareness of victims' rights issues in states with stronger
protections. This survey was also used to explore the reasons why
victims' rights laws might or might not produce satisfaction among
The first step in the study was identifying two
states that were weak in protecting victims' rights and two that were
strong. From the four selected states, adult crime victims' names and
locational information were obtained from departments of corrections
and victims' compensation agencies. All crime victims selected had
reported crimes to the police, most had substantial exposure to the
criminal justice system through the progress of their case, and most
had fairly recent experiences with the criminal justice
system. Targeted for inclusion were victims of physical assault,
robbery, and sexual assault, as well as surviving family members of
homicide victims. Researchers attempted interviews with all such crime
victims who acknowledged their victimization. Phone interviews were
conducted with 1,308 of these crime victims. In addition to the
victim survey, state and local criminal justice officials and victims'
advocates were surveyed in these same four states to determine the
extent to which they were aware of the legal rights of victims, their
views of how victims' rights are ensured, and their thoughts about
what further steps may be necessary to strengthen the protection of
victims' rights. State officials included agency directors,
legislators, victim coalition directors, and other government
officials. Local officials included judges, prosecutors, parole and
probation officers, victim assistance coordinators, victim-witness
staff, defense attorneys, and police and sheriffs. About half of the
local officials surveyed were judges.
Two weak and two strong states were selected from a
ranking of the strength of states with respect to protecting crime
victims' rights. The selected states provided researchers with lists
of adult crime victims, who were then contacted for the victim
survey. State and local criminal justice officials were selected from
a list compiled by the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Crime victims, criminal justice officials, and victim
assistance professionals in the United States.
The Victim Survey (Parts 1, 4-7) collected
information on when and where the crime occurred, characteristics of
the perpetrators, use of force, police response, victim services, type
of information given to the victim by the criminal justice system, the
victim's level of participation in the criminal justice system, how
the case ended, sentencing and restitution, the victim's satisfaction
with the criminal justice system, and the effects of the crime on the
victim. Demographic variables in the file include age, race, sex,
education, employment, and income. The Survey of State Officials
(Parts 2 and 8) collected data on officials' opinions of the criminal
justice system, level of funding for the agency, types of victims'
rights provided by the state, how victims' rights provisions had
changed the criminal justice system, advantages and disadvantages of
such legislation, and recommendations for future legislation. The
Survey of Local Officials (Parts 3 and 9) collected data on officials'
opinions of the criminal justice system, level of funding, victims'
rights to information about and participation in the criminal justice
process, victim impact statements, and restitution.
For the Victim Survey interviews were completed
with 83 percent of victims who could be located and who disclosed
their victimization. The response rate for the Survey of Local
Officials was 70 percent and the response rate for the Survey of State
Officials was 80.3 percent.
Several Likert-type scales were used.