Victims of crime, particularly violent crime, often suffer from psychological damage long after the incident. Most commonly, victims may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) resulting in inability to work and in some cases inability to form typical life functions that were simple and routine before the crime. One of the most common discernable features of PTSD includes a negative and shortened outlook on life and the future. Without victim compensation for these damages, the justice system is not complete. By focusing on the criminal but overlooking the victim, justice would only be at half measure. We need to ensure proper systems are in place so that, when appropriate, victim compensation can be gauged by the damage done to the victim in the wake of the crime; only then will a true justice system be upheld.
In 1967 it was suggested by the President’s Commission that a system be set in place to compensate for losses suffered by crime victims (Doerner, 2012). Restitution, or payments made to the victim, was among the suggested techniques for retribution (Doerner, 2012). Victim compensation differs from restitution in that the funds paid to the victim come from the state. The first compensation legislation hit the United States in the 1960s, with California, New York, and Hawaii among the first to adopt such laws (Doerner, 2013).
A study by Maarten J. J. Kunst (2001) has shown a direct correlation between crime victims who suffer from PTSD and unemployment rates, which results in financial loss for victims in addition to their psychological, and perhaps even physical, suffering at the time of and perhaps long after the crime. The relationship between unemployment and PTSD is thought to come as a result of the victim’s avoidance symptoms, which causes them to view the future negatively or to simply apathetic to it as in a person experiencing severe clinical depression (Kunst, 2001).
Those who are against the idea of victim compensation believe that it allows for individuals to are work the system, so to speak, or exaggerate the severity of their suffering due to PTSD symptoms in order to receive greater monetary compensation and resist employment (Kunst, 2011). In other words, arguments hold that victim compensation allows for a manipulation of the law to avoid responsibility. Certainly there will be cases where this is true, unfortunately; however, it would be unjust to eliminate compensation for the majority of honest victims based on the fact that there might be some who themselves have criminal tendencies or are simply lazy and money hungry or angry and looking for revenge in the wrong way. The majority of crime victims do seriously suffer and have been diagnosed with PTSD, making their lives and their jobs difficult to impossible. It is not just to deny these victims compensation for their losses and their legitimate suffering, which may extend to their family members and loved ones as well. Even if the system of victim compensation is taken advantage of by a few undeserving crime victims, it is more important for good of our citizens to have this system in place that it is that the state may lose funds because of the possibility of fraud. The fact is the most victims of violent crimes are seriously suffering and deserve to be compensated when they can no longer work and provide for themselves and their families.
The study by Kunst (2011) which found the correlation between victim unemployment and PTSD in the wake of a crime was conducted in the Netherlands which has a similar system to the United States where a sliding scale measures compensation amounts, increasing or decreasing according to the assessed severity of PTSD related damages. The study included victims of violent crime who were fully employed at the time of victimization (Kunst, 2011). The most notable factor of PTSD found in the study was that of “foreshortened future,” defined more simply as a negative outlook on life and a sense of future (Kunst, 2011). The study explains, “victims are more likely to remain active in the labor market if they do not suffer from a sense of foreshortened future” as a result of PTSD (Kunst, 2011). This legitimizes the fact that people who are victims of crimes, and are expected to suffer some level of PTSD, are genuinely unable to return to the workforce if their symptoms include a foreshortened future, a common occurrence in those who suffer from the disorder.
Although it is admittedly very difficult to gauge the severity of loss to victims in terms of monetary, psychological, or physical damage, it is clear these victims deserve retribution when they find they cannot go back to their normal lifestyles and are plagued by the crime to which they fell victim. It seems the problem lies not just in whether or not victims deserve retribution, which most agree they do, or that their suffering is valid, which we’ve seen it is, but how do we assign a monetary figure to the disruption of a person’s life and destruction of their quality of life thereafter? The least that can be done is to develop a system that attempts, however arbitrary it may seem, to compensate for these damages. Further research could help determine how to evaluate a case by case system of analysis for state funded victim compensation in which all parties, both for and against, can compromise on an appropriate means of gauging damage and financial need. There is obviously no way to undo the damage due to victims by violent crime but providing them with compensation will allow for proper medical and psychiatric care that give everyone hope for a brighter outlook.
The issue of victim compensation goes beyond the victims themselves. This is a social issue in that having systems in place like this aids in the collective feeling of justice. Dena M. Gromet has written about how “psychological responses to criminal wrongdoing have primarily focused on the offender, particularly on how (and why) offender punishment satisfies people’s need for justice, However, the restoration of the victim presents another way in which the ‘psychological itch’ that injustice creates can be addressed” (Gromet, 2012). Victim compensation is a huge component in the process of victim restoration, and the effects of such a process are often felt beyond the victim, beyond their families and loved ones, and beyond even their communities to a country-wide consciousness of crime and punishment as broadcasted by the media. Victim compensation and restoration affect the psyche of the American people and cannot be looked at on a single, individual basis.
Victim compensation in the wake of violent crimes is essential for the restoration of a person to a sense of normalcy and quality of life. Additionally, having this initiative as part of our justice system is the only way to fully reverse the adverse effects of crime in this country on both a personal and collective basis. While victim compensation programs can benefit from further research as to how to go about assigning monetary values for the damages caused by crimes, this should not dissuade the public or lawmakers from working towards a goal that instills a sense of fairness after the injustice that criminals impose on other members of the public, most of whom are law abiding, innocent people. Ensuring that justice is complete is a two-part process that needs to move its primary focus away from the offender and more towards the victim of the crime being considered. Having a full rounded justice system where legislation provides compensation and the means for restoration for victims is paramount to the American sense of justice, the upholding of values, and faith in our judicial system that trickles down through the system into our institutions and into the American mindset. It would be a great loss not to have and to perpetually improve upon on victim compensation--an indispensable part of a true system of justice.
Doerner, William G. (2011). Victimology. 6th ed. Anderson Publishing.
Gromet, D. (2012). Restoring the Victim: Emotional Reactions, Justice Beliefs, and Support for Reparation and Punishment. Critical Criminology, 20(1), 9-23. doi:10.1007/s10612-011-9146-8
Kunst, M. J. (2011). Employment Status and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Following Compensation Seeking in Victims of Violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26(2), 377-393. doi:10.1177/0886260510362894