Today, Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6) introduced legislation to provide greater supports to victims of crime by expanding eligibility for victims’ compensation, creating new “crime victim advocates” in certain serious crimes, and strengthening the District’s Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Programs. Hospital-based interventions are an effective part of the District’s violence interruption work, engaging with victims at the hospital with serious injuries like gunshot or stabbing wounds where a retaliatory act is far more likely without intervention.
“Crime victims need safety and healing to move forward,” said Councilmember Allen, who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. “That doesn’t happen automatically in our criminal justice system. This is an opportunity to take more of a public health approach to supporting victims, and it will help us reduce gun violence, by treating trauma and violence like a contagious disease and aggressively stopping its spread. In the midst of the pandemic, when the District is experiencing an increase in homicides and gun violence, the axiom ‘Hurt people hurt people’ rings all too true.”
The Expanding Supports for Crime Victims Amendment Act of 2021 already has support from Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC), a leading advocacy group working to better serve victims in the District of Columbia:
“As the country and our community search for new alternatives that effectively address violence and its root causes, we feel strongly that access to supportive, trauma-informed responses for all who experience harm is a critical first-step,” said Bridgette Stumpf, Executive Director at NVRDC. “Racism has created a false narrative about victimization where young men of color are often not given the same access to support following violence. This bill will change that in DC by allowing for a community response that centers each victim’s unique needs and experiences and promotes a holistic approach to individual and community healing.”
Here's what the bill proposes:
- Expands victims’ eligibility to receive compensation through the D.C. Superior Court’s Crime Victims Compensation Program
The D.C. Superior Court’s Crime Victims Compensation Program helps victims and their families financially recover after certain crimes, including by paying for medical and counseling expenses, housing, funeral and burial costs, and lost wages. Councilmember Allen’s bill includes recommendations by the Crime Victims Compensation Advisory Commission to expand the number of offenses for which victims and their families can apply, including for elder abuse and destruction of property by intimate partners or due to gunshots. The bill would also cover the costs of out-patient mental health counseling and provide additional support over the current cap for families with children. Victims would also be able to apply for support more easily with flexible application processes.
“It shouldn’t be overlooked that helping people who have experienced a traumatic experience pay their bills can go a long way to facilitating healing. Additionally, this opens the door to help survivors of traumatic experiences prevent eviction, get mental health counseling, and avoid outcomes that lead into a downward spiral,” said Councilmember Allen.
- Creates a new “crime victim advocate” to help victims of serious violent crimes navigate
The immediate aftermath of a crime can leave victims lost and overwhelmed as they navigate complex medical and legal situations. Councilmember Allen’s bill would create new “crime victim advocates” to help victims understand their options and resources in a time of crisis. The District has similar counselors in the sexual assault, human trafficking, and domestic violence contexts. This position would serve victims of serious crimes like attempted murder, assault with intent to kill or commit sexual abuse, aggravated assault, and assault with a dangerous weapon. Any confidential information shared by the victim with their advocate would be strictly protected.
- Gives victims the right to have staff of a hospital-based violence intervention program present in medical exams and interviews with police
The District has a growing network of Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Programs (HVIP) at area hospitals, recognizing the unique opportunity in emergency departments to interrupt cycles of violence and potential retaliation. HVIPs serve primarily victims of serious crimes who come to the hospital with gunshot or stabbing wounds. They respond quickly to potential escalation, establish trust and credibility, and connect victims to resources and opportunities in their communities.
To strengthen these successful efforts, Councilmember Allen’s bill protects communications between HVIP staff and violent crime victims and gives victims the right to have HVIP staff with them at medical exams and in interviews with law enforcement at the hospital. These protections respond to concerns that victims of violent crime presenting at hospitals – especially victims of color – can sometimes be seen as suspects by law enforcement rather than patients in need of medical attention.
Lastly, the bill would also:
- Close a loophole in the District’s criminal law to ensure that any sexual conduct by law enforcement officers with arrestees or detainees is criminalized;
- Prohibit the execution of arrest warrants on sexual assault victims while they’re seeking emergency medical treatment or medical forensic care; and
- Create a private right of action for injunctive relief for sexual assault victims when their rights under District law are violated.