The Need to Help Victims
The Office of Victim Services has provided critical services and support – treating crime victims and their families with the compassion and dignity they deserve – since its creation five decades ago.
New York City 1965
As Arthur Collins rides a southbound IRT express train with his wife and 15-month-old daughter, a drunken man disrupts the subway ride, threatening female passengers.
A 28-year-old computer programmer for Pan American Airways, Collins takes a stand. The Good Samaritan pays with his life.
The murder on October 9 leaves Collins’ 23-year-old wife, Christine, with little money or means of support. With no life insurance benefits and an income of just $90 a week, Christine sends her daughter to live with her grandmother in West Germany.
A young man dead. A family torn apart. New York State takes a stand.
Within two weeks of Collins’ murder, New York State Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller announces a plan for financial aid for families of crime victims.
Governor Rockefeller on August 1 signs a law creating the Crime Victims Compensation Board, only the second of its kind in the nation but more comprehensive than California’s experimental program. In its first year of operation, the board accepts 196 claims.
In the 50 years since, the agency has provided a critical safety net, assisting hundreds of thousands of crime victims and their families who had no place else to turn for help.
The agency can pay funeral and burial expenses; emergency shelter for domestic violence victims; lost wages and support; relocation expenses for stalking victims and others to help ensure their safety; payment to help replace essential personal property items, such as clothing or eyeglasses; and much more.
New York is the only state in the nation with no limit on reimbursement for medical bills or counseling, which means eligible individuals can receive help as long as they need it.
September 1, 1975: New York State enacts the Rape Shield Law
- The statute aims to protect sexual assault victims by preventing them from being asked about their prior sexual history. Until now, such questions were fair game, used to shift focus from the behavior of the accused to that of the victim.
July 29, 1976: The man who would come to be known as “Son of Sam” and the “.44-caliber killer” murders his first victim and wounds another.
August 2, 1977: Crime Victims Compensation Board helps first victim of the “.44-caliber killer”
- With the killer at large and identity unknown, the board approves the first of six claims filed by victims and survivors of “Son of Sam,” “the .44-caliber killer.”
- Nandor Freud of Queens receives $1,500 for his daughter’s burial expenses and compensation for her lost earnings, $216.67 a month until the maximum allowable - $20,000 – is reached. His 26-year-old daughter, Christine, was shot and killed on January 30, 1977, in Forest Hills.
August 10, 1977: NYPD arrest David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam”
- Berkowitz, a 24-year-old postal employee, is ultimately charged with murdering six people and wounding seven others over the course of a year. Nine months later, he pleads guilty in connection with those crimes and receives six life sentences. He remains incarcerated.
August 12, 1977: Governor Hugh L. Carey signs the “Son of Sam” bill, designed to prevent convicted criminals from profiting from their crimes.
- The law requires that a criminal’s proceeds from the sale of books, magazine articles, movies, television programs “or other tellings of misdeeds” be turned over to the board.
- The agency holds the money in escrow to pay for judgments by victims or their relatives in civil suits related to their cases. Amended twice, the law also requires anyone paying or receiving “funds of a convicted person” or “profits from a crime” to notify the board.
- The agency then notifies victims and takes legal steps to freeze the money so victims have the opportunity to file legal claims. Since the law’s passage, the state has frozen nearly $30 million in assets of convicted offenders.
1979 – 1981: New York State enacts legislation allowing the board to cover the cost of medical exams for victims of sexual assault.
The agency’s role expands to serve as the advocate for crime victims’ rights, needs and interests in New York State.
Community-based victim assistance programs receive funding for the first time.
- The Crime Victims Board awards grants to 29 programs that provide direct services to crime victims.
1981: First “Son of Sam” law claim paid
- Robert Barrett receives $20,000, becoming the first crime victim to benefit from the “Son of Sam” law. The award is made nine years after Barrett and six others were held hostage in a Brooklyn branch of Chase Manhattan Bank.
- The botched robbery by John Wojtowicz was later depicted in the movie “Dog Day Afternoon” starring Al Pacino. The $57,000 received by Wojtowicz from Warner Brothers, which distributed the film, was frozen, allowing Barrett to make the claim.
Families of Good Samaritans killed while attempting to stop a violent crime become eligible for up to $20,000.
The agency is authorized to pay for counseling for the families of murder victims.
1984: New York State enacts Fair Treatment Standards for Crime Victims
- Codified for the first time in law are rights that all crime victims should be afforded, including: the right to compensation, assistance and restitution; the right to be notified of court proceedings; and the right to be free from intimidation.
Congress passes the Victims of Crimes Act
- In 1984, the law creates the federal Office for Victims of Crime and the Crime Victims Fund, which provides funds to states for victim assistance and compensation programs that offer support and services to those affected by violent crimes. The Crime Victims Fund is supported by fines, fees and surcharges paid by certain offenders convicted in federal court, not tax dollars.
1985 – 1986: Child witnesses who are 14 and younger can testify by closed-circuit television.
Federal Victims of Crime Act funding becomes available to New York, allowing the Crime Victims Board to significantly increase its support of local victim service programs.
March 25, 1990: An arson fire at Happy Land Social Club kills 87 people.
- The fire at the club – a popular spot frequented by men and women who had emigrated from Honduras and other Central American countries – is the worst in New York City since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory blaze.
- The factory fire killed 146 people, most of them women and girls, on the same day 79 years before.
- The Crime Victims Board provides nearly $280,000 in assistance to victims and their families – primarily funeral expenses and loss of support – as a result of the crime.
August 16, 1992: New York State affords crime victims the right to speak at sentencing.
November 1, 1994: An amendment to the state Executive Law permits crime victims to speak at Parole Board hearings.
1995 – 1996: For the first time, victims of kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment are eligible for compensation even if they haven’t sustained physical injury.
The cap on burial expenses is raised from $2,000 to $6,000; the cap on loss of earnings/support is raised from $20,000 to $30,000.
Victims of terrorist attacks outside of the United States become eligible for crime victim compensation from the Crime Victims Board.
1998: The loss of essential personal property cap increases from $100 to $500.
Grandparents, stepparents, and stepsiblings of crime victims are now eligible for counseling expenses.
Crime scene clean-up costs are now covered, with up to $2,500 available to the victim or their family.
Victims of harassment and similar non-physical injury offenses can seek compensation for the first time.
1999 – 2000: The Victim Information and Notification Every Day system becomes available in New York State.
- Known as VINE, the system notifies crime victims, their families or anyone else who registers, of any change in status of an offender incarcerated in a state prison or local correctional facility. Funding from the Crime Victims Board to the New York State Sheriffs’ Association Institute helps support the program. Nearly 200,000 people are registered to receive VINE notifications.
“The VINE system would not exist in New York State without the support of the Office of Victim Services.” - Christopher G. O’Brien, Executive Director, New York State Sheriffs’ Association Institute
Families of crime victims injured as a result of any crime are eligible for counseling, extending a benefit that previously was available only for families of homicide victims.
The board can now assist victims of stalking who have not been physically injured.
New York State enacts the Sexual Assault Reform Act
- Among other changes, the law created new crimes and a statewide sexual assault forensic examiner program.
September 11, 2001: Nineteen terrorists deliberately crash two airplanes into the World Trade Center. The Twin Towers collapse, killing 2,753 people.
- In the wake of 9/11, the Crime Victims Board – and other state and federal agencies – establish a location at Pier 94 to help survivors and their families. Working around the clock, employees organize, supervise and train other victim assistance groups. The agency also establishes satellite offices in Staten Island and Westchester County to distribute emergency funds.
- Executive orders permit the agency to provide support for every victim if no other resources are available: up to $600 a week in lost income to a maximum of $30,000, as well as funeral costs. Within 12 weeks of the attack, the agency provides more than $5.6 million in emergency awards.
2002: Tribute in Light first appears in the night sky on March 11, 2002. The dual columns of light are illuminated annually to mark the anniversary of the attack.
- The Crime Victims Board awards 7,321 claims, with nearly $59 million benefitting survivors and their families since 2001. Claims from 9/11 are known as WTC2, as the agency also assisted victims of the February 26, 1993, terrorist attack at the Twin Towers that killed six people and injured 1,042.
2005 – 2007: Forensic Rape Exam Direct Reimbursement Program begins
- The Crime Victims Board can now directly reimburse medical providers for the cost of forensic rape exams when victims do not have access to health insurance, or if they choose not to use their insurance to pay for the exams.
- The claims are the exception to the agency’s payer of last resort rule, helping to ensure privacy of victims of sexual assault.
Emergency Awards Increase
- Crime victims and their families are eligible for up to $2,500 in emergency assistance, which can be used to cover a variety of costs incurred in the wake of a crime, including medical expenses, lost earnings or funeral expenses. Awards had been capped at $1,500. About 500 emergency awards are paid each year.
2008: New York State expands eligibility for reimbursement of lost wages
- Parents or guardians who miss work while their child is hospitalized as the result of being the victim of a crime are eligible to seek awards for loss of earnings. Prior to this change, only crime victims themselves could seek reimbursement for lost wages.
- First Blood Drive to mark Crime Victims’ Rights Week
- The Crime Victims Board joins with the American Red Cross to sponsor its first blood drive to mark Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The partnership continues in recognition of the each agency’s shared commitment to help people heal and begin the process of rebuilding their lives.
- Police, prosecutors and victim advocates give blood annually and more than 200 pints of blood have been donated since 2008. According to the American Red Cross, each pint has the potential to help save the lives of three people.
2009: A gunman murders 13 people and wounds four others at the American Civic Association in Binghamton on April 3.
- The Crime Victims Board immediately partners with the Binghamton-based Crime Victims Assistance Center and A New Hope Center in Owego, establishing a Family Assistance Center.
- Victim advocates provide all manner of assistance and the agency enlists the help of federal agencies – the FBI, federal Office for Victims of Crime and U.S. State Department – to better serve the victims of the shooting, nearly all of them immigrants.
- It is the deadliest mass casualty incident to which the agency responds since 9/11. The agency receives claims in connection with 40 people killed, injured or held hostage as a result of the shooting.
- Nearly $1.9 million – providing for funeral expenses, medical, dental and mental health bills and loss support – goes to survivors and families of those who died or were injured.
- Nearly 20 other claims are awarded, meaning individuals will have access to help whenever they decide they need it.
2010: The five-member Crime Victims Board becomes the state Office of Victim Services. The agency’s mission remains unchanged:
- To provide compensation to innocent victims of crime in a timely, efficient and compassionate manner;
- To fund direct services to crime victims via a network of community-based programs; and
- To advocate for the rights and benefits of all innocent victims of crime.
2011: New law benefits victims of strangulation
- Victims of a misdemeanor strangulation crime can now file claims, regardless of whether they suffered physical injuries during an attack. Strangulation is common in cases of domestic violence and is extremely dangerous to the victim.
“We are able to provide free counseling and advocacy to every victim of domestic or sexual violence who has come through our doors and we could never do that without the support of the Office of Victim Services.” - Randi K. Bregman, Executive Director, Vera House, Syracuse
March 19, 2012: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signs one of the most expansive DNA laws in the country, requiring individuals convicted of any felony crime and Penal Law misdemeanors to provide a DNA sample.
- Survivors of violent crime, advocates and family members of victims attend the bill signing, after partnering with Governor Cuomo and law enforcement professionals across the state to successfully push for the law’s passage.
"I am proud to sign this bill today because this modern law enforcement tool will not only help us solve and prevent crimes but also exonerate the innocent. The bottom line is that this is a tool that works, and will make the state safer for all New Yorkers.” - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
2014 – 2015: Advocacy and education initiatives expand
- The Office of Victim Services takes a more active advocacy role, beginning an annual initiative to identify a specific population to raise awareness about services provided by the agency and victim assistance programs it funds across the state.
- In making grant awards to victim assistance programs, the agency designates funding to expand its reach and meet the needs of underserved individuals, including Native Americans and young men of color.
Grandchildren of homicide victims can now receive reimbursement for counseling expenses.
Victim Service Portal goes live
- OVS launches a new system that allows victim assistance programs and individuals to submit claims for compensation electronically. The Victim Service Portal reduces claims processing time by providing a more efficient and streamlined way to receive requests for assistance.
2015: OVS establishes Lifetime Achievement Award
- To recognize and honor the tireless work of crime victim advocates, the agency establishes a Lifetime Achievement Award.
- Schenectady resident Patricia M. Gioia receives the inaugural award for her years of advocacy on behalf of crime victims and their rights. The long-time leader of the Albany chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, she embarked on a mission to help other crime victims after her daughter was murdered in California in 1985.
It was very beneficial for me to be with others who understood my pain. Now, I try to help people struggling through the sudden and tragic loss of a loved one understand there is hope, there is an opportunity to heal.” - Patricia M. Gioia
"Pat turned an absolutely horrific event in her life in a positive direction that continues to serve as an inspiration for others. Through unimaginable devastation and her own pain, she’s helped countless other families cope with their sorrow and loss.” - OVS Director Elizabeth Cronin
Work begins to establish Crime Victims’ Legal Network
- Using nearly $1 million in federal funding, the agency is creating the Crime Victims’ Legal Network, a unique online tool connecting crime victims with legal assistance in civil matters, such as housing and immigration cases and Family Court cases involving custody and orders of protection.
- The Office of Victim Services is partnering with the Empire Justice Center, the University at Albany’s Center for Human Services Research, and Pro Bono Net on the project. The Crime Victims’ Legal Network is scheduled to be operational in fall 2017.
2016: Elder Abuse Awareness Initiative
- The Office of Victim Services begins a campaign to raises awareness of elder abuse, which affects one in 10 individuals who are 60 or older. The crime frequently goes unreported, often because the abuser is a family member or caregiver.
- Philip Marshall, the grandson of the late New York City philanthropist Brooke Astor, shares the story of petitioning for guardianship of his grandmother as a result of his father’s neglect and financial exploitation. His father and one of Mrs. Astor’s attorneys, were ultimately convicted at trial in Manhattan of fraud and other charges, two years after Mrs. Astor died at age 105.
"To be complacent about elder justice is to be complicit in elder abuse. Efforts by the Office of Victim Services provide one more reason for victims, and anyone else, to report abuse.” - Philip Marshall
"Having a victim advocate that shows them respect, listens to them and believes their story will help a case move forward and help that older person get some sort of sense of closure.” - Art Mason, Director of Elder Abuse Prevention Program, LifeSpan, Rochester
OVS enhances training for improved outcomes
- The agency offers a unique training program for advocates who work with crime victims, designed to help those professionals better assist individuals who are suffering from the psychological effects of trauma as a result of being victimized.
- A partnership with the Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz, the Victim Service Academy also helps advocates and service providers understand the toll their work can have on their own well-being.
"Their daily work with crime victims is extremely challenging, and I was very impressed by their dedication to learning new ways to support their clients.” - Dr. James Halpern, Director at the Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz
Now the Office of Victim Services, the agency has evolved to meet the needs of men, women and children who have been victimized and to help ensure their rights in the criminal justice system. Also key to the agency’s mission: providing funding to a network of community-based programs that directly helps victims.
Annually serving thousands of people in the state’s 62 counties, these programs and advocates provide a wide range of assistance – from counseling and crisis intervention to emergency shelter and legal help and everything in between – to those in times of need.
The agency accomplished its mission at no cost to taxpayers. Fines, fees and surcharges paid by certain offenders convicted in the state and federal courts fund the agency’s work, crime victim compensation and nearly all grants to service providers.
Through its work, funding and advocacy, the Office of Victim Services gives help, healing and hope to victims and their families.
Victims become survivors. Lives are rebuilt. And individuals – and their families – thrive.
“I truly believe that if I didn't have the resources of the New York State Office of Victims Services, I wouldn't be where I am today.” - David Snowden