Office for Victims of Crime - Justice for Victims. Justice for All
Justice for Victims. Justice for All
Helping Victims of Mass Violence & Terrorism: Planning, Response, Recovery, and Resources



Acute Phase: The time during and immediately after an incident occurs, when responders have been alerted and are taking action.

Adjudication: The resolution of a legal dispute, formal giving, or pronouncing of a judgment or decree in a court proceeding; also, the judgment or decision given by a judge.

Advocacy: Helping victims prepare for and predict what they may experience both logistically and emotionally, allowing them to express themselves and validating their emotions, and offering tools and resources to address their safety and security. Advocacy includes crisis intervention (on the scene or at another location), information and referral, and liaison and support when dealing with the criminal justice system and media (in some cases, speaking on behalf of a victim with criminal justice officials).

After-Action Review (AAR): A structured review or debrief process for analyzing what happened, why it happened, and how it could have been done better, conducted by the participants and those responsible for the project or event. AARs in the formal sense were originally developed by the U.S. Army—their use has extended to business as a knowledge management tool and a way to build accountability. AARs compare the intended outcomes versus the actual results achieved and try to examine how the actions could have been executed better to improve results.

Anniversary: A date that is remembered because of an incident of mass violence that occurred on that date in a previous year. It is often commemorated with a public event and may receive media attention.

Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program: After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Congress amended the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), authorizing OVC to set aside up to $50 million annually from the Crime Victims Fund for an Antiterrorism Emergency Reserve (Emergency Reserve).

Through the Emergency Reserve, OVC manages the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program (AEAP), which offers funding to provide timely relief for immediate and ongoing victim assistance services in the form of grants and other funding instruments to qualifying applicants (including state victim assistance and compensation programs); U.S. Attorneys’ Offices; federal, state, tribal, and local governments; and nongovernmental victim service organizations. (Please note: Individuals and foreign governments are not eligible to apply for and receive AEAP funding.) AEAP provides federal funds to support crisis response, consequence management, criminal justice support, crime victim compensation, and training and technical assistance in the aftermath of an incident.

Community Resiliency Center: A center that may have a physical and/or virtual location that provides ongoing services and assistance to victims, family members, first responders, and community members once the Family Assistance Center closes.

Compassion Fatigue: See Vicarious Trauma.

Continuity of Operations: A procedure to follow in the wake of an incident in which an organization’s normal operations are severely disrupted. (Adapted from a Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] glossary.)

Crime Victims Fund (the Fund): The Crime Victims Fund (the Fund), established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA) and administered by OVC, is a major funding source for victim services and victim assistance throughout the Nation. The Fund deposits come from criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalties, and special assessments collected by U.S. Attorneys' Offices, federal U.S. courts, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Criminal Case Investigation: Begins when a crime occurs and includes the gathering of relevant facts and evidence related to a crime. (This investigation is usually conducted by law enforcement.)

Criminal Justice Proceedings: Any formal event in the criminal justice system continuum, including grand jury, criminal complaint, arrest, indictment (filing of criminal charges), summons, plea agreement,  preliminary hearing, detention hearing (bail/bond hearing), probable cause, discovery, pretrial motions, trial, sentencing, supervised release, prison, probation, and appeal. Each state has its own distinct criminal proceedings, although most states generally follow the federal criminal proceedings (see the flowchart).

Criminal Justice-Based Victim Services (System-Based Services): Victim advocacy services offered through criminal justice agencies: law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices, probation departments, and departments of corrections.

Crisis Intervention Specialists: Individuals trained and experienced in crisis intervention. These individuals typically have training in the mental health field and usually work for law enforcement agencies. Their role is to help victims navigate services in the immediate aftermath of an incident although they may also work with victims beyond that time period.

Donation Management Specialists: Individuals experienced in donation management in incidents of mass violence (e.g., American Red Cross staff, FEMA staff, individual consultants).

Drill: An operations-based exercise that is a coordinated, supervised activity usually employed to test a specific operation or function in a single agency. Drills are commonly used to provide training on new equipment, develop or test new policies or procedures, or practice and maintain current skills. (Adapted from a FEMA glossary.)

Exercise: An instrument to train for, assess, practice, and improve performance in prevention, protection, response, and recovery capabilities in a risk-free environment. Exercises can be used for testing and validating policies, plans, procedures, training, equipment, and interagency agreements; clarifying and training personnel in roles and responsibilities; improving interagency coordination and communications; identifying gaps in resources; improving individual performance; and identifying opportunities for improvement. Note: Exercises are also an excellent way to demonstrate the resolve to prepare for disastrous events. (Adapted from a FEMA glossary.)

Family Assistance Center: A physical and/or virtual center where victims and family members may seek referrals to FEMA and local services for mental health counseling, health care, and child care; legal, travel, creditor, employee, and financial planning assistance; and information on insurance benefits, IRS and tax policies, social security and disability, and so forth. See also Community Resiliency Center.

First Responder: First responders include trained fire, law enforcement, and emergency medical personnel who are generally the first to arrive to assist with mass emergencies. Some victim assistance personnel are also first responders.

Gag Order: A court order prohibiting the attorneys and the parties to a pending criminal prosecution or civil lawsuit from making extraneous statements (e.g., talking to the media or the public about the case). The intent is to prevent prejudice due to pretrial publicity that could influence potential jurors. A gag order has the secondary purpose of preventing lawyers from trying the case in the press and on television. The American Bar Association, The National Trial Lawyers, and state bar associations have specific mandates for prosecutors regarding pretrial public statements.

Governmental Organization: A local, state, tribal, or federal unit of government or public entity.

Grants and Emergency Funding: A financial award given to a group or organization to carry out a specific task or project that has been proposed.

Incident Command System: A standardized, on-the-scene, all-hazards incident management approach that—

  • Allows for the integration of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure.
  • Enables a coordinated response among various jurisdictions and functional agencies, both public and private.
  • Establishes common processes for planning and managing resources.

An Incident Command System (ICS) is flexible and can be used for incidents of any type, scope, and complexity. ICS allows its users to adopt an integrated organizational structure to match the complexities and demands of single or multiple incidents. (Adapted from a FEMA glossary.)

Joint Information Center: A facility that coordinates critical emergency information, crisis communications, and public affairs functions and is the central point of contact for all news media. The Public Information Officer may activate the center to better manage external communications. (Adapted from a FEMA glossary.)

Mass Violence (as defined by OVC): An intentional violent criminal act, for which a formal investigation has been opened by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or other law enforcement agency, that results in physical, emotional, or psychological injury to a sufficiently large number of people to significantly increase the burden of victim assistance and compensation for the responding jurisdiction as determined by the OVC Director. OVC will evaluate whether the community has been overwhelmed by the violent criminal act; that determination will vary by location and incident.

Memorandum of Understanding or Memorandum of Agreement: A bilateral or multilateral agreement between two or more parties that expresses a convergence of will between the parties, indicating an intended common line of action.

Memorial Event: A public event or events (or ceremony) to honor and remember those killed and injured in an incident of mass violence. This often involves political officials and other dignitaries as well as media. (These events may be organized in the community of the incident as well as in communities across the country.)

Needs Assessment: A process of identifying and estimating specific needs, available resources, and estimated costs of meeting those needs based on the best available data and literature on previous mass casualty events, which can inform current challenges.

Nongovernmental Organization: Generally known as an NGO, this includes nonprofit, or not-for-profit, organizations, and other non-governmental entities.

Planning Committee: A group of people designated to perform a specific function or task.

Point of Contact: Usually one individual within an agency or area of expertise who is the primary source of information or referral.

Primary Agency: An example of a primary or lead agency in a crisis situation would be a governmental organization, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or a nongovernmental organization, such as the American Red Cross.

Primary Victim: A person who is injured or killed as a direct result of an act of violence.

Prosecution: In criminal law, the government attorney (local, county, parish, state, tribal, or federal) charging and trying the case against a person accused of a crime. (This is a common term for the government's side in a criminal case.)

Protocol: A detailed process that documents how partner agencies will interact and what each partner can reasonably expect from the other. Protocols can provide legitimacy to relationships and processes already in place but not formally documented. They are not usually contractually binding but are used to set agreed-upon good practice standards that parties should meet and they usually outline specific processes and procedures between agencies.

Reunification Center: A secure facility in a centralized location that provides information about missing or unaccounted-for persons and the deceased and that helps reunite victims with their loved ones. Reunification centers also help displaced disaster survivors, including children, to reestablish contact with their family and friends after a period of separation.

Secondary Trauma: Commonly referred to as "secondary traumatic stress” or “vicarious trauma,” secondary trauma can occur when a professional experiences stress or symptoms of trauma when working with traumatized victims and their loved ones.

Shared Trauma: A trauma is shared when more than one person experiences the same traumatic event simultaneously. When a community experiences a shared traumatic experience—such as an incident of mass violence or terrorism, an industrial accident, or a natural disaster—individuals typically talk with each other about the collective traumatic event. The presence of others who have experienced the same event can provide an automatic support group of people with whom to share thoughts and feelings. After September 11, 2001, therapists and clients alike experienced psychological reactions to the terrorist attacks and subsequent events, which created unique and challenging dynamics for psychologists.

Social Media: Forms of electronic communication (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, e-mail, texting, Web sites) that are characterized by individuals interacting with others electronically.

Spontaneous Memorials: Mementos or tokens (e.g., pictures, stuffed animals, poetry, posters, balloons, flowers) left at or near the site of an incident to show sympathy and pay homage to those who lost their lives or suffered as a result of the incident. These memorials are temporary.

Survivor: A family member or loved one of a victim of murder, mass violence, terrorism, and so forth. In addition, some victims prefer to be called survivors rather than victims.

System- and Community-Based Victim Advocates: Community-based victim advocates are generally from nonprofit or nongovernmental organizations; they provide advocacy and services to victims who report crimes, as well as those who choose not to do so. System-based advocates are employed by a criminal, tribal, or juvenile justice agency and generally serve as the primary contact for victims within that agency, typically a prosecutor’s office, but sometimes a law enforcement, probation, or corrections department or a paroling authority or state Attorney General’s office. Their responsibilities may include facilitating the victim’s participation in justice processes, interviewing victims, referring victims to appropriate support services, and helping victims connect with criminal and juvenile justice system-based victim services.

Community-based victim advocates work in an independent, usually nonprofit, organization dedicated to assisting victims of crime. Some advocacy groups are private but have a mission that links them to a criminal justice agency. For example, some private, nonprofit child advocacy centers are designed to make it easier for children to provide testimony about their victimization, but this function serves primarily to assist with prosecutions, dependency decisions, and other official functions.

Terrorism (within the United States): Activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, (B) appear to be intended—(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States [18 U.S.C. § 2331, as amended].

Transitional Services: A transition is a change or a passage. Transitional services act as a bridge from one phase (or one element of phase) to the next. For example, transitional services could be employed, from the initial crisis to longer-term victim support, or following the closing of a Family Assistance Center.

Trauma-Informed Care: A program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;

  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;

  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and

  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.

This approach incorporates an understanding of the vulnerabilities, or triggers, of trauma survivors (which traditional service delivery approaches may exacerbate) to provide more supportive services and programs and avoid re-traumatization.

Unmet Needs: An unmet need means victims' needs are unaddressed. This may be due to a number of factors, such as unavailability or lack of advocacy staff, or needs that arise which were not identified previously and require a new strategy and/or additional resources to address them.

Vicarious Trauma: Also known as compassion fatigue or secondary trauma, vicarious trauma is a secondary traumatic stress disorder that is common among individuals who work directly with victims of trauma. Sufferers of vicarious trauma may include victim advocates, mental health professionals, law enforcement, prosecutors, medical professionals, and other first responders. Individuals may exhibit symptoms such as hopelessness, constant stress and anxiety, a pervasive negative attitude, and a decrease in the pleasure they find in activities they used to enjoy. These symptoms can have detrimental effects, both professionally and personally, and can result in decreased productivity, an inability to focus, and the development of feelings of incompetency and self-doubt. Vicarious trauma may also contribute to high staff turnover in many human service programs.

Victim Advocate: A professional “trained to support victims of crime. Advocates offer victims information, emotional support, and help finding resources and filling out paperwork. Sometimes, advocates go to court with victims. Advocates may also contact organizations, such as criminal justice or social service agencies, to get help or information for victims. Some advocates staff crisis hotlines, run support groups, or provide in-person counseling. Victim advocates may also be called victim service providers, victim/witness coordinators, or victim/witness specialists.” (Source: National Center for Victims of Crime, “What Is a Victim Advocate?”)

Victim Assistance Training Online: VAT Online is a Web-based training program for victim service providers and allied professionals, teaching the basic skills and knowledge they need to better assist victims of crime. The training includes four sections:

  1. Basics, which includes information that all victim service providers must know, including victims' rights and the justice systems that provide a foundation for victim services.
  2. Core Knowledge and Skills, which includes modules on communication, confidentiality, and advocacy.
  3. Crimes, which covers the characteristics and prevalence of, and other information about, 20 crimes.
  4. Special Populations, which includes information about specific populations, such as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) populations and campus or university victims of crime, and the skills needed to serve them.

Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) of 1984: Federal legislation that created the federal Crime Victims Fund, as well as the Office for Victims of Crime, and which authorizes federal funding for a variety of victim assistance purposes.

August 2015   •   NCJ 248647
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