Victim Witness Specialists Essay

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Victim witness specialists (VWS) provide an array of services to crime victims and witnesses from the immediate aftermath of the crime to after the disposition of the case. VWS are employed by criminal justice institutions and by local community-based agencies. Criminal justice institutions may include local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices, probation departments, and state correctional institutions. Community-based agencies include domestic violence and sexual assault programs and child advocacy centers, as well as organizations that assist all victims of crime. VWS are often called victim assistance coordinators, crime victim liaisons, victim assistance providers, or victim advocates, depending on their setting.

Victims of violent crimes suffer serious biopsychosocial-spiritual and economic injuries that may continue long after their physical injuries have healed. The victims’ rights movement forced the criminal justice system to recognize that by helping victims recover from the crime, victims were more inclined to assist in the investigation and prosecution of suspects.

Some states require all law enforcement and prosecutors’ offices to designate a coordinator of crime victim assistance. Historically, volunteers were used to provide victim services. However, as the field matured and professional standards developed, there was growing recognition that services should be provided by a core group of trained professional staff supported by trained volunteers.

VWS provide services that include responding to needs arising from surviving the crime to assisting victims with participating in the criminal justice process. During the emergency response, VWS provide crisis intervention and emotional first aid and conduct trauma assessments at the crime scene or wherever the first contacts with the victims or survivors are made. The next 48 hours are usually devoted to victim stabilization through interviews; crisis intervention; orientation to the criminal justice system; arrangements for shelter, transportation, or protection; and assistance for family and friends of victims or survivors. VWS assist in mobilizing resources for the victims or survivors, including follow-up and outreach visits, supportive counseling, information and referrals, assistance with getting personal property returned, filing crime victim compensation claims, help with safety planning, and issues associated with employers, landlords, and creditors.

After the arrest of a suspect, prosecutors may ask VWS to assist with explaining charging decisions and conditions of release and bail. They may also provide information on intimidation reports, relocation, protective orders, and restitution. As arrests may trigger an emotional response in the victim, crisis intervention and other services are also provided.

Before a court appearance, a VWS may assist the victim and her or his family and friends with orientation to court procedures, aid in dealing with media, with the development of a victim impact statement, and with transportation, childcare arrangements, and employers. As attending court and seeing the alleged perpetrator may trigger emotional responses, VWS pay close attention to the emotional needs of the survivor. They can also arrange for protection of intimidation and media intrusion.

After a guilty verdict, the VWS provides support to the survivor to prepare him or her for reading his or her victim impact statement to the court. VWS may also facilitate consultation on restitution and provide information on probation, civil entitlement issues, and sentencing. After the disposition of the case, VWS at correctional settings provide notification of parole hearings, support in providing testimony at parole hearings, restitution collection, and notification of impending release dates of offenders. In the event of an acquittal or a dismissed case, the official relationship between a VWS and crime victim is often ended. However, a VWS often provides crime victims with referrals for trauma recovery.

Because of the nature of their work, listening to and assisting persons who have undergone horrific and traumatic experiences, VWS are also at high risk for compassion fatigue.


  1. Tomz, J. E., & McGillis, D. (1997). Serving crime victims and witnesses (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice
  2. Victim Services. (1998). From pain to power: Crime victims take action. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

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