Victim Assistance

The FBI is responsible for investigating a wide range of federal crimes. Part of the FBI's work involves providing information and assistance to victims of those crimes. Crime can have a devastating effect on victims and their families who may need help coping with the impact of victimization. Federal law requires the FBI to offer assistance and services to victims. The FBI established the Office for Victim Assistance (OVA) in 2002 to aid victims of crimes investigated by the Bureau, including overseas crimes against Americans. In addition to experts at FBI Headquarters, every FBI field office has its own victim assistance specialist. FBI victim specialists are highly trained professionals who can assist you and coordinate with other agencies in providing you with the support, information, and resources that can effectively meet your needs. Victim specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The OVA is responsible for ensuring that victims of crimes investigated by the FBI are afforded the opportunity to receive the services and notification as required by federal law and the Attorney General Guidelines on Victim and Witness Assistance (2005). The OVA manages the day-to-day operational aspects of the Victim Assistance Program in the 56 FBI field offices across the country as well as the FBI's international offices. In addition, the OVA is responsible for providing training and information to equip FBI agents and other FBI personnel to work effectively with victims.

Three Phases of Victim Assistance

  • Acute: usually lasting anywhere from one to four weeks—includes explaining the process to the family, meeting with victims, coordinating medical evacuations and autopsies (if necessary,) and obtaining official death certificates for benefits purposes. It also includes arranging crisis intervention services if appropriate, and facilitating investigative interviews with family members.
  • Intermediate/Transition: usually lasting anywhere from four to 24 weeks—includes identifying additional federal, state, and local resources for victims, providing appropriate intervention with creditors and employers, supplying case status updates, and arranging briefings with investigative officials.
  • Long-term: usually lasting months or years—includes responding to inquiries from victims and/or their families, maintaining updated victim contact information, providing updates on case developments, and assisting with travel arrangements to attend the trial.

Terrorist Victim Assistance Program

The OVA is directly responsible for several special programs, such as the Terrorism Victim Assistance Program, which was formed within the OVA in 2003 for victims of overseas crimes or kidnapping. The Terrorism Victim Assistance Unit provides emergency assistance to injured victims and families of victims murdered in terrorist attacks within the U.S. and outside the borders of the U.S. and serves as a permanent point-of-contact for terrorism victims within the FBI. Included on our special terrorism team are experienced licensed clinical social workers and a forensic family affairs specialist. In situations where Americans are taken hostage overseas, our go-to person in the OVA is operational psychologist Carl Dickins, who has decades of real-world experience.

Victim Notification System

The FBI is a partner with the U.S. Attorneys' Offices and the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the automated Victim Notification System (VNS). VNS is designed to provide victims with information about their cases. This free, computer-based system provides two important services to victims: information and notification. This information is available in English and Spanish. VNS can inform about scheduled court proceedings and about an offender's custody status, such as placement in community corrections centers, furlough, release, or death. The FBI's victim specialist should be in contact with victims during the investigation stage of the case. Notifications which may be provided include the arrest of a suspect and scheduling of a release hearing, whether the case is being referred to state or local authorities, and when a case may be administratively closed. Victims will need to register with the FBI office handling their case. They will receive a Victim Identification Number (VIN) and a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that will allow them to access the VNS system.

Additional Victim Assistance Resources