Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth - Victim Compensation Funds and the Underutilization by Domestic Violence Victims

53 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2011 Last revised: 6 Jan 2021

Date Written: July 18, 2011


Every year, millions of individuals in the United States become victims of crime. Crime victims have countless needs, while the needs of domestic violence crime victims are even more acute. Over twenty five years ago, the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (“VOCA”) was enacted to address some of the needs of victims of violent crime, including domestic violence victims. VOCA provides federal funding to eligible state Crime Victim Compensation ("CVC") programs. CVC programs are sponsored by the federal and state governments to directly reimburse victims for crime related expenses. Prior to the enactment of CVC programs, crime victims have always had to bear both the emotional and economic consequences of crime alone.

The underutilization of CVC funds by domestic violence victims and the barriers to compensation leads one to ponder the true purpose of CVC funds and whether the funds are merely a charitable gift or an obligation to crime victims. An old proverb cautions against looking a gift horse in the mouth, suggesting that it is improper to criticize or examine a gift to assess its value. Instead, the recipient is encouraged to be grateful for the gift without questioning it. CVC funds are an important resource for all crime victims, but they are also similar to a gift horse that requires further examination in the context of domestic violence.

This article seeks to identify and explore the barriers preventing domestic violence victims from utilizing crime victim compensation funds. In Part II, I examine the federal Victims of Crime Act (“VOCA”) and explain the purpose and history of crime victim compensation funds. Historically, domestic violence victims were considered ineligible for crime victim compensation funds due to fear that the batterer would be unjustly enriched. In response, VOCA expressly includes domestic violence victims as eligible victims for compensation funds. I argue that in spite of the expressed inclusion, domestic violence victims are still underrepresented in applying for compensation funds.

In Part III, I consider whether crime victim compensation funds are superfluous for domestic violence victims in light of the availability of other resources including restitution, tort law and private insurance, welfare, and domestic violence shelters. I argue that crime victim compensation funds fulfill a unique need for emergency assistance that is not satisfied by other available resources.

In Part IV, I outline potential barriers for receiving crime victim compensation funds including lack of information, and unnecessary eligibility restrictions which conflict with the primary mission of aiding victims.

In Part V, I argue that the barriers which prevent domestic violence victims from receiving funds can be overcome by Compensation Boards renewing their commitment to the primary mission of aiding crime victims and dismantling barriers which do not advance that mission. Compensation programs must choose whether the primary goal is to support law enforcement efforts or to aid victims of crime regardless of their willingness to testify. I conclude that focusing on victims and dismantling the barriers will result in an increase in compensation funds for domestic violence victims.

Keywords: victim compensation, victims rights, domestic violence, distributive justice, VOCA, interpersonal violence, spousal abuse

JEL Classification: K10, K13, K14, K30, K9

Suggested Citation

Rutledge, Njeri Mathis, Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth - Victim Compensation Funds and the Underutilization by Domestic Violence Victims (July 18, 2011). Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, Vol. 19, No. 223, 2011, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1888068

Njeri Mathis Rutledge (Contact Author)

South Texas College of Law Houston ( email )

1303 San Jacinto Street
Houston, TX 77002
United States
7136461842 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://njerirutledge.com

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