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LEGAL TOPICS
Financial Help Available to NJ Domestic Violence Victims: Learn About the Victims of Crime Compensation Office
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Leaving a spouse or partner who is abusive is a difficult and sometimes dangerous choice to make. For victims of domestic violence, there is significant financial benefit available from the New Jersey Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO). If you or someone you know is bravely securing a new life, the following article outlines the types of help available from the VCCO for crime victims and their families in certain situations. 

This article will look at two examples of domestic violence and the specific needs the VCCO may help victims meet. These examples show some of the ways that funds from the VCCO can assists victims of domestic violence.

Example 1 – Julia’s case (the facts)

  • Julia has been with Al for five years. They have one child, Joseph, and share a small apartment. Al comes home frustrated about his day at work. When he sees that Julia did not make dinner for him, he starts screaming at her. She asks him to stop.

  • Al pushes Julia up against a wall, with one hand pressing against her throat and the other twisting her arm at the wrist. When Julia starts crying, Al lets go, but picks up Julia’s cell phone and throws it at the window, breaking the phone and the window. He punches the wall, leaving a hole, and leaves the apartment. Julia takes the baby and goes to her sister’s house. This is the third time Al has been physical with her since the beginning of the year.

  • Al has caused a significant amount of damage to the apartment. There are several holes in the walls where he punched them or threw things. Two door frames are broken, where he pushed through locked doors after Julia locked herself inside to escape him.

  • Julia’s sister, Grace, encourages Julia to go to the hospital about her bruised and sore arm. The doctor tells her that she sees a fracture in Julia’s arm. The doctor puts in her notes the diagnosis of a broken arm, the bruises on Julia’s wrist and throat, and what Julia told the doctor about Al attacking her. With Julia’s consent, the doctor calls the police to take a report and help Julia secure a domestic violence restraining order against Al.

  • Julia does not want to go back to her apartment, but is afraid that the landlord will withhold the security deposit if she doesn’t fix the damage, and she needs the security deposit to get a new apartment. She does not have a job to earn rent anyway, because childcare for Joseph costs more than she would make working.

  • The doctor and the police officer who helped Julia both recommend that she look into whether the VCCO can help her.

Julia’s Victim of Crime Compensation Office Claim

Eligibility, Victim of Crime. VCCO includes in its definition of crime, acts that constitute domestic violence under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) (N.J.S.A 2C:33 et al), described in detail in The 19 Crimes of Domestic Violence. The act requires at least one of the 19 crimes listed in that statute to be considered domestic violence. This list is broader than the crimes that would otherwise qualify someone for VCCO benefits. For example, harassment, criminal mischief, and trespass are included in the list of 19 acts that constitute domestic violence. In the example above, Julia was able to obtain a temporary restraining order with the assistance of law enforcement, due to the assault and criminal mischief of the breaking of the phone and the window. This shows that the incident was a qualifying act of domestic violence.

Reporting of Crime. For a criminal act to qualify for VCCO benefits, the act must have happened within five years of the VCCO application. And the victim must have reported the crime to the police within nine months after it happened. For victims of domestic violence, getting a restraining order is helpful to the VCCO, but not strictly required. VCCO cannot provide benefits to a victim of domestic violence who does not report the incidents to the police. The nine-month window for reporting allows some time for things to settle down, especially for a victim who fears for her safety if she reports to the police right away.

Proof of Crime. Victims of domestic violence who get a domestic violence restraining order, particularly a victim who gets a final restraining order, have strong proof that the crime of domestic violence occurred. When a victim gets a temporary restraining order, but does not get a final restraining order—either because the victim withdraws from the process or because a judge finds that the victim did not prove her case at a hearing—this is weaker evidence than having a final restraining order. It does not, however, bar the victim from getting VCCO benefits. If the victim can show that domestic violence did occur and a police report was filed in time (within nine months of the incident), a claim for VCCO benefits may still proceed and will be based on the other documented proof of the domestic violence.

In Julia’s case, even if she did not try to get a restraining order, she could prove the crime with other evidence. A copy of her medical records would show the broken arm, bruises on her wrists and throat, and the fact that she told the doctor at the time of her injuries that they were caused by her being attacked. A copy of the police report would describe Julia’s account of the assault, as well as notations that the officer saw bruises and Julia’s arm in a sling. The police report might even include photographs of the physical marks and injuries. If, at the time of the incident or shortly afterward, Julia (or someone else) took pictures of the damage to the apartment and her cell phone, those pictures would also be proof of the domestic violence. Julia’s sister, Grace, who heard Julia describe the domestic violence, and who saw for herself the marks and injuries caused by the incident, could provide an affidavit or certified statement in writing about what she heard and saw that night. If Grace texted her husband about the incident that night, screen shots of that text conversation with the date and time could also provide supporting proof of the domestic violence.

VCCO Benefits – As described in the articles referenced above, VCCO can provide money to pay for several specific types of loss and injury to victims of crime. For Julia, some of the benefits that might be most helpful include:

  • Relocation Assistance – Up to $3,000. Moving to another apartment is a common need of victims of domestic violence. VCCO’s assistance with moving can include security deposit and first month’s rent to enable the victim to get a new apartment. It could also include temporary living arrangements, such as a hotel, rent, or mortgage payment, a moving company, and moving supplies. Relocation assistance is only available where there is a need to protect the health or safety of the victim.

  • Crime-Scene Cleanup - Up to $4,000 (typically for cleaning blood-soaked flooring or furniture), but may be used to restore broken windows and walls that were part of the crime.

  • Medical – Any medical expenses directly related to the crime that are not covered by health insurance, up to the maximum benefit per claim, which is $25,000. If Julia was uninsured at the time of the hospital visit, VCCO could pay the entire medical bill up to $25,000. If she was insured at the time of the hospital visit, VCCO could pay or reimburse any out-of-pocket expenses, such as co-pays, for all medical care, including ambulance, hospital, medical tests, X-rays, follow-up doctor visits or physical therapy, and prescription medication up to the maximum benefit on a claim.

  • Counseling – Mental health counseling is helpful for many victims of crime. VCCO will pay or reimburse out-of-pocket mental health counseling expenses for the victim (up to $20,000) and secondary victims, such as baby Joseph, up to $7,000. Group counselling is paid or reimbursed at $50 for each session per victim.

  • Loss of Support – In domestic violence cases, if the victim relied on the offender (person who committed the acts of domestic violence) for financial support in the household, the VCCO can provide funds to the victim if she can show (1) that the offender was supporting the household prior to the crime; and (2) the offender is now incarcerated, a fugitive, or has stopped paying support because of the incident. The amount to be paid and how long it is paid will be based on the facts of each case (focusing on how much support the offender previously supplied). The maximum loss of support that VCCO will pay is $600 per week for up to 48 months.

  • Day Care Service – VCCO may reimburse child care expenses for a child under 15 years of age where the need for such services directly resulted from the crime. In Julia’s case, VCCO may determine that Julia’s need to support herself and her child stems from the domestic violence and Julia cannot work without child care.

  • Attorney Fees, Related Matters – VCCO can pay attorney fees for court matters related to the crime at a rate of $200 per hour, up to $3,000 total. If Julia hired an attorney to represent her in the domestic violence final restraining order hearing, VCCO could reimburse Julia or pay the attorney directly.

  • Attorney Fees, VCCO Claim – VCCO can pay attorney fees for representing the crime victim in filing a VCCO claim.  VCCO will pay either $200 per hour or 15% of the amount paid on the claim, whichever is less.

  • Not Covered – VCCO does not typically pay for lost or broken property. VCCO will not likely pay to repair or replace Julia’s cell phone, even though it was broken during the domestic violence incident.

Example 2 – Anna’s case (the facts)

  • Anna and Doug lived together for five years when Anna’s 16-year-old grandson, Dwayne, came to live with them. Doug, who was very controlling of Anna, resented having someone else in his space. He complained to Anna about Dwayne being in the home, smoking in the yard, and disrespecting Doug. After multiple disagreements that turned physical, Dwayne encouraged Anna to move out. She confronted Doug about his violent temper and the injury he caused to her leg when he kicked it during an incident the previous week. Doug was enraged. He hit Anna in the face twice and kicked her injured shin. Her knee buckled and she fell down the stairs.

  • When Dwayne heard shouting, he got up to go upstairs from the basement. As he approached the stairs, he saw Anna falling, hitting her back and her head on the stairs and the wall. She was lying on the floor unconscious when he got to the stairs.

  • Dwayne called 911 for police and an ambulance. She was rushed to the hospital.

  • Anna suffered severe brain injury in the fall down the stairs and did not survive the night.

Anna’s and Dwayne’s Victim of Crime Compensation Office Claim

Eligibility, Victim of Crime. While Anna was surely a victim of domestic violence, she was also a victim of hom-icide. In order to receive benefits for Anna as a victim, someone (typically an adult family member, likely the executor or administrator of her estate) would need to file with VCCO on Anna’s behalf.

VCCO provides assistance to friends or family members who witness the crime or suffer consequences because of the crime. These are referred to as secondary victims. Dwayne is a secondary victim as both a witness and as someone who will lose the housing and other financial support that Anna and Doug had provided him prior to the crime. Because Dwayne is a minor (16 years old), an adult (typically his parent) would need to make a VCCO claim on Dwayne’s behalf.

Reporting of Crime. For a criminal act to qualify for VCCO benefits, the act must have happened within five years of the VCCO application and the victim must have reported the crime to the police within nine months after it happened. In this case, Dwayne contacted police immediately and assisted in their investigation.

Proof of Crime. In Anna’s case, the medical reports and police reports and even Dwayne’s own certified statement would all support a showing that Doug murdered Anna. The bills or contracts for Anna’s funeral and burial would also support the claim of murder or homicide.

VCCO Benefits for Anna (victim of domestic violence and homicide)

  • Medical – Any medical expenses directly related to the crime that are not covered by health insurance, up to the maximum benefit per claim, which is $25,000. If Anna was uninsured at the time of hospital visit, VCCO could pay the entire medical bill up to $25,000. If she was insured at the time of the hospital visit, VCCO could pay or reimburse any out-of-pocket expenses, such as co-pays, for all medical care, including ambulance, hospital, medical tests, X-rays, follow-up doctor visits or physical therapy, and prescription medication up to the maximum benefit on a claim.

  • Crime Scene Clean-up - Up to $4,000 typically for cleaning blood-soaked flooring or furniture. In Anna’s case, it could be used to clean or repair any walls, stairs, or carpets that were damaged during the incident.

  • Funeral – Up to $7,500 for funeral costs, flowers, repast, burial costs, and grave markers.

  • Travel to Funeral – Up to $500 per person (as secondary victims) with a maximum of $3,000 (can include airfare and rail).

  • Bereavement – Loss of earnings paid to victim’s family (as secondary victims) for funeral attendance no longer than two weeks, with a maximum of $600 per week and total paid for all bereaved family of $7,000.

VCCO Benefits for Dwayne (16-year-old grandson)

  • Relocation Assistance – Up to $3,000. Moving to another location would be necessary for Dwayne after this criminal act. VCCO’s assistance with moving can include security deposit and first month’s rent to enable the victim to get a new apartment. It could also include temporary living arrangements, such as a hotel, rent or mortgage payment, a moving company, and moving supplies. Relocation assistance is only available where there is need to protect the health or safety of the victim. As a secondary victim who can no longer remain in the home due to the criminal act, VCCO might deem Dwayne eligible for relocation assistance.

  • Counseling – Mental health counseling is helpful for many victims of crime. VCCO will pay or reimburse out-of-pocket mental health counseling expenses for the victim (up to $20,000) and secondary victims, such as Dwayne (up to $7,000). Group counseling is paid or reimbursed at $50 for each session per victim.

  • Loss of Support (from offender) – In domestic violence cases, if the victim relied on the offender (person who committed the acts of domestic violence) for financial support in the household, the VCCO can provide funds to the victim if he can show (1) that the offender was supporting the household prior to the crime; and (2) the offender is now incarcerated, a fugitive, or has stopped paying support because of the incident. The amount and length of time will be based on the facts of each case (focusing on how much support the offender previously supplied). The maximum loss of support that VCCO will pay is $600 per week for up to 48 months.

  • Loss of Support (from the homicide victim) – In homicide cases, if the secondary victim was dependent upon the homicide victim for household support, the secondary victim may be eligible for support up to $600 per week for up to 48 months.

  • Attorney Fees, VCCO Claim – VCCO can pay attorney fees for representing the crime victim in filing a VCCO claim. VCCO will pay either $200 per hour or 15% of the amount paid on the claim, whichever is less. If the family of Anna and Dwayne hired an attorney to assist with their two claims, VCCO could pay/reimburse that attorney.                    

If you or someone you know is bravely securing a new life, please keep in mind the funds available from the VCCO. You can contact a domestic violence attorney who helps victims apply for VCCO benefits, or you can apply on your own using the VCCO website. There, you’ll also find detailed information and answers to common questions, such as: Who is eligible? What will VCCO pay for? How does someone apply for these funds?

You may also want to read New Jersey’s Victims of Crime Compensation Office.​​​​​​

9/30/2020
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