Victim/Witness Assistance Program

English | en Español

ATF’s Victim/Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) provides assistance to victims and witnesses of crimes investigated by ATF.

Our VWAP specialists ensure victims of federal crimes who have suffered physical, financial and/or emotional trauma are informed of their rights to services, and receive the assistance and protection to which they are entitled under the law.

VWAP specialists provide case status updates, resources, and support during the investigative stage of the criminal justice process. They also provide training to ATF agents to help them work more effectively with victims in their cases.

female counselor speaks to another woman seated across from her.

Regional services are provided by Regional Victim/Witness Specialists (RVWS) that are located in designated field divisions throughout the country.

 

Who is a crime victim?

You are a victim if you have “suffered direct and proximate harm as a result of the commission of a federal offense or an offense in the District of Columbia,” as defined by the Crime Victims’ Rights Act of 2004.
  • If you are under 18, incompetent, or incapacitated, notifications of victims’ rights and case status is provided to a designated legal guardian.
  • As a victim, if you die, all rights and services transfer to your designated next of kin. Designated legal guardian or next of kin includes one of the following:
    • legal guardian
    • spouse
    • parent
    • sibling
    • adult children / offspring
    • another family member
    • person designated by the court

 

Why did I receive a letter from ATF?

You received a letter from ATF because you have been identified as a possible victim in an ATF investigation.
 

Your rights as a victim

ATF Regional Victim/Witness Specialists and agents will make their best effort to ensure victims are afforded their rights as outlined by law. The Crime Victims’ Rights Act of 2004 provides that officers and employees of the Department of Justice make their best efforts to see that crime victims are notified of and accorded the following rights upon charges filed or indictment of an offender.
 
During the investigation, victims have several rights under the Victim Rights and Restitution Act (34 USC § 20141, previously 42 USC § 10607). Your foremost right is to be provided with privacy and treated with fairness, dignity, and respect.
 

As a victim, you are entitled to:

  • Be informed about where you can go to get emergency medical and social services, and public and private programs that can provide you with counseling, treatment, and other support;
  • Be reasonably protected from the accused.
  • Reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any court proceeding, or any parole proceeding, involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused.
  • Full and timely restitution as provided by law.
  • Proceedings free from unreasonable delay.
  • Be treated with fairness and with respect for your dignity and privacy.

 

How will I know whether or not someone has been charged?

Once charges are filed you will receive a notice from the U.S. Attorney’s Office informing you who was charged.
 

During the investigative stage, you are entitled to:

  • Be informed about where you can go to get emergency medical and social services, and public and private programs that can provide you with counseling, treatment, and other support;
  • Receive reasonable protection from a suspected offender and people acting in concert with or at the behest of the suspected offender;
  • Know the status of the investigation of the crime, as long as it is appropriate and will not interfere with the investigation;
  • Notification regarding the arrest of a suspected offender; and
  • Have any property being held for evidentiary purposes be maintained in good condition and returned to you as soon as it is no longer needed for evidentiary purposes.
The United States Attorney’s Office in each federal district has a Victim Witness Coordinator who ensures that federal crime victims are afforded the rights provided by this statute. Additionally, victims of crimes have the right to seek the advice of a private attorney concerning these rights at their own expense and discretion. 
 

What if my rights are violated?

The Department of Justice has established the Office of the Victims’ Rights Ombudsman to promote compliance with Crime Victims’ Rights Obligations, 28 C.F.R. Section 45.10.
 
If you feel your rights have been violated, please reach out to:
 
Office of the Victims’ Rights; Victims’ Rights Ombudsman
Department of Justice, EOUSA, RFK Main Justice Building
950 Pennsylvania, Ave., N.W., Room 2261
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001
 
 

Who is a witness?

The Attorney General Guidelines (2011) defines a witness as “a person who has information or evidence concerning a crime, and provides information regarding his/her knowledge to a law enforcement agency.”
 

Your rights as a witness

As a witnesses, you do not have the same rights as victims. ATF Regional Victim/Witness Specialists will assist identified witnesses, within the limits of available resources, while an ATF investigation remains open.
 

As a witness, you are entitled to:

  • Be treated with dignity and respect
  • Reasonable protection from the offender
  • Intercession with your employer
  • Services of an interpreter, if needed

 

What to expect as a victim or witness

The Victim Notification System

The Department of Justice created the Victim Notification System (VNS) to provide victims with information about case events. ATF works with the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Bureau of Prisons to provide victims/witnesses with this information as the case events unfold.
 
Information provided through VNS is available in English and Spanish and is sent by U.S. mail or email. In many cases, the victim/witness may receive only one letter and then directed to enter an email address to receive further case notifications. VNS can be accessed via their website: https://www.notify.usdoj.gov/index.jsp
 

Support services for victims of crime

All states have crime victim compensation programs that may help cover specific expenses resulting from a violent crime.
 
Victim compensation is available for victims of both federal and state violent crimes. Your state program may pay for medical and mental health care costs, lost wages and funeral/burial expenses not covered by insurance or other benefits. Each state has its own government program, and determines the benefits, eligibility and application requirements for that program. Your Regional Victim/Witness Specialist can direct you to the crime victim compensation program in your state and assist you with the application process.

Regional Victim/Witness Specialists can provide you with additional assistance, such as referrals to other programs and services. These may include: emergency housing, mental health counseling, support groups and credit counseling services.
 

How can I get compensated for my out of pocket medical expenses?

Every state has a Crime Victim Compensation program which may compensate you for out-of-pocket expenses that result from a violent crime, such as emergency and medical services, counseling etc. Each state program determines its own eligibility requirements and benefits.  Victim Compensation Programs
 

As a victim of a federal crime can I receive victim compensation from a State Crime Victim Compensation Program?

Yes. All of these programs receive federal funding and are required to provide services to victims of federal crimes.
 

Coping with trauma

Being a victim of crime can be traumatic. Although some people may have little or no reaction to being victimized, others may have a variety of reactions or symptoms that did not exist prior to the event. These may include:
  • feeling of being overwhelmed, helpless
  • sleeplessness, nightmares
  • difficulty eating
  • anger
  • being unfocussed/unable to concentrate
  • increased concern for personal safety and for that of loved ones
  • continuously reliving the event; suffering flashbacks
These symptoms can occur days, weeks, or even months after the event. Your Regional Victim/Witness Specialist can help locate resources in your area to assist you in dealing with the aftermath of a crime.
 

Who should I talk to if I feel I need counseling or someone to talk to about what happened to me?

Your Regional Victim/Witness Specialist can provide information for referrals to counselors and support groups in your area. Also, below is a list or resources for crime victims.
 
 

Resources for victims of crimes

 

ATF publications

 

Department of Justice (DOJ) websites

 

Third-party websites

 

National Hotline numbers

 

Contact the ATF Victim/Witness Assistance Program

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Special Operations Branch
Program Manager, National Victim Witness Specialist
99 New York Avenue NE, Room 7S 140
Washington, DC 20226

Voice: (202) 648-8620
Fax: (202) 648-9616

To reach your Regional Victim/Witness Specialist, call 888-267-2570.

This is not a crisis hotline. In case of an emergency, call 911.

Last Reviewed August 16, 2019