Abstract: WITHDRAWN: Victim Compensation: A Comparison of U.S. and Swedish Social Welfare/Penal Frameworks (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

323P WITHDRAWN: Victim Compensation: A Comparison of U.S. and Swedish Social Welfare/Penal Frameworks

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Carina Gallo, PhD, Assistant Professor, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA
Mimi Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, California State University, Long Beach, Long Beach, CA
Background and Purpose:

In the post-war period, many countries advanced toward more rehabilitative and welfarist ideals. These ideals, however, did not center on crime victims. This was soon to change. Victim compensation programs were one of the first initiatives taken for crime victims with the first established in the 1960s in New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States. A decade later, the victim compensation programs were formed in Northern Europe. This paper examines the development of victim compensation programs in two countries with contrasting social welfare and penal policies, i.e., the United States and Sweden. Each country remains “exceptional” in their extraordinarily high and low levels of punitiveness, respectively. This research asks how welfare and penal regimes are associated with the development of victim compensation policies?


This study uses a comparative historical case study method (George & Bennett, 2004). It builds on legislative material connected to the first victim compensation programs in the two countries, including government reports and bills. The comparative method allowed analysis through both welfarist and penal frameworks, focusing on such factors as reason for initiation; administrative body; means-testing; attachment to criminal prosecution; and source of funding, i.e., taxation versus restitution.


In Sweden, the history of victim compensation goes back to the 1940s, when the government established so-called “escape schemes” as a social insurance strategy to facilitate more open forms of criminal justice care. These policies were administered by social welfare boards, funded by taxes, and, in most cases, not means tested. In the 1970s, victim compensation shifted to the Ministry of Justice, when the government established a criminal injuries compensation scheme. Since then, victim compensation has moved in a more punitive direction.

The U.S. example begins with California, where victim compensation was first initiated through the Committee of Social Welfare in 1965. However, its administration was influenced by both the remedial nature of welfare as well as a quick turn to ties to criminal prosecution. The idea of compensating victims of crime spread quickly, and at the end of the 1970s, 28 programs had been established. In 1984, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) created the Crime Victim Fund made up of federal criminal fines to support state victim compensation and local victim assistance programs.  

Conclusions and Implications:

Victim compensation was originally framed as a social welfare issue in the United States and Sweden but then moved to be a criminal justice matter in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively. Despite the move towards the penal sphere in Sweden, victim compensation still retained many of its welfarist characteristics. Hence, the development of victim compensation in both countries aligns with their respective welfare and penal frameworks while also showing evidence of convergence of Sweden towards a more punitive policy. These findings provide important empirical examples of the influence of both welfare and penal frameworks on a wide variety of policies. The research has further implications informing debates on convergence versus divergence of social welfare and penal policies between these two regimes.