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Victim Witness Assistance Program

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Program Overview

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Victim Witness Assistance Program (DEA-VWAP) was implemented as a result of victims' rights laws.  These laws provide for fair and just treatment of crime victims, immediate emergency treatment, and referrals to appropriate child/adult service agencies.  In addition, the Department of Justice provides guidance to federal law enforcement agencies through the Attorney General Guidelines for Victim Witness Assistance.

The DEA-VWAP:  (1) manages the day to day operation of VWAP, case assistance, guidance and training to domestic and international offices; (2) collaborates with federal, state and local law enforcement ; (3) coordinates with national, state and local victim organizations; (4) provides awareness about child victims in drug environments and drug-related crime victimization.

There are 23 Victim Witness Coordinators (VWC) (collateral duty) in each DEA Field Division Office.  In addition, there are Victim Witness Coordinators in District, Resident and Post of Duty Offices who support the Field Division VWC.  The VWC assists crime victims identified in DEA investigations, coordinates with local prosecutors and, as appropriate, makes referrals to child/adult protective services and local victim service providers.

The Attorney General Guidelines for Victim Witness Assistance defines a crime victim a “person directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a Federal offense or any offense in the District of Columbia (18 U.S.C. § 3771(e)) if the offense is charged in federal district court. If a victim is under 18 years of age, incompetent, incapacitated, or deceased, a family member or legal guardian of the victim, a representative of the victim’s estate, or any other person so appointed by the court may exercise the victim’s rights, but in no event shall the accused serve as a guardian or representative for this purpose. (18 U.S.C. § 3771(e)) A victim may be a corporation, company association, firm, partnership, society, or joint stock company. (1 U.S.C. § 1).”

Upon request, a crime victim may receive information specific to the investigation, such as when charges are filed, arrest, upcoming trial date or logistics. A crime victim may request information and/or referral for services according to a specific need. This referral may include, but not be limited to, counseling, medical assistance, emergency shelter, transportation, relocation, and/or information about State Crime Compensation. 

State crime compensation programs exist in every state in the country, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Crime victim compensation programs administered by state governments promote the recovery of more than 100,000 victims every year, paying out close of $250 million annually. Victims of most violent or personal crimes, including assault, rape, child abuse, and domestic violence, as well as family members of murder victims, are eligible. Property crime, such as theft and burglary, are generally not compensable by state compensation programs. Crime victim compensation programs pay for medical care, mental health counseling, lost wages and support, and funerals; For more information, see the National Crime Victim Assistance Board 

For additional information contact the DEA Victim Witness Assistance Program Toll free: 1-866-254-5970;  E-mail: VWAP.DEA@usdoj.gov

Children are one of the most vulnerable identified and reported victims in drug related crime investigations. These child victims are often referred to as Drug Endangered Children (DEC).

A drug endangered child is under the age of 18 years old and lives in or is exposed to an environment where illegal drugs are used, possessed, distributed, diverted, and/or manufactured. This includes the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs. The resulting harm to a child may be physical, sexual,  emotional abuse and/or neglect; traumatic stress; exposure to drug paraphernalia,  hazards, pornography; unfit living conditions; high risk behavior; exposure to domestic  and/or community violence.

In addition, children are at risk of being forced to participate in illegal or sexual activity in exchange for drugs or money likely to be used to purchase drugs. (Deputy Attorney General Task Force on Drug Endangered Children,

Law enforcement may be the first on scene to identify a drug endangered child. However, the identification can be made by any of the professionals in the course of responding to related or unrelated matters.                                                                    

A drug endangered child may:

  • Be a victim of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse and/or neglect.
  • Not receive basic care including lack of food, sanitary and safe living conditions or schooling.
  • Deficient in grooming, supervision and nurturing; have inappropriate sleeping conditions; and may require medical and/or dental treatment.
  • Witness domestic or community violence.
  • Have access to weapons.
  • Test positive for an illegal drug caused by inhalation, needle sticks, ingestion, or passive smoke inhalation.
  • May have increased risk of contamination; exposure to toxic chemicals, fire and explosions;  and other hazardous living conditions especially in situations where methamphetamine, butane hash oil and other illegal drugs are manufactured.

Crime victims’ rights laws apply equally to child victims. When law enforcement identifies a child victim, they refer to local Child Protective Services professionals, Child Advocacy Centers (CAC), Multidisciplinary Response Teams and/or other professionals who provide a coordinated response focused on the child.

The multidisciplinary team approach involves local law enforcement, first responders, prosecutors, child protective services, medical and mental health professionals.  The team may include other professionals identified in the community such as code enforcement, public health, educators, school nurses, school social workers and more. 

A cooperative alliance is formed in the community where information is shared and there is case coordination. In some communities, a memorandum of understanding is initiated that supports the effort.

In having a coordinated response in place, a child identified in a drug environment is provided immediately. During evidence collection, photographs are taken from the child's perspective, of illegal drugs and/or hazards. The report and photographs are given to the prosecutor for possible filing of charges of child endangerment, abuse or neglect.

The founder of the DEC response is Sue Webber Brown, a former Narcotics Detective and District Attorney Investigator, Butte County, California, and current Executive Director of the National Drug Endangered Child Training and Advocacy Center (NDEC-TAC).

After determining that children in drug environments were not receiving the services so desperately needed, Sue created the response and then worked with Mike Ramsey, District Attorney, Butte County, California, to develop the first DEC protocol. 

Shortly thereafter, local DEC programs were created in communities all over the country, and in 2003, a national DEC program was established. Since that time, the movement to identify and aid drug endangered children has expanded in scope and impact to include partners on the federal, state, tribal and local levels recognizing the problem and implementing intervention strategies.  

For additional information, go to the DEA Museum Lecture Series, May 24, 2011, Drug Endangered Children Awareness Day, Also, see The White House Office of  National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Drug  Endangered Children.

Foster Care - This Department of Health and Human Services report provides preliminary estimates of Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) data for FY 2016

Substance abuse is one of the top two problems exhibited by families in 81% of reported cases of child abuse and neglect. Children of substance abusing parents are three times more likely to be abused and four times more likely to be neglected. www.casacolumbia.org

Children who have been sexually abused are 3.8 times more likely to develop drug addiction; nearly 2/3 of the people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused as children. www.childhelp.org

Based on the data from the period 2002 to 2007, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 8.3 million children under 18 years of age lived with at least one substance dependent or substance-abusing parent. Of these children, approximately 7.3 million lived with a parent who was dependent on or abused alcohol, and about 2.2 million lived with a parent who was dependent on or abused illicit drugs. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/parentalsubabuse.pdf

According to data in the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), parental substance abuse is frequently reported as a reason for removal, particularly in combination with neglect. For almost 31 percent of all children placed in foster care in 2012, parental alcohol or drug use was the documented reason for removal, and in several States Parental Substance Use and the Child Welfare System that percentage surpassed 60 percent (National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect, 2012). The impact of parental substance use on children

For more than 400,000 infants each year (about 10 percent of all births), substance exposure begins prenatally. State and local surveys have documented prenatal substance use as high as 30 percent in some populations. Based on NSDUH data from 2011 and 2012, approximately 5.9 percent of pregnant women aged 15 to 44 were current illicit drug users. Younger pregnant women generally reported the greatest substance use, with rates approaching 18.3 percent among 15- to 17-year-olds.

Under Title 18, U.S.C., Section  3771(a), a crime victim has the following rights:

  • The right to be reasonably protected from the accused.
  • The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding, or any parole proceeding, involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused.
  • The right not to be excluded from any such  public court proceedings, unless the court, after receiving clear and  convincing evidence, determines that testimony by the victim would be  materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding.
  • The right to be reasonably heard at any  public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, (or)  sentencing, or any parole proceeding.
  • The reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case.
  •  The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law.
  •  The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay.
  •   The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victims; dignity and privacy.                           

 A crime victim may at any time seek the advice of a private attorney concerning these rights at your own expense and discretion. A crime victim may file a complaint against any employee of the Department of Justice who violated or failed to provide the rights established under the Crime Victims Rights Act of 2004, 18 U.S.C.  Section 3771.

The Department of Justice has established the Office of the Victims’ Rights Ombudsman to receive and investigate complaints filed by crime victims against its employees, and has  implemented Procedures to Promote Compliance with Crime Victims’ Rights  Obligations, 28 C.F.R. Section 45.10.

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; website

Victim Witness Assistance Program Contacts

DEA Victim Witness Assistance Program (VWAP): 
Toll free: 1-866-254-5970; E-mail: VWAP.DEA@usdoj.gov

DEA Victim Witness Assistance Program Publications

Victim Witness Assistance Program  - This brochure provides an overview of DEA’s Victim Witness Assistance Program, federal crime victim’s rights and resources.
Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault - This brochure produced by the DEA’s Victim Witness Assistance Program provides information on the various drugs used in sexual assaults, warning signs of being drugged, what to do if you think you or a friend may have been drugged, and resources.

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