13. The needs of victims of crime

 

Introduction to Part Three

  1. 13.1 Part Three of this paper addresses broader questions in relation to the existing Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) and scheme. In particular, as required by the supplementary terms of reference, this part considers whether other models would more effectively deliver assistance to victims of crime, such as an administrative or quasi-administrative model.
  2. 13.2 Consistent with the Victims’ Charter Act 2006 (Vic), Chapter 13 considers that victim needs should be at the centre of any evaluation of how a state-funded financial assistance scheme should operate. Chapter 13 considers the impact of crime on victims, the needs of victims of crime following an act of violence, and the importance of financial assistance as a component of victim support. Chapter 13 therefore places victim needs at the centre of any consideration of reform.
  3. 13.3 Consistent with the supplementary terms of reference, Chapters 14 and 15 consider two overarching approaches to reform:
  • Approach 1: Reforming the existing scheme
  • Approach 2: Is there a need for a different model?
  1. 13.4 Chapter 14 is based on approach 1. It considers options to improve the current model and approach through legislative and procedural reform, including possible changes to the Act’s eligibility requirements and availability of awards, timelines, symbolic payments, and how the scheme complements other government services to victims of crime.
  2. 13.5 Chapter 15 is based on approach 2. It considers whether there are other models that would deliver assistance more effectively, for example, through an administrative or quasi-administrative model. Chapter 15 discusses matters including:
  • whether financial assistance should be part of victim case management and the victim support system
  • whether a financial assistance scheme should incorporate restorative justice opportunities
  • whether judicial decision making in financial assistance matters is appropriate and sustainable
  • whether financial assistance should be a specialised field.
  1. 13.6 The Commission raises these options to prompt stakeholder consideration of how the existing scheme could be reformed, as well as what other models might improve outcomes for victims. 

Introduction to Chapter 13

  1. 13.7 This chapter relates to the one of the objectives stated in the supplementary terms of reference—that a state-funded financial assistance scheme for victims should seek to achieve outcomes for victims that minimise trauma for victims and maximise the therapeutic effect for victims.
  2. 13.8 In order to understand how a state-funded financial assistance scheme can minimise trauma and maximise therapeutic effect, this chapter considers:
  • the impact of crime on victims
  • the needs of victims of crime following an act of violence
  • the importance of financial assistance as a component of victim support.
  1. 13.9 This chapter does not consider options for reform, but seeks the views of victims, persons affected, professionals, stakeholders and the community on the impacts of crime on victims, victim needs, and when and how financial assistance is most useful.

Understanding the impacts of crime on victims

  1. 13.10 It is important to understand how acts of violence can affect individual victims. The ways victims may be affected influence their broader victim support and financial assistance needs.
  2. 13.11 Research has emphasised that the impact of crime on victims is a ‘highly individualised experience’ and does not necessarily correspond to the ‘seriousness of the crime based solely on crime type’.1
  3. 13.12 Elaine Wedlock and Jacki Tapley state that victims may have personal or structural vulnerabilities that influence their ability to cope with crime victimisation.2 Experiences of victimisation can be influenced by a broad range of factors including age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, health, crime types, relationship with the perpetrator and a victim’s past experiences of the justice system.3
  4. 13.13 Nonetheless, there are some common effects of crime for all victims. Although the impacts of crime may vary depending on a victim’s individual characteristics, an emotional and psychological reaction occurs in most victims.4 Common psychological and emotional reactions may include feelings of guilt, fear, anger, sadness, confusion and helplessness.5 Day-to-day activities can be affected by lack of sleep, anxiousness, and headaches, and can result in withdrawal from other people and activities, trouble with concentration and reduced performance at work or school.6
  5. 13.14 Compared with victims of financial and property crimes, victims of serious or violent offences may experience higher levels of emotional stress, as well as physical, psychological and social impacts, and for longer.7
  6. 13.15 Certain types of crime, or certain individual characteristics of victims, or a combination of both, may correlate with specific adverse effects. For example, as discussed in the Commission’s consultation paper Family Violence and the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (the first consultation paper), family violence has specific effects on infant and child

    victims, including adverse effects on unborn children whose mother may be experiencing elevated levels of stress as a result of family violence.8

What are victim needs?

  1. 13.16 Consistent with the Victims’ Charter Act 2006 (Vic) (the Victims Charter), victim needs should be at the centre of any consideration of how a state-funded financial assistance scheme should operate. In particular, and as per the Victims Charter, a state-funded financial assistance scheme must ‘take into account, and be responsive to, the particular needs of persons adversely affected by crime’.9
  2. 13.17 Elaine Wedlock and Jacki Tapley have emphasised that victims’ personal characteristics, experiences and social interactions ‘impact on [victims’] abilities to cope with victimisation, depending on their vulnerability and resilience, which in turn influences the type of support required’.10 Victim needs may also vary depending on crime type.11
  3. 13.18 As a consequence, victims’ needs are variable12 and can change over time.13 In the immediate aftermath of a crime, a victim may need help in making sure a home is safe and secure, while other needs are longer-term, such as reparation by the offender.14
  4. 13.19 Nonetheless, access to compensation, or financial assistance, has been articulated as a basic victim need:

all victims have a range of needs in the aftermath of a crime and during the judicial process that follows … the need to be recognised and treated with respect and dignity; the need to be protected; the need to be supported; the need to access justice; and the need for compensation and restoration.15

  1. 13.20 Consequently, international instruments have recognised the rights of victims of crime to receive assistance and compensation. For example, in 1985, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.16 This Declaration provides that ‘victims should receive the necessary material, medical, psychological, and social assistance through governmental, voluntary, community-based and indigenous means’.17
  2. 13.21 David Miers suggests that victims require material reparation, including compensation and restitution, as well as immaterial reparation, like an apology.18 This is in addition to the varied information, support and justice needs that a victim may require.19
  3. 13.22 Accordingly, there is no single aspect of victim support—whether financial, practical or psychological—which will meet all victims’ needs. As Wedlock and Tapley have emphasised, it is important that victim services and supports are flexible:

 

Acknowledging that everyone experiences victimisation differently emphasises the need for a range of support services that offer accessible and flexible services, so that the right interventions can be offered to those who want them at a time when they need them most.20

  1. 13.23 In Victoria, this need for flexibility has been incorporated into the Victim Support Agency’s Standards for the Provision of Services to Victims of Crime in Victoria: ‘victims of violent crime have a range of needs which may include health and counselling, information, practical support and advocacy when interacting with police, courts and legal processes.’21 The Standards emphasise the importance of information, receipt of a timely and prompt response by victim services and access to flexible support.22
  2. 13.24 As victims’ needs are variable and changeable, it is suggested that the provision of support, including state-funded financial assistance, should be flexible. Systems that are rigid and inflexible may fail to meet the varied and changing needs of victims.

When is financial assistance most useful?

  1. 13.25 Determining when, and how, state-funded financial assistance is most useful will vary depending on a victim’s personal factors—age, gender, ethnicity, social-economic status and health—in addition to the type of crime of which they are a victim. For example, victims of childhood sexual assault perpetrated by a family member are likely to have different needs, and at different times, to the victim of a ‘random’ assault by a stranger. Both victims have experienced an act of violence but because the characteristics of their victimisation are so different, it is likely that their needs will vary over time.23
  2. 13.26 Experiences in Victoria and other jurisdictions indicate that some victims require urgent financial assistance as a priority. For example, victims of family violence often require urgent financial assistance to enable them to relocate or to implement home security.24
  3. 13.27 During preliminary consultations the Commission was told that financial assistance is most effective when it is able to be used as a ‘re-establishment fund’ assisting a victim to begin rebuilding their life.25
  4. 13.28 The New South Wales review preceding the introduction of a new financial assistance scheme in 2013 identified the importance of ‘providing a flexible range of supports for victims depending on their individual circumstances’.26
  5. 13.29 The New South Wales scheme now provides victim support according to four ‘pillars’ of support. Each pillar involves some form of financial assistance. However, the financial assistance available under each pillar is for a different purpose and is likely to occur at different stages in the victim’s recovery journey:
  • The first pillar involves financial assistance to cover the reasonable costs of counselling. This might be needed at different times.
  • The second pillar relates to urgent financial assistance to meet immediate needs, such as relocation costs, security upgrades and crime scene clean-up, that are unlikely to be needed after the initial crisis stage.
  • The third pillar, financial support, may continue to be needed at different stages as it relates to a number of out-of-pocket expenses that may not be as time-dependent, such as loss of earnings, medical or dental expenses and justice expenses such as the costs of having to attend court.
  • The final pillar, recognition payment, exists as a recognition of the violence suffered. This is similar to Victoria’s special financial assistance payments.27
  1. 13.30 The four pillars are underpinned by case co-ordination through victim support services, as represented below in Figure 3.
  2. 13.31 Having regard to the discussion above, the Commission seeks the views of victims, persons affected, professionals, stakeholders and the community on the impacts of crime on victims, victim needs and when financial assistance is most useful, to inform consideration of options for reform.

Question

  1. 59 Having regard to the impacts of crime on victims, what are victims’ needs and how should they be met through a state-funded financial assistance scheme?

 

 

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