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One of our major ongoing challenges is the widely-held perception that the criminal justice system (CJS) can provide for all the needs of victims and witnesses. The media and the public are deeply attached to this view. The reality is that only a small proportion of victims have contact with the CJS. For example, fewer than half of all crimes are even reported to the police. And only about 3 out of 50 victims of reported crimes see their case come to court1.
Criminal justice agencies were set up to deal with offenders and although many are working hard to improve their treatment of victims and witnesses, looking after this group is not their primary objective. Dedicated services for both victims and witnesses are still needed outside the criminal justice process.
Victim Support is a world leader in the development of victim services. Our influence was recognised by the National Audit Office in its report2 and our organisation, and its approach, has been widely copied. Similar organisations, often using the same name and logo, have been set up as far afield as Australia, Japan & Mauritius. We were founder members of the European Forum for Victim Services and entertain visitors from around the world who want to learn about our beliefs and our approach.
The last 30 years have seen much development and success. But things are still far from perfect for victims and witnesses and the need for an independent national body to support and campaign on their behalf remains as strong as ever.
2003 was a landmark year for victims' rights in that the Government introduced a Bill to provide statutory rights for victims after years of campaigning by Victim Support. The Bill will also introduce a Commissioner for Victims and give him or her the ability to consider government services beyond criminal justice - another of our campaigning aims.
Across the whole criminal justice system, most agencies now recognise that they have a responsibility to do a better job of looking after victims and witness with whom they come into contact. All this is welcome for the small, but important, minority of victims whose cases are dealt with by the courts.
Given that fewer than half of all crimes are reported and in the majority of cases an offender is not detected or there is insufficient evidence for a prosecution - this leaves most victims dependent on Victim Support for help, apart from the possibility of state compensation for those who have been affected by crimes of violence.
Victim Support is the only truly national service dedicated to helping victims of all kinds of crime. And Victim Support would need twice its current resources to provide the full range of services that we know are needed today.
In reality, victims of crime have very wide-ranging needs which could never be catered for by the criminal justice system alone. The problems caused by crime may be financial, health-related, affect their employment, their housing or many other areas of their lives. So it is vital that the full range of agencies involved in all forms of social provision recognise the needs of victims and provide for them accordingly.
These are issues we raised two years ago with our Criminal neglect campaign. The principles have been widely accepted, but real change is hard to achieve. Much more has to be done to ensure that all public service providers recognise and meet the needs of victims and witnesses and this is increasingly the focus of Victim Support's campaigning.
Although Victim Support has a well-developed nationwide service, including specialist support across a range of crimes including rape, murder, hate crimes and help with claiming criminal injuries compensation - there are still many more vital areas where we need to introduce enhanced and specialised services. The only limiting factor is lack of resources.
Young people are more likely to be victims of crime than adults - and are also likely to be distressed when crimes happen to other members of their family. The specialist charities for children are well prepared for supporting children who have been abused. But children who are victims of other kinds of crime - theft, burglary or violence for example - will not necessarily receive information or support. Some Victim Support services are able to specialise in helping young people. And nationally we have developed a framework and guidance for how our services should be adapted to help the young. All we need now is the funds to do it. We estimate that it would cost £400,000 to run two-year pilot projects in three areas: an eventual nationwide scheme would cost £4.5 million a year.
Going to court as a witness can be difficult and stressful for anyone. Although Victim Support runs a Witness Service in every criminal court in England, Wales, and much of Northern Ireland (making it the most comprehensive in the world) - some witnesses need additional support beyond the standard service. The Government has recently provided some additional funding for us to develop our services to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses who include children, people with disabilities, victims of certain offences such as rape, and those who are at risk of intimidation by the defendant. This funding enabled us to help 30,000 people last year and has greatly improved our work with other agencies. But this money is only sufficient to fund a number of pilot projects, so we cannot offer the new service in every area. The average cost per witness is £69. It would cost a further £4 million to make this service available to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses everywhere.
3. Rape and sexual assault
We provide support for more victims of rape and sexual assault - both male and female - than any other agency. It is clear that nationally we need expanded and improved support services for victims of these particularly serious crimes. £500,000 would enable us to maintain a national recruitment and training programme to offer rape and sexual assault victims a fully trained volunteer when they need it.
4. Domestic violence
We are revising our own strategy in this area to help our members provide a more inclusive service to a wider range of victims of domestic violence, and to reach out to those who feel unable to report what is happening to them. We would like to do so much more. £1.5 million would pay for a domestic violence development worker in every county or city. Domestic violence is one of the most under-reported crimes - more money could be used to pay for advertising the support services available.
5. Road deaths and injuries
We are currently helping the Home Office to pilot support projects for people bereaved and seriously injured by road crashes. We are already running many local services. As not all road deaths are crimes, we aim to work with other agencies to ensure that everyone has help available.
6. Homophobic crime
We have recently produced a service framework, practice guidance and national standards for supporting victims of homophobic crime. Victims of this kind of crime may be isolated or particularly vulnerable and in desperate need of support. £250,000 would pay for training specialist volunteers and publicity in gay and lesbian venues.
Victim Support has negotiated agreements with the police to ensure that people who report crimes are offered help or support from us. However, many who have experienced serious violent crimes such as rape, racist attacks, or crimes within the family choose not to report them for reasons such as fear of reprisal. Currently only around 3% of all the people we help have contacted us independently - which gives us great cause for concern. Many more people will be struggling to cope with the effects of crime on their own.
Apart from the launch of the Victim Supportline (for which we received a promotional grant from the Home Office) Victim Support has never advertised nationally to promote its services. A major advertising campaign could make many more victims aware that help is available. But with national charity advertising campaigns costing as much as £4 million, such a project remains out of our reach financially.
We are working with the government's burglary reduction task force to improve our support to victims of burglary. Many victims of burglary are vulnerable to repeated crimes which we could help them to prevent. Some local Victim Support offices provide lock fitting services to vulnerable victims who cannot afford expensive locks and alarms. We would like to do more of this important work.
Local Victim Support charities have a long tradition of innovation and an entrepreneurial approach to finding funding for new projects. The following four examples illustrate the range of valuable new services that deserve to be replicated around the country.
A website which enables victims of hate crime to come forward is being pioneered by Northamptonshire VS. Those who have suffered racist and homophobic attacks or domestic violence are particularly likely to want the anonymity the internet provides - and there's already been a good contact rate since the launch of the service last autumn. The site can be accessed through Northampton Borough Council's web pages. The information is then collated and sent on to the police and to VS who will follow up with a letter or phone call. Senior Co-ordinator, Maureen Morris describes the project as "brilliant", adding that "so many young people and students use the internet now - this is a way of picking up those victims who might not otherwise come forward".
Victim Support Croydon launched its R U OK? initiative to offer support and information to victims of crime aged 8 - 14. All children receive a letter and an R U OK? leaflet. The initiative has offered advice on dealing with bullying at one local secondary school, and another hosts a twice-weekly 'drop in' service. Project leader Geraldine Lowe says; "We're delighted with the response. Six hundred young victims have been referred to us since January 2003, so it's clear to us that there's a real need for the service and when we visit their schools, more and more pupils say they're aware of our work to help them."
ABC stands for Anti-bullying in Cornwall - a service now widely recognised by many agencies as having pioneered anti-bullying work in secondary schools throughout the country. ABC, which is run by VS Cornwall, now has extra funding from Neighbourhood Renewal. This has enabled it to extend its work into the county's primary schools and to employ Lynette Fitzell as a full time project worker. She says; "Research has shown that older children prefer to tell another child, rather than an adult if they're being bullied, so we run a peer support training scheme for 15 and 16 year olds which is both popular and effective". ABC also takes workshops and assemblies to younger children in schools and works closely with Cornwall's Local Education Authority.
During February 2004, Victim Support & Witness Service Greater Manchester will be rolling out the implementation of a new project to help young witnesses of crime. The programme will initially be piloted in three boroughs. The VIW ( vulnerable and intimidated witnesses) programme will support children and young people in their homes before, during and after the trial. The Chief Executive of Victim Support & Witness Service Greater Manchester, Glyn Morgan, says; "Many child witnesses worry that nobody will believe what they say and may be very unsettled by the atmosphere in the courtroom. Hopefully, this new project will give them more confidence to speak up about what they have witnessed."
© Victim Support
Page printed: 16 October 2019