Criminal neglect: no justice beyond criminal justice - Summary
In 2000, over thirteen and a half million crimes were committed against adults living in England and Wales.(1) Most people will be affected by crime, directly or indirectly, at some time in their lives. The last 25 years have seen considerable innovation and reform for victims of crime, but almost exclusively within the criminal justice system. As a consequence, the 96% of victims who do not report their crime to the police or whose offenders are not detected or charged do not benefit at all from these measures.
Crime can ruin lives. People suffer direct physical and financial losses, but also severe and often long-lasting emotional and psychological trauma. This is frequently made worse by insensitive treatment and a lack of understanding from the agencies with whom they come into contact (secondary victimisation).
What other rights should victims have?
Crime affects the whole person. Health and quality of life can suffer; there can be financial consequences; and many need help to cope with their emotions. But specialist services for victims are not enough. Victims of crime and their families need effective support and understanding in all spheres of life such as education, housing, employment, healthcare and financial services. All public services must recognise their shared responsibility for helping people to cope with crime.
Example 1 - Health
Healthcare workers are highly likely to see victims of unreported crime who have not had contact with any other kind of professional. Healthcare workers meet victims of crime that no other agency sees. It is crucial, therefore, that the healthcare system responds effectively. This response should incorporate knowledge about the , explanation of proposed treatments and information about other sources of help available.
Healthcare professionals need to ensure the health and safety of their patients. The Department of Health is doing some work in the area of domestic violence, but much more needs to be done for other victims of crime.
Many victims need counselling and psychiatric services, but access to these services varies greatly across the country. Delays for treatment prevent many victims from progressing towards recovery. Few professionals in these areas have had training in issues specific to crime victimisation. Victims who take their cases against the offender to the civil courts often receive financial provisions for this kind of treatment which leads to an an unfair, two tier system.
Central policy initiatives and an agreed national framework are needed. The National Service Framework for older people provides an obvious example of how this model could be applied to crime victims.
Example 2 - Housing
People need to feel safe in their own homes. A high proportion of all crime takes place in the home and risk is tied to personal circumstances. People need the help of crime prevention and housing services to address future risk and housing needs. However, too often national policies and local services fail to address the issues faced by people who have been victims of crime.
Local authority help for victims of crime with housing needs varies hugely. Some victims of crime are wrongly classified as making themselves intentionally homeless. Others are not seen as vulnerable. Delays are common and offers of new accommodation are frequently inappropriate.
The Homelessness Bill adds victims of violent crime and threats of violence into the priority housing needs category. But limiting definitions mean that this legislation is unlikely to bring consistent benefits to all victims of crime with housing needs. The legislation needs to be extended to cover all victims of crime who need to move, including victims of 'non-violent' crime and those subject to repeated burglaries.
Interpretation of existing housing legislation designed to help victims of domestic violence varies widely, with the result that many people who need help are excluded. Common experiences include: intrusive and intensive questioning; a lack of safe interviewing and waiting areas; and subjective decision-making. The impact of housing problems caused by crime on the rest of the family, particularly children, must also be taken into account.
Local authorities, social landlords, the voluntary sector and other agencies need to work together to provide effective solutions. All housing professionals who come into contact with the public need appropriate training in dealing sensitively with crime victims and in recognising vulnerability.
Some victims of crime will chose to remain in their home, but need support to do so. Repairs and security improvements for poorly maintained and insecure properties need to be prioritised. The government should establish minimum security standards for all rented accommodation and standards for repairs that are necessary because of crime or attempted crime.
Example 3 - Finance
Crime can have serious financial consequences. Replacement of possessions, inability to work, and funeral costs are examples. And crime has a disproportionate financial impact on low-income households.
Almost 1 in 5 UK households do not have home contents insurance - particularly those on lower incomes. Those least likely to have insurance are also more at risk of burglary. The two most common reasons for lack of insurance are cost and disqualification on the basis of location or previous victimisation. Many victims report harsh or unfair treatment by insurance companies in the event of a claim.
Victim Support believes that more local authorities and social landlords should introduce tenants contents insurance schemes. These collective schemes usually include insurance premiums with rent and offer considerable savings.
The benefits system does not replace stolen items and makes no additional provisions for people on low incomes. The social security system must be revised so that the needs of victims of crime are recognised and addressed. Victims of violent crime, or relatives bereaved through homicide, can apply for compensation under the state-funded Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS). But many people do not qualify and successful claims are few with just 39,700 awards in 1999-2000 compared with 703,105 recorded violent crimes.(2) There is also a minimum award threshold, currently £1,000, which disqualifies many potential claimants and should be abolished.
The CICS assesses the victim's character when making decisions. For example, a child will be denied a fatal award, dependency or loss of parental services in respect of the death of a parent if the parent had previous convictions. Victim Support accepts that in most cases it is proper to reduce or withhold an award where the applicant provoked or colluded in the offence, but the concept of deserving and undeserving victims leads to unjust decisions which are contrary to social justice.
People on income support are not helped by the Criminal Injuries Compensation system because their benefits are stopped until the award has been spent. Setting up a trust is currently the only way for recipients to protect their award, but it is expensive and still subject to Department of Social Security restrictions. This means that poorer victims gain little or no benefit from state compensation. There are similar discriminatory situations for people who are ineligible for statutory sick pay.
The way forward
Government policy should deal with crime, not just with criminals. The government has acknowledged its responsibility to victims of crime within criminal justice, but that responsibility must extend to the treatment of crime victims throughout the community. The state must ensure that national and local government, its agents, and the private sector, work together to ensure that victims of crime are not re-victimised. A strategic approach is needed, which is centrally monitored, enforced, and resourced.
Victims of crime are currently seen as the responsibility of the Home Office (and when they become witnesses), the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Attorney General's Department. Other Secretaries of State should recognise their responsibilities and work in cooperation to reduce the . The government now requires health and education to join local-authority-led statutory partnerships to play their part in tackling youth crime. Victim Support is calling for the government to adopt a similar approach when responding to the consequences of crime, backed by central government legislation and resources to ensure consistency across the country.
The needs of children and young people affected by crime must not be overlooked. Victim Support believes society must recognise and respond to the full range of crimes affecting children, including those committed by other children. Offences against other family members or the family as a whole also affect children.
Victim Support is calling for crime victimisation to be recognised, along with other social problems, as deserving of particular consideration. Victim Support believes that victims' rights should be protected in legislation and that these rights should be specific, enforceable, and the responsibility of defined agencies. In addition we are calling for a Commissioner for victims of crime whose remit would encompass all agencies whose policies and procedures affect the interests and needs of crime victims. Nothing less than a truly joined up approach to crime will be sufficient to address its complex and far reaching consequences.
1. From the BCS (Kershaw et al, 2000). Comparative figures for Northern Ireland are not available for 1999, but the 1998 Northern Ireland Crime Survey (NICS) shows that around a quarter (23%) of households experienced at least one crime during 1997 (French, Donnelly & Willis, 2001). In comparison, for the same year, the BCS estimates that this applied to a third (34%) of households in England and Wales.
2. For the twelve months to March 2000, there were 703,105 violent crime offences recorded by the police (Povey, Cotton & Sisson, 2000). According to the 2000 BCS, the total number of violent crimes was 3,246,000 (Kershaw et al, 2000).
Company number: 2158780 Registered in England. Limited by guarantee.
Registered charity number: 298028.