New rights for victims of crime in Europe - Specialist services for tourist victims

The tourist who becomes a victim of crime has been described as the quintessential victim. It is generally accepted that tourists and other travellers have a higher risk of victimisation than the residents of a country. Nor, if the case goes to trial, do their problems end when they return home. Victims may experience difficulty in finding a local lawyer, and find it both difficult and expensive to arrange travel, accommodation and possible fees for the court appearances which invariably take them back to the scene of the crime.

According to the World Tourism Organisation, Europe was the star performer of world tourism in 2000 accounting for 58% of international tourism, or approximately 403,300,000 people. (11) The most common crimes experienced by tourists are vehicle theft, handbag theft, currency exchange fraud, and cash, credit card or travellers' cheque theft. One-third of European holidaymakers worry about personal safety on holiday. (12)

Over 6 million tourists visit Ireland each year (13) and on average between 3,200 and 3,400 become victims of crime. (14)

In the early nineties reported crime was high in Ireland. Of particular note during the summer months was the amount of crime involving tourists in Dublin city and the surrounding area. Victim Support wanted to respond. They had been impressed by a service for tourists in Amsterdam and decided to establish a pilot for a similar project in Dublin. The first task was to raise an estimated £21,000 to cover an initial six-month project. Having the support of the Department of Tourism was considered crucial for the initiative; the Minister was approached and a grant of £5,000 was paid through Bord Failte (Irish Tourist Board). Similar donations were received from the Dublin Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce and Aer Rianta (Airports Authority); smaller donations came from other sources. A co-ordinator with a Victim Support background, fluent in three foreign languages, was appointed and volunteers with a range of language skills were also recruited and trained.

In April 1994 the Minister for Justice launched the Dublin Tourist Victim Support Service. The initial six-month project proved extremely successful. Some 267 cases were referred involving 303 visitors. Virtually all clients elected to continue their holiday in Ireland after receiving assistance. It was decided to continue the service all year. In subsequent years 'Dublin' was dropped from the title and the service was extended to the rest of the country. Volunteers in local Victim Support branches were trained to assist victimised tourists, especially in those areas popular with tourists. To date some 5,307 people have benefited from Tourist Victim Support intervention.

Two young German men arrived in Ireland for a two-week camping holiday. They intended to stay in a hostel in Dublin for the first night. However being late on a Saturday evening there were no vacancies so they made their way to the outskirts of Dublin. They set up camp in a field for the night, during which they were attacked and robbed. One of them was assaulted with an iron bar resulting in 10 days' hospitalisation and surgery for a fractured jaw.

The Gardai (police) escorted the second man, who was not injured, to the Tourist Victim Support office. Even though he spoke good English, a German-speaking volunteer was called to offer support in his native language. Free accommodation was organised for as long as needed.

Phone calls were made to both sets of parents to explain what had happened and to organise money transfers. As all their belongings had been stolen, department store vouchers were offered for essentials - underwear and toiletries, until money became available.

The young man visited the Tourist Victim Support office frequently during the 10-day wait to make and receive phone calls from anxious parents and to organise the flights and airline tickets home through their insurance company. The native German-speaking volunteer visited the injured tourist in hospital on a number of occasions and also assisted the investigating detective with translation.

Tourist Victim Support focuses on the Victim Support concept of emotional support and practical help. It offers a comprehensive service where all the issues facing the tourist victim in the aftermath of a crime can be addressed, with a view to resolving difficulties, minimising the impact and enabling them to continue with their holiday plans. Emotional support is of primary importance. Practical assistance consists mainly of advocacy and help in replacing travel and identity documents, contacting insurance companies, banks, embassies and carriers.

A young French couple arrived in Dublin where their hired car was broken into. Not only were their passports, plane tickets and money stolen but also the woman's anti-rejection drug for a bone marrow transplant. Following help from a Dublin pharmacy in identifying the name under which the drug is sold in this country, Tourist Victim Support contacted a medical centre, where the woman was examined and the local health authority issued a special prescription so that the drug - a very expensive one - could be dispensed free-of-charge.

Aer Lingus was contacted and the couple's air tickets were re-issued waiving the normal fee. The French Embassy was contacted and an appointment made for the couple to get replacement travel documents for their flight home.

The success of the service depends on extensive support coming from a cross-section of tourism-related industries, by way of direct funding and benefit-in-kind. Tourists who are robbed may require support to meet immediate needs i.e. accommodation, meals, transport, etc and it is necessary to have these readily available. Assistance is often required in sourcing replacement medication. Tourist Victim Support does not advance funds and all referrals come through the police.

Two l8-year-old Belgian women arrived in Dublin, ready for a great holiday. It was their first time visiting Ireland and they planned to travel by train to Killarney but, before they boarded, one had her rucksack containing all her money, credit cards, clothing, etc stolen.

They reported the crime to the Gardai and were referred to Tourist Victim Support. One of the service's Flemish-speaking volunteers was called on to translate as the girls spoke very little English. With the use of the office telephone the two families were contacted and a money transfer was organised by the victim's parents. Tourist Victim Support contacted Irish Rail who agreed to give both girls free return travel tickets to Killarney. The hostel where they had booked accommodation was telephoned to explain that the girls would arrive late and to enquire if, in the circumstances, one free night would be possible. The hostel manager phoned back to say the girls could have the seven-day booking, free of charge.

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