Criminal neglect: no justice beyond criminal justice - Background
How crime affects people
In 2000, nearly 13 million crimes were committed against adults living in England and Wales.(5) Most people will be affected by crime at some time in their lives - either themselves or through the experiences of a relative or friend.
For some people, becoming a victim of crime may be a minor inconvenience. But for many others it can be a devastating experience, taking weeks, months, or even years for people to begin to pick up the pieces. Criminal acts can be particularly difficult for people to come to terms with because, unlike natural disasters, accidents and other damaging events, they are deliberate. The experience can change an individual's perception of the world and their surroundings. Reactions vary enormously, but common feelings range from fear, shock and worry to rage, distress and anger. Some people blame themselves and depression is an all too common consequence.
People can experience this range of emotions whatever the crime they have suffered. The impact of 'everyday' crimes such as burglary is frequently underestimated. Yet, in approximately half of all cases of burglary someone is at home at the time,(6) and in one in six cases a child is sleeping in the house.(7) More than half of homes where property is stolen or damaged are uninsured. It is not, therefore, surprising that according to the British Crime Survey,(8) four out of ten burglary victims reported being "very much affected" by the crime.
Becoming a victim of crime is not an isolated event but an ongoing experience for a large proportion of victims. Surveys have shown that 4% of victims suffer 41% of all crimes (four or more crimes a year).(9) Being a victim of crime is the strongest single predictor of future victimisation.(10) Certain crimes such as domestic violence or racist crime may continue over many years and escalate over time. Some individuals are particularly vulnerable, either because of where they live or work, or their physical characteristics or personal circumstances. These 'repeat' or targeted crimes are more likely not to be reported or are unlikely to be detected, leaving people to cope on their own; reliant on a good response from whichever agency they come into contact with.
But this doesn't mean that nothing can be done. Too often the personal impact of crime is seen as a necessary evil; dealing with crime is only spoken about in relation to securing convictions or introducing crime prevention measures. But many of these measures are of little benefit to those who have been affected. Victim Support believes that such a blinkered attitude is morally unsustainable. Experience shows that a person's ability to recover from an offence can be considerably improved when others recognise the significance of the event. But sadly this is not the experience of most victims - instead secondary victimisation is the norm.
The response from government
Many improvements within criminal justice have taken place in recent years and more are planned. For example:
- the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will have responsibility for ensuring that victims of crime are informed of key decisions in their case.
- the Probation Service has new responsibilities for contact with a much larger number of victims whose offenders are in prison.
- extensive new measures are currently being implemented to support vulnerable witnesses to crimes.
- a new Charter of Rights may lead to legislation on victims' rights.
- Victim Personal Statements have been introduced for cases going through the courts and there is discussion of an Ombudsman to protect the rights of victims as defined in the new Charter.
Victim Support welcomes these developments, all of which we called for in our 1995 policy paper The rights of victims of crime.(11) But all of these measures are confined to the criminal justice system. As such, they appear primarily to be concerned with helping victims to report more offences and to be better witnesses.
The reality is that these measures do nothing to help the vast majority of victims of crime whose cases do not go forward. What new provisions are being made for them?
5. From the BCS (Kershaw et al, 2001). Comparative figures for Northern Ireland are not available for 2000, 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.
6. Kershaw et al, 2000. In 25% of all burglaries someone was at home but unaware of what was happening, while in a further 26% someone was at home and aware.
7. Morgan & Zedner, 1992
8. Kershaw et al, 2000
9. Farrell & Pease, 1993
10. Pease, 1998
11. Victim Support, 1995