NATIONAL APPROACH

VICTIMS OF CRIME IN AUSTRALIA

INTRODUCTION

Crime is an everyday occurrence for people in Australia.  According to crime statistics, over a million people are victimised each year – and the crime trend is increasing.  To be and feel safe from crime and violence is a civil and social right of every Australian.

The stark figures provided here reveal the toll on primary crime victims.  They do not, however, reveal the added impact of crime on families, friends, neighbours, employers, and businesses large and small.  The consequences of crime can be divisive on the well-being and cohesiveness of communities as a whole.  It undermines the social fabric and capacity of families and communities to live and work together.  Providing support for victims of crime, their families and friends is not only about addressing the harm done to them.  It is about strengthening communities.

  • Assault is the most common offence against the person in Australia.  Recorded assaults average about 15 an hour across the country.
  • One in three assaults take place in private dwellings.
  • There is about one property offence for every 13 people in Australia today.
  • Two out of three break and enter offences and attempts occur in residential locations.
  • In a survey of 17 industrialised countries, Australia had the highest rate of completed or attempted residential burglary.
  • Homicide increased by 15% from 1998 to 1999.
  • Only 15% of sexual assaults against women are reported to police.
  • Only four out of ten criminal incidents that occur in any community are ever reported to police, and fewer still actually end up in court.
  • The direct costs of dealing with crime by the criminal justice system amounts to over $4,567 million per annum.

THE IMPACT OF CRIME

The statistical picture of crime provides only a snapshot of the extent of victimisation in Australia.  The impact of crime on a victim, on their family and friends and on the community is as varied as the range and background of victims themselves.

Across both personal and property offence categories criminal victimisation impacts on people in ways that are:

  • physical,
  • emotional and psychological,
  • material and financial, and
  • social.

Not only is crime experienced numerically more by people from lower socio-economic groups and by vulnerable groups such as young people and women, but its effects impact disproportionately on those who can least afford it.

INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS IN VICTIM SUPPORT

In 1985 the United Nations passed a Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.  It has since gone further and produced a handbook on the use and application of the Declaration.

To enable Member States to better meet their obligations under the Declaration the document recommends the development of:

  • crisis intervention facilities,
  • counselling services,
  • direct assistance,
  • advocacy on rights and entitlements,
  • support within the criminal justice system,
  • training services,
  • public education,
  • prevention activities, and
  • standards of good practice.

VICTIM SUPPORT AUSTRALIA

Victim Support Australia is the peak body representing generic crime victim services across Australia.  It exists to:

advance the interests of people victimised by crime and encourage development of support services throughout Australia whilst striving towards a crime-free society.

VSA has developed a number of Position Papers to further this aim.  These are for ‘Recommended Levels of Service for Jurisdictions’, ‘Recommended Framework for Victim Support Services in Jurisdictions’, ‘A Partnership with Police Services’ and ‘The Role of Volunteers in Victim Support’.  Further reports on the role of the victim within criminal justice and on good practice in serving crime victims in rural, regional and remote areas are currently under development.

CORE PRINCIPLES IN VICTIM SUPPORT SERVICES

Victim services across Australia are varied.  They are united, however, along a set of core principles being:

1.  Victim Focussed

  • Individuals are to be treated with courtesy and respect, and with due regard for their rights and dignity.
  • Individuals and communities affected by crime are to be supported in all their diversity and given equal access to services, protection and justice.
  • Individuals affected by crime shall be afforded unconditional positive regard.

2.  Recovery-oriented

  • Priority should be given to ensuring the safety, well-being and recovery of crime victims and their families.
  • Interventions should enable informed decision-making, consent and choice.
  • Victim support should acknowledge both harm and loss, and ultimately seek both empowerment of and self-sufficiency for crime victims.
  • Restoration of all persons affected by crime should encompass the individuals, their families, and their immediate neighbours and communities.

3.  Service Principles

  • Services should be committed to the implementation of a best practice in service delivery that is based on evidence of efficacy and client-centred outcomes.
  • Service development, implementation and management should be transparent and accountable.
  • Privacy and confidentiality should be a cornerstone of crime victim services.
  • Victim services should incorporate the aim of improving understanding of the impact and consequences of crime on people and their communities.

TOWARDS A NATIONAL APPROACH

The Commonwealth of Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.  Victim Support Australia acknowledges that the States and Territories are primarily though not exclusively responsible for the delivery of these rights through the criminal justice and social service systems.

Significant advances in victim support have been made across the country.  However, Victim Support Australia believes that there is inconsistent application of these universal rights to all citizens of Australia.  Consequently, Victim Support Australia encourages a sustained and committed partnership between the States and Territories and the Commonwealth.

Victim Support Australia urges the adoption of policies at all levels of government and in the community that seek to meet the needs of crime victims across Australia, to prevent re-offending, to reduce fear of crime, and to prevent crime.

A national approach that meets these key objectives:

  • Upholds the universality of citizens’ civil and social rights,
  • Seeks to minimise local variability in the application of these rights,
  • Aims to maximise a ‘value-added’ collaboration between the Commonwealth and the States & Territories, and
  • Develops programs that consolidate best practice and minimum standards in restoration and recovery.

A STEP-BY-STEP AND STRATEGIC VICTIM SUPPORT PROGRAM

STAGE 1 – NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP

  • Establish a National Task Force on Victims of Crime that endorses the VSA Core Principles.
  • Review the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.
  • Integrate victim restoration and recovery within national programs for the prevention of crime, violence and drugs misuse, and in law enforcement programs.
  • Establish a national research and evaluation program to further knowledge and best practice in the area of victim support.

STAGE 2 – CONSOLIDATE PROFESSIONAL QUALITY

  • Develop national competency standards for those engaged in victim support work, and certification and accreditation procedures.
  • Resource an electronic and internet network to facilitate case liaison and policy communication by victim support services across Australia.
  • Implement a National Victim Assistance Academy on an annual basis to deliver best practice training and research to practitioners across Australia.
  • Develop initiatives within crime prevention that seek to prevent repeat victimisation.
  • Develop a nationally accredited pre and post assessment and evaluation tool.

STAGE 3 – UPHOLD UNIVERSAL RIGHTS & SPECIFIC NEEDS

  • Develop initiatives that build the capacity of families and communities to restore crime victims and offenders, and minimise social division.
  • Identify measures to support people victimised by crime in rural, regional and remote areas.
  • Support measures that address the specific needs of crime victims from indigenous communities, those from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and victims of hate crimes.

APPENDIX A

VSA NATIONAL RESEARCH PRIORITIES 1999/2000

  1. Identifying factors which reduce repeat victimisation and the effect of this on the cost of crime.
  2. Identify resilience factors which mitigate effects of trauma and of repeat victimisation on individuals.
  3. What works for crime victims, including role of support services in this and cultural relevance vis a vis individuals.
    – treatment models
    – intervention
    – supports
  4. Identifying outcomes for crime victims receiving (a) counselling (b) financial packages, and comparing across offence categories.
  5. Does early intervention speed up recovery?
  6. Does participation of victims in restorative justice programs assist in recovery?
  7. Does the legal context in which the victim is operating make a difference (interfere with) therapy (and what factors)?
  8. Impact on crime victims of participating in the criminal justice system.
  9. Identifying equity nationally across victim programs and entitlements.

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