The tabloids in the U.K. are pasted almost daily with stories about how people were attacked, stolen from, beaten, and even murdered. However, the stories always seem to end with the court case and a conviction. After that, nothing more is heard in the press about what happened to those involved or whether there was a crime victim support system. However, for victims of crime, the nightmare and pain doesn’t end as soon as the final print is run. It can take years to recovery from damage realized in a matter of minutes or hours. The recovery can also include both physical, mental, and as well as financial efforts. All these efforts take time and energy, which don’t happen instantaneously.
The Ideology of the Crime Victim
Years and decades ago victims still happened as they did today, but they were often expected to fend for themselves. If they were lucky enough to have family support or personal means for recovery, it improved their chances greatly. Unfortunately, victims who were fairly on their own or survivors of a sole-income earner who was incapacitated or murdered could easily be relegated to poverty and even homelessness by crime. There were no support systems, assistance programs, welfare benefits, emergency recovery grants or similar.
Ironically, government and the state had a fair interest in maintaining a criminal justice system. Dating back as far as the days of King Alfred and the first shires, the government was always interested in maintaining order for institutional values, not the individuals. So while victims suffered regularly, crime was punished because it represented a threat to order which government needed in place to benefit and function. Without order, no one would follow laws, pay taxes, or support major efforts the government wanted.
Today, government still acts very much the same. There are considerable efforts and resources thrown into the criminal justice system annually to pay for law enforcement, investigation, crime prevention, the court system and corrections. All of these elements maintain and support the order needed to keep the government in place and functioning as deemed proper. However, unlike the old days, victims actually do have support mechanisms available today that they can fall back on beyond just family support and their own wits.
Victims Support Resources Today
All law enforcement agencies in the U.K. are trained to provide immediate guidance, support and advice to victims and witnesses of crimes. This includes helping both types of persons report crimes, collect information, and press charges with success. However, law enforcement officials are limited in their capacity. They cannot go into the realm of counseling and followup support for recovery. As a result, they will often refer victims to other agencies and charities for ongoing support.
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) is one of the government’s programs to help people get back on their feet after being a blameless victim of crime. This program is effective in England, Wales and Scotland, and deals with more than 40,000 claims annually. The program can pay out as much as £200 million a year as well. Ironically, all of this workload is handled by only 300 staff headquartered in Glasgow, Scotland.
The CICA goals within the next three years are the following:
- Increase the speed with which claims are process while still maintaining a fair evaluation of each claim.
- Treat victims with sensitivity and courtesy constantly.
- Educate, train and inform people about the programs services so applicants understand the details involved when possible.
- Work cohesively with other organizations involves such as law enforcement, social programs and similar to reduce delays in help.
- Be accountable to the public for expenses incurred.
- Provide equal access to benefits to all eligible victims.
Noticing is a key aspect of victim recovery and support. Especially where an offender is sentenced to longer than 12 months, a victim in many case wants to know the disposition of the offender and when the person will be released. Unfortunately, retaliation is an all-too-common fact in crimes against a person, particularly in domestic cases. Government notification of status allows a victim to work with law enforcement and be prepared if a prior offender makes any kind of chargeable move towards retaliation. The same program can help stop unwanted attempts by incarcerated offenders to harass victims with phone calls, emails or letters while in prison.
The Youth Justice Board is a government program specifically aimed at providing resources to help teen victims find recovery and restoration after being a victim of a crime. Using Youth Offending Teams, the government applies resources on both sides of the picture, being involved with both victims as well as the youth that are responsible for the crimes in the first place. The current legal code requires law enforcement to refer details of offending youth to local YOTs for follow up as well as victim recovery.
With a staff of 230 headquartered in London, teams affect caseload in Wales and England, with a primary focus on the following:
- Tracking caseload involving youth offenders and overseeing youth justice services.
- Managing the placement of youth who have been remanded into custody.
- Advising the government on the status and needs of youth criminal justice.
- Providing a secure system for youth offenders to be educated, rehabilitated, trained, and secure in a safe environment.
- Developing research on youth offenders and youth crime.
YOTs are also directly responsible for making sure victims are kept up to date on the case status of a related youth offender as well as what intervention was applied in the case. This information is discretionary to the victim, but in many cases it offers a sense of closure and some justice for those harmed.
To teach youth the value of order and what the ramifications are of their criminal actions, victims are allowed the discretion of being involved and engaged in the restorative phases the teen goes through in rehabilitation. Some victims find this approach useful in making clear to an offending teen just how far his or her actions went in effect. Others, however, choose not to be involved at all. Ergo, the program operates by choice for victims. Restorative Justice Programs are also in place for adult offenders, which include counseling and conference sessions to teach offenders why crime impacts so much and these programs are voluntary for victims as well.
Charity and Non-Profit Support
Victim help also comes through a number of charities. Victim Support, for example, is one non-profit organization that is specifically focused on helping victims of crime reestablish their lives and has the endorsement of the national government. The services are free to apply for and can be used by anyone who has been a crime victim. A critical difference in this program is that the crime does not need to have been reported and on file. This can be instrumental for those in domestic situations who have suffered from violence, escaped to safety, but are in fear of retaliation and lack of sufficient response from regular agencies. Further, the non-profit provides help for witnesses as well who may have seen crimes occur and been traumatized by them or the criminal justice process. The public agency process has very little in the way of help for witnesses, particularly mental support, and some crimes can leave lasting impressions that cause nightmares, chronic stress, fear and more.
It’s often the case that witnesses are expected to provide plenty of details, but there is little in the criminal justice system to buffer them from attack. Prosecutions can cross the line into pressuring witnesses to talk a certain way and defense representation will attack any aspect of hostile witness to reduce credibility in court. This leaves a person beat up from both sides just for stating what he or she saw or heard. To make matters worse, the court will stress the witness has to be completely honest or risk being prosecuted as well for perjury. It’s surprising anyone shows up to be a witness voluntarily under all this legal crossfire.
Victim Support also provides a channel for those who want to help victims funnel their support and assistance. It’s often the case that such supporters find themselves rebuffed by public agencies who find amateur help to be distracting or have the potential of getting in the way. So such volunteers are told to leave the work “to the professionals.” This, however, is not a sufficient answer for those who don’t want to just rely on the government to solve problems in their communities. Victim Support provides the means for volunteers to get involved with support services, fundraising, and providing donations to help all types of victims of crime.
RapeCrisis is another notable charity in both England and Wales that supports victims with a specific focus on rape victim support. This organization operates to meet the needs of women and girls who have been physical attacked and sexually assaulted or subjected to sexual violence. The organization also works as an advocate to improve victim services delivered to female rape victims as well as to improve efforts to wipe out sexual violence altogether. Finally, the organization develops and distributes education and training resources for the general public and government to improve understanding rape crimes at the local, regional and national level.
RapeCrisis has three main goals:
- Obtain the best services possible for girls and women victims subjected to sexual violence.
- Build on experience and knowledge to improve its services and advocacy for women victims.
- Reach a cessation of sexual violence and rape in society altogether.
The organization address victims of all types of sexual assault, not just rape per se. This can include victims of forced marriage, rape in marriage, childhood assault, family honor violence, female genital mutilation, ritual abuse, sex exploitation and kidnapping for sex, sexual harassment and general gender-focused abuse.
Victims of crime in the U.K. have a variety of resources to fall back on today, as evidenced by the examples above. However, both government programs and charities providing victims support are ultimately hamstrung by the amount of financial support they receive to keep operating. These levels of funding for services fluctuate with national politics and decisions on funding priorities. As a result, victim advocacy is critical to keep victim support needs on the radar of decision-makers. Otherwise, many victims will be relegated back to the status of the old days, having to rely on themselves or family support for recovery from a crime they were not responsible for.