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Speech - ‘Meeting the needs of victims of crime’ conference, Sydney

Media Release

19 May 2011

THE HON BRENDAN O’CONNOR MP
MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS AND JUSTICE

SPEECH

‘Meeting the needs of victims of crime’ conference, Sydney
Thursday, 19 May 2010

Topics: Supporting victims of crime; Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month; Release of AIC Facts and Figures report

I would firstly like to acknowledge the traditional owners on whose land we meet, and their elders both past and present.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to address this important gathering, and thanks to Dr Adam Tomison, Director Australian Institute of Criminology; Mr Brendan Thomas, Assistant Director General, NSW Department of Attorney General and Justice and Mandy Young, Director of Victim Support in the NSW Department of Attorney General and Justice for organising a conference of this quality and breadth.

The theme of today’s conference, ‘supporting victims of crime’, is both apt and timely. This month is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month, and this week, the AIC releases its 2010 Facts and Figures of Australian Crime monitoring report. Both of these things highlight two things to me.
Firstly, that having an awareness of crime and its impacts on victims and the community more broadly is an often forgotten aspect in the fight against crime.
And secondly, that only by understanding the extent of the problem and the trends of crime over years, can we ensure that we are putting Government funds into the right programs.

All of you in this room that work in the field of victim support do a remarkable job. You help victims and their families through perhaps the most traumatic experience of their life, and this benefits our entire community. 
I would like to particularly acknowledge those here who have survived a serious crime, and have then dedicated themselves to help other survivors. While this morning’s plenary speaker, Dr Ann O’Neil, is one such example, I know there are many other crime survivors here who are doing the same.

Victims of Crime

How we look to assist victims, particularly through the criminal justice process is a complex policy area. Victims don’t just want sympathy – they want recognition for what has occurred, support and redress.
Because as we all know, when a crime is committed against someone, it may be an end point for the criminal, but it can be the traumatic start of a very troubling journey for the victim and the victim’s loved ones.
The Gillard Government has initiatives in place – often in partnership with State Governments, and policing agencies – to prevent crime through education and awareness. Programs such as:

  • The ThinkUKnow initiative, that helps to inform young people about the inherent risks of the online environment;
  • the National Organised Crime Response Plan focuses our jurisdictions on key national threats like money laundering, amphetamine-type stimulants and identity crime that affect all of us in the community; and
  • the National Youth Policing Strategy takes effective community based intervention programs from one state and replicates them in another state. 

And as the Facts and Figures report makes clear, we are having a positive effect with the overall rate of crime in Australia falling across nearly all crime types.
But crime does still occur and the onus on Governments, police services, and courts is to ensure that those who suffer the effects of crime are supported.
For example, at the federal level, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions Witness Assistance Service, like many State based services, provides advice and counselling to victims, as well as support in building victim impact statements, and debriefing victims when legal proceedings end.  It is through these sort of services that the Government can help victims recover.

Support for victims

Another example of where the Government is particularly focused, and where crime (and hence the number of victims) is on the rise, is cyber crime.
Like crime in the real world, the sort of crime that can occur in the online world is diverse but the reaction of victims and the support that they need does not change.

Fraud committed through the cyber world is increasing as more and more people make use of the Internet because of the ease it offers in our everyday lives. Like fraud committed elsewhere, people who have been adversely affected by an online fraud can be embarrassed, and may feel reticent about reporting their loss to the authorities.

I recently told another forum about a trip I did to Boston in 2005. During the visit I got to talking to the proprietor of the bed and breakfast where I was staying. He was a good, well educated man – but he confided to me that he had been a victim of a Nigerian-type scam, known as an advance fee fraud. He had lost thousands of dollars. He had confided in me but had been too embarrassed to report the crime. It got me wondering. How could such an intelligent person get embroiled in such a scam? And why would he confide such a loss with a total stranger?
A recent study undertaken by the Australian Institute of Criminology in conjunction with Victoria Police and the University of Melbourne involved surveying a sample of potential Nigerian scam victims supplied by Victoria Police and AUSTRAC. These victims had sent money to Nigeria in the 12 month period from 1 April 2007 and 31 March 2008.

More than one-third of victims in the study had been exposed to dating/relationship scams, while the remainder became victims of online transaction scams (employment, charity etc) or other advance fee fraud scams.
Victims reported experiences of financial hardship and emotional trauma as a result of being victimised, as well as a loss of confidence in other people. A smaller group of victims (12%) said their victimisation had caused marital/relationship problems.
Many of those surveyed, like the B&B owner in Boston, felt too embarrassed to report the crime. Others believed that the police could do nothing to retrieve their money, or were scared of recrimination if they did report the crime.

The Federal Government is working with police and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to publicly highlight the dangers of what can be seemingly innocent emails and SMS messages but which are really bait for the unguarded – this is part of the government’s crime prevention role. We are also working hard to identify the organised crime operators who are behind these scams, to investigate and prosecute them – and this is part of the Government’s support and method of redress for victims.

This two-pronged approach underscores the Federal Government’s role in the criminal justice system and how it can be applied most effectively.
To take a very different example of how the Government is seeking to support victims I’d like to touch briefly on domestic violence. As I said earlier, May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month. The 2010 Facts and Figures report states that 49 per cent of females who were victims of an assault, were victims in their own home. 

That level of assault presents a cumulative challenge for justice and health professionals as the reverberations of the trauma move through the community.
The Commonwealth is working with the States to improve laws to protect those at risk of domestic or family violence.
An agreement was signed at the Standing Committee of Attorneys General in April 2011 to strengthen the rights of victims of domestic violence. This agreement commits all states and the Commonwealth to move towards a national scheme for domestic and family violence orders.
This will greatly improve the level of protection for victims of domestic violence and delivers a key commitment in the Council of Australian Government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010   2022.
We are also developing model automatic recognition legislation to put in place information-sharing to support police and courts in implementing the National Scheme.

This will allow victims of domestic violence to be able to travel or move to another jurisdiction and be automatically protected by their court-issued DVO, without the requirement to register their DVO with a court in the other jurisdiction. 
Together with the Attorney General, Robert McClelland and the Minister for Families, Jenny Macklin, we will continue to consider options for better policy to support those who have borne the brunt of domestic violence, assault, and other crimes.

Research into the experiences and long term effects for victims has a relatively brief history, becoming a formal discipline in the 1970’s. Governments and academics have learnt a lot over the past 40 years, but I have no doubt we have more to learn.
The Gillard Government takes its role in the criminal justice system seriously – be it helping to inform and educate the public about the risks of crime; supporting our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to investigate crime; or supporting our prosecution services to provide redress through the conviction of criminals for their offences.
But it is a cyclical world – what we do to understand the extent of a crime impacts on how we respond to it. And victims having a voice in that cycle is critical to finding effective solutions and redress.

So I commend this gathering. It’s important in helping inform Government about victims needs, and in refining the support services that victims need.

Thank you.