Australian Institute of Criminology

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Executive summary

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) was contracted by the Australian Federal Police (ACT Policing) and Victim Support ACT to conduct a research project that examines the experiences of victims referred by police to support services and the operation of the referral process in the Australian Capital Territory. The findings of the research were presented to Victim Support ACT and ACT Policing in late 2009 and included a number of policy-focused recommendations to enhance the experiences of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory. The publication of the research findings not only ensures transparency, but it establishes a baseline upon which improvements to policies and programs concerning victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory can be measured.

The tender guidelines for this project specifically outlined several activities that were to be covered in the project. These included:

  • conduct a statistical description of victims reporting incidents to police within a 12 month period;
  • conduct a survey of a sample of victims who identified their expectations of police and support agencies;
  • undertake key person and stakeholder interviews;
  • examine victim support referral models in Australia and other jurisdictions, with a view to determining current best practice;
  • conduct an environmental scan and gap analysis of victim liaison and victim support services in the Australian Capital Territory;
  • identify policy options for victim referral including any cost/resource implications and the identification of possible performance indicators for the options.

This report presents the findings of the research that were presented to ACT Policing and Victim Support ACT in December 2009.

Background and context

The report is divided into five sections. The first section provides an overview of the key findings identified from a review of relevant literature, and existing national/international police referral and victim support services. The research highlights that although crime surveys have shown that the most frequent emotional reaction to crime is anger and annoyance (Mayhew & Reily 2008), victim services in Australia promote their counselling services and responsiveness to trauma as their main strength. In this way, victims of crime are represented as sufferers of trauma and grief; a representation that is directly reflected in the provision of support services, but that may not correspond to all victims’ needs (eg victims of burglary). Furthermore, crime surveys indicate that a significant number of victims require additional support following victimisation and often this relates to practical needs such as information or advice relating to their experience.

While international crime victimisation surveys have shown that more than 60 percent of victims who reported to police were positive about the treatment they received (Van Dijk & del Frate 2004), studies examining the support received by victims indicate a gap in support from specialised agencies. Studies show that a significant proportion of victims receive limited or no support or advice from specialist victim support agencies. In fact, evidence shows that only a minority of victims receive help from a specialised agency (Ingram 2002; Ringham & Salisbury 2004). In Australia, only six percent of victims receive support; this is compared with New Zealand (24%), Scotland (22%), Northern Ireland (21%), England and Wales (17%) and the United States (16%). This can partly be explained by the perception of some victims that they do not require support (Van Dijk, Van Kesteren & Smit 2008).

A review of existing national and international police referral and victim support mechanisms provides the background for a discussion about best-practice approaches to victim referral and support. Three key points are highlighted:

  • Police must have a relationship with support services and knowledge of the services they provide.
  • Referral processes must be clearly outlined.
  • Using ‘needs’ as a basis for service provision is inadequate (Mawby & Gill 1987). Instead, support should be a ‘right’ for victims of all crime.

Victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory

The second and third sections provide a statistical snapshot of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory and an overview of a survey of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory, respectively. The Performance, Evaluation and Review team (PERT) within ACT Policing provided data relating to reported crime from the financial year 2007–08. Key points identified from analysis of the data indicate that during the reporting period:

  • There were 26,018 victims of crime.
  • Individuals were most likely to report being a victim of a theft (43%).
  • More serious crimes (homicide, assault, sexual offences, other offences against the person and robbery) comprise less than 10 percent of reported offences.
  • Men are more likely than women to be a victim of crime for all crime types except sexual assault.
  • The largest category of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory was aged between 21 and 30 years (19%).
  • Approximately 30 percent of the sample was a victim of crime on more than one occasion during the period.
  • Supportlink received 5,799 individual referrals.
  • 4,533 referrals resulted in a support service accepting the referral.

The online survey of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory produced a number of interesting results. Here, it must be noted that the relatively small sample size does not provide a comprehensive representation of the larger victims of crime population. Despite this, survey results showed:

  • Respondents were generally satisfied with the initial behaviour of police, but were less satisfied with police follow up of their case.
  • Only one in five respondents reported being referred to victim services by police.
  • Practical help, information about being a victim of crime and assistance with navigating through the criminal justice system were identified as being the most sought after services requested by victims.
  • Most respondents who had contact with victim services were satisfied with the service provided.
  • Eighty percent of victims indicated that they should be asked by police before being referred to a victim support service.

Stakeholder interviews

The fourth section of the report summarises findings from a series of interviews conducted with police, government and non-government stakeholders. Interviews were conducted with range of key stakeholders; a list of the agencies consulted is available at Appendix B.

From the interviews conducted with stakeholders, nine key issues were identified as requiring further attention. These include:

  • There is a lack of consistency surrounding how police communicate information to victims of crime.
  • There are currently no ACT Policing guidelines outlining when it is appropriate to offer a referral to victim support services.
  • Males are more likely to be a victim of crime than females; however, they are less likely to seek help and possibly to be offered help.
  • Victim Liaison Officers (VLOs) have limited resources and this has an impact on the work the work they are able to undertake.
  • The feedback mechanisms from victim support services in the Australian Capital Territory to ACT Policing are weak.
  • The needs of victims of robbery, burglary, non-family violence, stalking and cyber-crimes, and families of victims of road fatalities are not well understood and may not be met by the current victim support services.
  • There is sometimes confusion about which agency is the case coordinator in cases of victims of serious crime.
  • Information exchange between the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP), victim support agencies and ACT Policing has been identified as being a weakness that should be explored further.
  • There is a lack of understanding at the community level about the services each agency can provide.

Discussion of issues and conclusions

The findings of the research suggest that the current victim referral process by police in the Australian Capital Territory has evolved to become an operationally collaborative and well-received service. While international research suggests that Australia has a very low rate of victims who access victim services when compared with other developed countries, analysis of ACT statistics demonstrates that the number of referrals made in the Australian Capital Territory is significantly higher than the national rate outlined in the literature examined.

However, it is clear that there is a need for clarification or expansion around some policies and procedures. Based on the issues outlined above, a number of policy-focused recommendations were developed, which are discussed in the penultimate section of the report:

  • The contents of the Are You a Victim of Crime? booklet should be reviewed by a sample of victims and an electronic copy should be made available on the internet to improve accessibility.
  • ACT Policing should consider instructing police officers to hand the booklet out to every victim of crime they come in contact with.
  • ACT Policing should consider establishing guidelines outlining who should be offered a referral and when it is appropriate for police officers to offer a victim a referral through SupportLink. ACT Policing should initiate training on these guidelines.
  • Data related to victims’ acceptance of offers of referral by the police should be collected in order to assist in understanding the experiences of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory.
  • It is suggested that strategic feedback be sought and provided to police from SupportLink and that ACT Policing and Victim Support ACT give consideration to the conduct of a roundtable to identify how the experiences of victims post-referral could be fed back to ACT Policing for dissemination to police officers and the executive.
  • A formal review of Supportlink is recommended.
  • It is recommended that Victim Support ACT examine the needs of victims of robbery, burglary, non-family violence stalking and cyber-crimes, and families of victims of road fatalities, with a view to better understanding the needs of these victims and expanding and targeting services for them.
  • Where it is likely a victim is going to be offered access to a range of support options for the criminal justice process, protocols should be established to enable the victim to make a clear choice of which agency should be the point of contact.
  • It is recommended that the DPP, ACT Policing and victim service representatives conduct a roundtable to discuss improved information exchange and specific information requirements to ensure victims are well supported.
  • It is recommended that Victim Support ACT review information on the most effective ways to communicate with the community, with a view to undertaking a multi-stage advertising campaign on behalf of the victim support agencies in the Australian Capital Territory. This will assist the ACT community in understanding the services that various agencies are able to provide.

Since the research was conducted, there have been a number of noteworthy improvements made to the victim support services and police referral processes in the Australian Capital Territory, some of which responded directly to the recommendations made by the AIC. The publication of the findings of the research not only ensures transparency, but it establishes a baseline upon which improvements to policies and programs concerning victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory can be measured. Specifically, the report remains an important reference point to guide the work of Victim Support ACT and ACT Policing in developing an agreed partnership to enable victims of crime to access services.