Australian Institute of Criminology

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Introduction

It is known that a large number of crimes are not reported to police (sexual assault and domestic/family violence are particularly under-reported). However, police are still the first point of contact for many victims of crime and as such, police are in a unique position to provide victims of crime with assistance in the form of referral to a variety of support agencies and services. Referrals to support services are extremely important. Research from the United States indicates that rape survivors who had the assistance of a rape victim advocate had more positive experiences with legal and medical systems than those who did not have an advocate (Campbell 2006).

In the Australian Capital Territory, the Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) and ACT Policing have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that specifies that for all family violence incidents that the police attend, the services of DVCS must be offered to the victim by the attending officers. Even if the victim declines DVCS services, the attending officer, through the police communications area, is required to inform DVCS that they have attended a family violence incident. An MoU also exists between ACT Policing and the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre (CRCC), strengthening existing protocols of referral between the two agencies. This agreement simplifies the process by which victims of sexual assault can gain access to support services.

For other types of crime, ACT Policing are able to access SupportLink, which acts as a central referral point for police victim referrals. SupportLink Systems Pty Ltd is a non-profit organisation that mediates referrals of victims of crime from the police to victim support services via an electronic management system.

While ACT Policing have, in some instances, a mandate for offering a referral to victim services, the extent to which this occurs and how victims perceive the referral service is not currently known. The ‘gaps’, where victims could be referred to victim services but are not, need to be identified and addressed. In addition, it is important to capture information about victims who do not present to police; for example, some victims may prefer to speak only with support services (and data collected by support agencies will reflect those clients with whom they interact), while some victims may choose not to speak with anyone.

Research objectives

The AIC was contracted by ACT Policing and Victim Support ACT to conduct a research project examining the experiences of victim referral for individuals who have been a victim of crime in the Australian Capital Territory. The project has four overarching aims. These are:

  • To examine victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory. This includes their demographics and their recent experiences of crime, police and referral systems in the Australian Capital Territory.
  • To identify current good practice models of referring victims of crime.
  • To identify gaps in the current referral system in the Australian Capital Territory.
  • To identify policy options to enable government to determine strategic directions for achieving better outcomes for victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory.

Methodology

For examining the experiences of individuals who have been a victim of crime in the Australian Capital Territory, the AIC study employed a mixed methods approach that covered several core activities as identified in the Request for Tender released by Victim Support ACT and ACT Policing. These were:

  • develop a statistical description of victims reporting incidents to police within a 12 month period;
  • conduct a survey of a sample of victims who identify their expectations of police and support agencies;
  • undertake stakeholder interviews;
  • examine victim support referral models in Australia and other jurisdictions with a view to determining current best practice; and
  • conduct an environmental scan and gap analysis of victim liaison, and victim support services in the Australian Capital Territory.

Project management group

A project management group was formed and consisted of representatives from Victim Support ACT, ACT Policing and the AIC.

Statistical snapshot of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory

Data on victims are collected by ACT Policing using their Police Realtime Online Management Information System (PROMIS). Operational police enter a range of data about incidents into PROMIS, including limited data specifically about victims. The AIC obtained PROMIS data from PERT in ACT Policing for the 2007–08 financial year, as it provided the most up-to-date information on the personal characteristics of victims and the incidents or offences in which they were involved.

Information collected on victims included:

  • victim type (ie organisation/individual);
  • victim ID (a unique victim code);
  • victim gender;
  • victim age; and
  • victim’s Indigenous status (ie Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, or non-Indigenous).

Data on victims were linked to apprehension data (where available); this enabled information relating to offence or incident to be obtained. Data provided by PERT show:

  • the types of incidents victims are involved in;
  • the victim’s relationship to the offender;
  • the location of the incident;
  • how the offence was cleared (eg arrest, caution or conference);
  • the numbers of incidents victims were involved in over the 12 month period examined (repeat victimisation) and the types of incidents; and
  • whether any victims in the sample were also offenders.

It is not possible to present an analysis of the numbers of charges proceeding to prosecution, as these data are held by the courts rather than ACT Policing.

Online survey of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory

In consultation with members of the Project Management Group, the AIC drafted a range of questions to collect quantitative information on victim demographics, the types of crimes victims were involved with and whether victims reported the most recent instance of victimisation to police. In addition, information was sought on:

  • whether the victim was referred to support services;
  • which service they were referred to;
  • whether they acted on the referral;
  • the ease of the referral process; and
  • whether they had accessed victim services without having been referred by police.

An online version of the survey was developed and piloted by staff at the AIC. Comprehensive feedback was provided by AIC staff and these comments were incorporated into the final survey design. A copy of the survey is provided at Appendix A.

Sampling victims and mode of delivery

In consultation with the Project Management Group, it was agreed that the primary mode of delivery for the survey would be online, hosted on the AIC’s website. In addition, a small number of surveys were mailed to victims of crime known to Victim Support ACT, with reply paid envelopes to ensure anonymity for survey respondents. It was agreed the survey would remain open for a period of one month (May 2009).

The survey was launched online and promoted extensively within the community. Both formal and informal means were used to market the survey to the broadest possible range of people. These included:

  • Advertisement in the Canberra Times (front section) for the first two Saturdays of the survey period.
  • Project flyers were placed in all ACT police stations and at Victim Support ACT.
  • Two articles appeared in the Canberra Chronicle, one in the general section of the newspaper and the other in On the Beat.
  • Several radio interviews were organised for the survey to be promoted on both local commercial and ABC radio.
  • The survey appeared on the front page of the AIC’s external website.
  • The Business Liaison Team within ACT Crime Prevention forwarded the survey to the ACT Chamber of Commerce & Industry and requested that they promote the survey to their members via their email lists and/or their newsletter.
  • The ACT Policing Multicultural Liaison Officer forwarded survey to the following networks—ACT Ethnic Schools Association, ACT Multicultural Council Inc, Adult Migrant Education Program, ANU International Student Support, ANU Security, Canberra Multicultural Communities Forum, Canberra Refugee Support, Companion House, Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services of the ACT Inc, Multicultural Youth Services ACT and University of Canberra International requesting their support and that they promote the survey to their clients; and
  • RiotACT (a Canberra based online forum www.the-riotact.com) placed a free ‘post’ on their discussion board to promote the survey going live.

After the initial month-long data collection period, the number of survey responses was not high enough for meaningful statistical analysis to be undertaken (only 57 valid responses). The survey period was then extended for a further three weeks and the following promotional activities were undertaken:

  • advertisement in the Canberra Chronicle;
  • advertisement on RiotACT;
  • distribution of an email asking for recipients to pass on the email to other Canberra residents and for them to pass it on etc. This email also asked if details of the survey could be placed on staff bulletin boards where appropriate; and
  • survey details were distributed to all members of the ACT Government.

These additional measures had a significant impact and by the end of the additional survey period of three weeks, 149 valid survey responses had been received.

Methodological assumptions

The methodology for sampling was based on advice that it was not possible to access a sample of victims of crime who reported to police because of privacy and confidentiality concerns.

Given that the survey was administered online and was anonymous, it was not possible to ascertain whether respondents were honest in their identification as a victim of crime, or whether the survey was completed multiple times by the same respondent. However, it did appear from the tone of the responses to the open-ended questions that the respondents took the process seriously.

Stakeholder interviews

In 2009, as part of this project, the AIC conducted both face-to-face and telephone interviews with a wide range of government and non-government stakeholders. A full list of agencies interviewed is presented at Appendix B.

Format and length of interviews

Most interviews were semi-structured and were conducted one-on-one; however, two of the interviews involved more than one interviewee. In addition to this, a focus group was conducted with Victim Support ACT.

While interviews ranged in length, most ran for approximately 30 minutes. All interviews were conducted face-to-face and took place at the interviewee’s place of work. Interviewees were informed about the project and assured that they would not be directly quoted or identified. It was explained that their views would only be presented in a general sense and their specific opinions would not be connected to them or identifiable in any way.

Examine victim support referral models in Australia and other jurisdictions with a view to determining current best practice

The focus of this project is on referrals by police to victims support services. The AIC sought information from each Australian jurisdiction relating to their own police referral and victim support mechanisms. This enabled researchers to develop a picture of the current victim support models operating throughout Australia.

In addition, stakeholder interviews were conducted with both victim support services and operational police in a number of jurisdictions. Findings from the interviews were considered alongside findings from the literature review in order to develop an understanding of current good practice in victim referral.

Conduct an environmental scan and gap analysis of victim liaison and victim support services in the Australian Capital Territory

Data were requested from SupportLink on the number of referrals they received from ACT Policing over the past five years. Annual reports of Victim Support ACT were examined to gain a better understanding of the nature and outcomes for referrals they receive from police. In addition, interviews with stakeholders provided an opportunity to explore perceived gaps in existing services.

Report structure

A final in-confidence report was delivered to Victim Support ACT and ACT Policing in December 2009, which identified potential policy options to assist government in determining strategic directions for achieving better outcomes for victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory.

This report presents detailed findings from the in-confidence report. Care has been taken to ensure the individuals or agencies consulted during the research process are not identified in the analysis. The report is divided into six sections as follows:

  • an introductory section that outlines the research objectives and methodology;
  • an overview of relevant background and contextual information, including key findings from the literature;
  • a statistical snapshot of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory, detailing findings from analysis of data provided by ACT Policing and Supportlink;
  • a summary of findings from an online survey of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory;
  • an overview of outcomes of interviews conducted with a range of stakeholders (both government and non-government); and
  • a discussion of key issues that arose from the stakeholder interviews, informed by findings from the literature, analysis of statistics and the online survey.