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Background and context

A central component of the research was a review of both Australian and international literature that examined the treatment and support needs of victims of crime. In addition, a review of victim support models in Australia and internationally was undertaken and potential best practice approaches were identified. This component of the research plays an important role in contextualising the ACT Victims of Crime Referral program. It should be noted that this review of literature was conducted as part of the original research and includes an overview of literature published up until the end of 2009. This relates also to the overview of existing victim support services and police referral mechanisms that follows. Changes that occurred after 2009 have not been incorporated in the report, but have been addressed in the Foreword.

Key findings from literature

The advent of the ‘victim’s movement’ emphasised the importance of victim’s rights in addressing crime. The emphasis of victims’ rights in national and international legislation, policies and charters reflects the ideological concepts underlying the victim’s movement. Key performance indicators for the effectiveness of these measures include the proportion of victims reporting to the police, the proportion of victims satisfied with police treatment and the proportion of victims receiving support from specialised agencies (Van Dijk 2006). Research tools such as crime surveys assist in generating this information.

The provision of support to victims of crime is a major point of contention, with debates surrounding ‘what’ to provide and ‘how’ it should be provided. As such, the range of support services, victims’ needs and the organisational elements of support service provision vary both within and between countries. What most participants in this debate seem to agree on is the early deliverance of support. As police officers are often the first point of contact for victims of crime, they have been described as the ‘gatekeepers’ to victim assistance and support. However, their role in referring victims to support services remains ambiguous and ill-defined. A review of the literature on this issue illustrates conflicting ideas about what victims need, a variance in the existing victim service and police referral models both internationally and nationally, and potential best practice models of victim service provision and police referral mechanisms.

Effects of crime: Victims’ needs

It is important that the support provided by both the police and victim support agencies corresponds to the needs of victims. A large proportion of reported crimes involve burglary or theft, yet victim services in Australia somewhat disproportionately cater to victims of violent crimes (ie domestic violence and homicide). Rock (2006) observes that this focus on victims of violent crime reflects the fact that the majority of victim services in Australia were originally established by families of homicide victims, and female victims of domestic violence and rape. For instance, the victims’ movement, especially in Australia, was greatly driven by the advocacy of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence within feminist literature, hence the women’s movement was greatly intertwined with the victims’ movement in the early 1980s (LRC NSW 1996; Rock 2006). This ideological background has therefore manifested itself in the way victim support schemes prioritise their services.

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 most victims’ needs (eg victims of burglary).

Reporting crime to police

Data from the International Crime Victimisation Survey (ICVS) showed that in Western Europe, North America and Australia, more than 60 percent of victims who reported to police were positive about the treatment they received (Van Dijk & del Frate 2004). A correlation between the levels of satisfaction with police and the rates of reporting for the various types of crime was also observed in the study (Van Dijk & del Frate 2004). A particularly high correlation was observed for assault/threat (r=0.47; n=47). Reasons for not reporting a crime to the police usually include having dealt with the matter themselves, or feeling that the matter was too trivial to report (Mayhew & Reily 2008).

Generally, studies show that a majority of victims are satisfied with the conduct and support provided by police (Ringham & Salisbury 2004; Shapland, Willmore & Duff 1985), with only a small number claiming that their perception of the police prevented them from reporting an incident (Mayhew & Reily 2008).

Victims’ reaction to crime

The emotional reaction of an individual to the experience of being a victim of crime is often used as a measure of the overall effect of crimes on victims and therefore as an indicator for the types of services they might require. The trauma associated with being the victim of certain types of crime—particularly violent or sexual crime—is likely to be significantly greater than other types of crime and therefore may warrant referral to particular services. However, in other cases, reactions can vary as a function of incident type and by individuals. In these cases, caution should be taken in assuming individuals’ reaction to a crime and the need for particular services is dependent on the severity of the offence, as analyses show that the characteristics of an offence do not solely determine the effect on the victim (Lamet & Wittebrood 2009). Moreover, it is individuals with physical and social vulnerabilities who more often experience emotional problems (Lamet & Wittebrood 2009) and factors such as age and socioeconomic background may account for variation in vulnerability. As such, the needs of a victim of crime can vary depending on an individual’s pre-existing coping mechanisms and the nature of the crime itself. Australian victim support websites list the following as the emotional reactions that victims of crime can expect to experience (Government of South Australia 2001: np):

  • emptiness or numbness;
  • fear or anxiety;
  • sadness or depression;
  • guilt, shame or dirtiness;
  • anger or irrationality;
  • grief;
  • loss of privacy and control; and
  • panic and confusion.

However, crime surveys convey a pattern of reactions less skewed towards the extreme. Victims of burglary reported feeling more angry, rather than fearful or scared (Victim Support 2005). Over half of respondents to the survey conducted by Victim Support in South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Sussex (n=545) reported having difficulty sleeping after the incident, with 35 percent reporting experiencing some form of depression or anxiety.

The New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey (NZCASS) (Mayhew & Reily 2006) reported the following as the surveyed victims’ emotional reactions to different types of crime:

  • anger/annoyance (81%);
  • depression (16%);
  • crying/tears (16%);
  • anxiety/panic attacks (11%);
  • shock (30%)
  • fear (24%); and
  • shame/guilt (10%).

In breaking down these emotional reactions by offence type, a similar pattern emerges; 73 percent of victims of confrontational offences, 87 percent of victims of burglary and motor vehicle thefts, and 83 percent of victims of damage and other thefts reported anger and annoyance as their primary emotional reaction. Victims of confrontational offences tend to report feelings of shock (41%), fear (38%), crying/tears (30%), anxiety/panic attacks (18%) and depression (25%) more than victims of the other two categories of offences.

The findings from the 2000 Scottish Crime Survey (SCS) (Ingram 2002) are congruent with the findings from the NZCASS. In the SCS study, emotional reactions were categorised into only emotions of anger and irritation, other emotions indicating a level of anxiety, or no emotion. The following are the emotional reactions felt by victims of all offences at the time of the incident:

  • 40 percent reported no emotion;
  • 27 percent reported anger/irritation only; and
  • 33 percent reported signs of anxiety.

Victims of personal offences showed a higher prevalence of signs of anxiety (40%) than victims of household theft (27%) and vandalism (29%). A smaller percentage of victims of personal offences reported feeling anger/irritation only (19%) compared with victims of household theft (28%) and vandalism (37%). Overall, the effects of crime are pervasive and can be persistent. Consistently, studies have shown that all types of crime can cause distress, causing an emotional reaction that can continue over a significant length of time (Norris, Kaniasty & Thompson 1997; Shapland, Willmore & Duff 1985).

Support needed

The support required by victims of crime, like their reactions, varied according to the type of crime. Studies show that there is frequently a discrepancy between the support needed and the support provided. NZCASS found that a significant proportion of victims required further assistance in addition to that provided (13%; n=425; Mayhew & Reily 2008). Out of this group, the most popular forms of support needed were:

  • more information/feedback from the police (32%);
  • emotional support (31%);
  • someone to talk to (28%);
  • someone to explain what was happening (26%);
  • counselling (22%); and
  • advice on how to keep safe (22%).

These figures are reflected in the findings from the 2002–03 British Crime Survey (BCS) (Ringham & Salisbury 2004). As with NZCASS, the BCS involved a large sample size (n=11,832) and included both reported and unreported incidents. The most popular forms of advice or support wanted were information from the police (11% of incidents), protection from further victimisation (8%) and moral support or someone to talk to (7%).

In terms of practical problems resulting from crime, personal offences were least likely to inconvenience the victim (Ingram 2002). However, the SCS found that half of all incidents of household theft (50%) and vandalism (54%) caused practical problems and general inconvenience rather than emotional problems as such. These problems included the time or inconvenience involved in repairing or replacing items, inconvenience because of loss or damage to a vehicle or other item, and the worry and the loss of sleep (Ingram 2002). Similarly, data from the ICVS indicated that the gap between the supply and the demand for victim support was largest for burglary victims (Van Dijk, Van Kesteren & Smit 2008). It was identified that victims of burglary required a range of practical support services, including information from the police about case progress and advice on how to improve security, and someone to talk to (Victim Support 2005).

For victims of violent crimes, it is frequently assumed that what is most needed is emotional and psychological support. However, an American study on female victims of violent crime indicated that practical support, such as the provision of daycare, housing, education, food and job training was regarded as being more helpful than the provision of emotional support from family and friends, professional counselling, medication, and support from self-help groups and medical providers (Postmus et al. 2009). It is important to note that emotional support was not regarded as unhelpful, but rather that it was not as relevant to the practical needs of the victim. This result may reflect a misdirected emphasis on the provision of services to victims of violent crimes.

A study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice in the United States concluded that service providers often fail to adequately address the more concrete/tangible needs of victims, focusing instead on providing emotional/psychological support (Newmark 2004). In addition, an Australian qualitative study suggested that the three most important aspects of providing support services for victims of domestic violence were that they remain free, anonymous and flexible, with the added component that that they address the longer term effects of the crime, as well as providing immediate crisis support (Nelson & Spalding 2009).

Support received

Sources of support can include the police, victim services and the victim’s social network. Factors that can influence whether or not a victim of crime receives support include whether the incident is reported to the police, the nature of the crime and the vulnerability of the victim. Studies show that a significant proportion of victims receive limited or no support or advice from specialist victim support agencies. This is partly due to some victims who believe that they do not need support (Mayhew & Reily 2008; Ringham & Salisbury 2004).

Other evidence shows that only a minority of victims receive help from a specialised agency (Ingram 2002; Ringham & Salisbury 2004). In 2005, only nine percent of victims of burglary with entry, robbery, sexual incidents and threats, and assaults who participated in the ICVS reported receiving support (Van Dijk, Van Kesteren & Smit 2008). Labeled as the ‘coverage rate’ of victim support, the highest rates were observed in:

  • New Zealand (24%);
  • Scotland (22%);
  • Northern Ireland (21%);
  • England and Wales (17%); and
  • United States (16%).

South Africa/Johannesburg, Netherlands, Canada, Hong Kong, Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Norway all had coverage rates between 10–15 percent. Australia had a low coverage rate of just six percent.

The SCS and BCS looked at victims who had received support from the Victim Support Scheme. Only three percent of victims participating in the SCS said they had asked for or received an offer of help from the Victim Support Scheme. In the BCS, it was found that only three percent of all incidents resulted in some contact with Victim Support, with eight percent of reported incidents resulting in contact with Victim Support. The Victim Support Scheme remains the largest victim support network in the United Kingdom. At the time the BCS was administered, it was linked to the police service through a referral process as outlined in the Victims Charter (Ringham & Salisbury 2004).

In the ICVS, participants who did not receive support were asked whether they wanted support. The ‘take-up rates’ of those participating in the ICVS were then measured as the proportion of those who received support out of the total who wanted support (this includes those who received support, plus those who did not receive but wanted support; Van Dijk, Van Kesteren & Smit 2008). In the 2004–05 survey, the countries with the highest take-up rates were:

  • New Zealand (47%);
  • United Kingdom—Scotland (40%);
  • England and Wales (31%); and
  • Austria (38%).

The Netherlands, Canada, Japan, the United States, Belgium and Denmark all had take-up rates of between 25–40 percent; Australia had a low take-up rate of 18 percent.

The advantage of the BSC is that it asked participants what type of support they wanted and received. A breakdown of the information from the BSC shows how many victims received support by the type of support they wanted (Ringham & Salisbury 2004). The largest proportion reported that they received support in the form of someone to talk to (5%) and/or information from the police (3%), with 89 percent of incidents receiving no support or advice. Of those who wanted information from the police, only 19 percent reported receiving it and of those who wanted protection from further victimisation, only 13 percent received it. A larger proportion received moral support/someone to talk to (48%; of those who wanted it). This may simply reflect the fact that this type of support depends more on the actions of the victim and less on the actions of external forces (ie the police and victim service agencies).

Summary

The findings of these surveys convey a fairly consistent pattern of emotional reactions to crime and their subsequent support needs. Essentially, what develops out of the literature is a picture of victims of crime as a heterogeneous group, with responses varying mainly around incident-type, with vulnerability and resilience factors accounting for variation between individuals. Those who are a victim of theft or burglary experience significant inconvenience and anger. In these cases, information from the police and addressing the threat of re-victimisation are highlighted as essential components of victim support models. Victims of personal crime, such as assault, usually experience more extreme emotional reactions, which may require support centred on counselling and having someone to talk to.

Existing victim service and police referral models

The UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, passed in 1985, was a significant step towards recognising the rights of victims of crime in a global context. The Declaration refers to access to justice and fair treatment, responsiveness of judicial and administrative processes to the needs of victims, and restitution and compensation (Ehrenberg et al. 2008). The UN subsequently called on all member states to incorporate the principles inherent in the Declaration into their domestic laws and practices (Ehrenberg et al. 2008).

In 1996, the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice adopted a resolution to develop a manual on the application and implementation of the Declaration (UNODCCP 1999). The subsequent Handbook on Justice for Victims was designed to be used as a tool for ‘implementing victim service programmes and for implementing victim-sensitive policies, procedures and protocols for criminal justice agencies...’ (UNODCCP 1999: iv). In reference to the roles and responsibilities of the police, it states that they should provide victims with ‘information regarding their rights and with referrals to services that will help them to heal’ (UNODCCP 1999: 57). The Handbook also highlights the ability to refer victims to the appropriate support groups as a key outcome of police training (UNODCCP 1999). What follows is an overview of some international examples taken from the findings of this component of the research.

International examples

Britain

The British victim support scheme was developed from a pilot program established by the Bristol Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Mawby & Gill 1987). Their aim was to create an independent organisation that provided immediate crisis support for victims and was supported by statutory agencies such as the police and probation. Similar schemes appeared throughout the country and in 1979, the National Association of Victims Support Schemes (now known as Victim Support) was formed (Mawby & Gill 1987). Primarily a volunteer-based scheme, it was not until 1986 that the National Association of Victims Support Schemes received funding from the government (Mawby & Gill 1987). Initially a temporary grant, funding was expanded to support full-time coordinators in 1987 (House of Commons 1987). Up until this point, it was considered that all necessary funds should be raised locally (Mawby & Gill 1987).

The Victims Charter 1996 sets out 27 standards of service that victims of crime or their families can expect to receive from criminal justice agencies. These expectations include the offering of emotional and practical support. While the Charter attempted to standardise the police referral process to Victim Support, it had no legal basis. This changed following a review of the Charter and the subsequent publication of the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in October 2005, which became law on April 2006 (Home Office 2009). For the first time, victims’ rights were given a statutory basis.

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (OCJR 2005) stipulates that all police officers in England and Wales are required by law to ensure that, no later than five working days after an allegation of a crime is made, the victim must be provided with information about and the contact details of local support services. This information can be provided via the Victims of Crime leaflet or by ensuring that the victim can access the information in another format such as via the internet. The Code also verifies that, with the explicit knowledge of the victim, the police will pass on their details to the relevant Victim Support Group. Victim Support aims to subsequently contact the victim within four working days of the reporting of the crime to offer their services (Home Office 2009).

New procedures were introduced on 24 October 2001 to address the need for compliance with the Data Protection Principles and other relevant legislation. These new procedures require police to provide victims with a genuine opportunity to consent to their details being passed on to Victim Support. It also requires Victim Support to ensure that arrangements for processing any data adhere to Data Protection Principles.

New Zealand

In 1990, a national coordinating body, the New Zealand Council of Victim Support Groups (also known as Victim Support), was formed from the various local victim support groups (Victim Support nd). This victim service model differs from Britain’s in three major ways

victim support services are located in local police stations; they have full access to local police victim records; [and] the police provide full logistical support to their local Victim Support Group (Outtrim 1999: 3).

Victim Support provides assistance to victims of crime, accident and emergency.

The Victim of Offences Act 1987, replaced by the Victims Right Act 2002, stipulates the standards of service that victims of crime and family members of victims of crime can expect to receive from specified agencies. These specified agencies include police, Department of Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS), Department for Courts, Department of Work and Income, District Health Boards, and Accident Compensation Corporation. The Act operates under the general principles that:

Any person who deals with a victim (for example, a judicial officer, lawyer, member of court staff, Police employee, or other official) should—(a) treat the victim with courtesy and compassion; and (b) respect the victim’s dignity and privacy (Victims’ Rights Act 2002 s 7).

and

A victim or member of a victim’s family who has welfare, health, counselling, medical, or legal needs arising from the offence should have access to services that are responsive to those needs (s 8).

With regard to victim’s rights to information, the Victims’ Rights Act 2008 states:

A victim must, as soon as practicable after the victim comes into contact with an agency, be given information by the personnel of the agency about programmes, remedies, or services available to the victim through the agency (s 11(1)).

These standards exist as mandatory obligations to which the respective agencies can be held accountable. However, the Act itself imposes no explicit sanctions for the failure of agencies to uphold these obligations, although processes for complaints are outlined.

Europe

Victim assistance services have developed inconsistently across Europe. The formation of the European Forum for Victim Services in 1990 (now Victim Support Europe) and the binding of EU member states to the Framework Decision on the standing of victims in criminal proceedings in 2001 are two major steps taken to address this inconsistency.

Victim Support Europe aims to:

  • promote the development of effective services for victims of crime throughout Europe;
  • promote fair and equal compensation for victims of crime in Europe, regardless of the nationality of the victim;
  • promote the rights of victims of crime in Europe in their involvement in the criminal justice system and with other agencies; and
  • exchange experience and information between member organisations to share best practices and knowledge (Victim Support Europe nd: np).

The Framework Decision was a landmark step in establishing the rights of victims, as it provides a set of minimum standards for victims that are binding on EU member states. Most of the provisions in the Framework Decision came into force on 22 March 2002 (Victim Support 2002). The Framework Decision provides victims with the rights to:

  • justice and compensation in criminal proceedings, including legal costs and expenses;
  • information; and
  • protection (Victim Support 2002: 4).

In addition, victims are given the right to ‘understand and be understood’ and

  • have allowance made for the disadvantages of living in a different member state from the one in which the crime was committed (Victim Support 2002: 4).

United States

Victim services were established from two areas in the United States—the criminal justice department and community victim advocacy groups. Therefore, the difference between victim assistance services (which are associated with helping the victim through the criminal justice system) and the more advocacy-based victim support services is more pronounced in the United States. In countries such as Australia and Britain, the divide between the two types of victim services is less distinctive, with a majority of victim services advocating for victims’ rights to practical and emotional support, in addition to guiding the victim through the criminal justice system.

The formation of the National Organization for Victim Assistance in 1975 helped consolidate victim assistance programs in advocating for victim’s rights. The National Organization for Victim Assistance is without a global equivalent in terms of the diversity of the programs that fall under its organisation. The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (a federal agency) began funding victim support initiatives in the seventies (Mawby 2003; Roberts 1990). With the demise of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in the 1980s, federal grants to victim assistance programs declined, causing certain services to be discontinued (Roberts 1990; Young 1997). With the enactment of the Victims of Crime Act in 1984, a Crime Victims Fund was established based on the collection of fines from federal criminals to be used to support state compensation and local victim assistance programs (Young 1997).

A survey conducted by Roberts (1990) on victim and witness assistance programs revealed that most services surveyed were based within government agencies. Of these, a significant proportion were court-based services for witnesses or victims and these were based in prosecutor departments, with seven percent based in police departments, four percent in probation departments and only three percent independent (Mawby 2003). Roberts’ (1990) survey also revealed that the most frequent source of referral to victim and witness assistance programs was from the police department. The second most frequent source of referrals came from the district attorney’s office/assistant prosecutor and the third most frequent source was from social service agencies (Roberts 1990).

Recent initiatives, such as the Victim Services in Rural Enforcement Program and the Austin Police Department’s Victim Services Division, reflect the growing trend in strengthening the relationship between the police department and victim support services. The Victim Services in the Rural Enforcement Program involved 10 rural pilot sites setting up a

helpful and sensitive initial law enforcement response to crime victims and follow-up assistance designed to promote victim recovery and participation in the criminal justice process’ (Littel 2009: np).

The Austin Police Department’s Victim Services Division is a specialised unit set up within the police department that is designed to deliver fast responses to victim’s needs after a crime has been reported. The Division’s counsellors aim to deliver a mix of counselling and practical advice to victims (Parker 2001).

Australia

At the time this research was conducted, there were limited examples of police referral mechanisms for victims of crime operating in Australian jurisdictions. Some Australian jurisdictions had established a system of victim referral to police, or an arrangement between victim support services and police, although the systems varied between jurisdictions. It is important to note that some jurisdictions have since introduced automated victim referral systems among other notable changes; this is addressed in the Foreword of this report.

Further, despite a lack of referral mechanisms in existence at the time of the research, a dramatic transfer of focus to victims’ rights occurred across most jurisdictions in the years preceding this, as reflected in the formation of Acts and Charters that established minimum standards that victims of crime and family members could expect from criminal justice agencies. At the time of writing the report in 2009, variance across jurisdictions was primarily seen in relation to the strategies police employed to uphold these legislated rights and principles, of which referral mechanisms and processes are but a part of the larger picture.

One of the more prominent programs, which was in operation at the time the research was conducted and continues to operate today, is the electronic referral system established in the Australian Capital Territory by SupportLink. Support Link is a not-for-profit organisation that operates as a referral mediator between the police and victim assistance services. A summary of victim support in the Australian Capital Territory is provided below.

Australian Capital Territory

Victim Support ACT is described as ‘the ACT government’s integrated support and advocacy program for victims of crime’ (VoCC 2008a: 4). The agency sits within the Justice and Community Safety Directorate and administers a wide range of services and programs for victims of crime and their families, including the Victims’ Services Scheme and Justice Advocacy Program.

At the time this research was conducted, the agency supported the independent statutory positions of Victims of Crime Coordinator (VoCC) and Domestic Violence Project Coordinator. Since then, the position of Victims of Crime Commissioner was established under amendments to the Victims of Crime Act 1994. This role includes, but is not limited to, ensuring that ‘victims receive the information and assistance they need in connection with their involvement in the administration of justice’ (s 11(i)). In a review of the operation of the Victims of Crime Act 1994 within the Australian Capital Territory, it was acknowledged that there was an absence of systematic means employed by agencies involved in the administration of justice in the Australian Capital Territory in upholding their obligations to crime victims in regards to the provision of information (VoCC 2008b). In addition, the review revealed that the majority of complaints in relation to the actions of police were about the lack of case status information supplied and ‘inadequate or non-existent feedback’ (VoCC 2008b: 68).

In July 2008, a survey was conducted by the VoCC on victims of crime who had reported to police and those who had sought help at Victim Support ACT. The aim of the survey was to ascertain the degree to which the criminal justice agencies were implementing the principles set out in the Victims of Crime Act 1994 that govern the treatment of victims of crime. The governing principles under the Act do not directly address the provision of services to victims. However, the survey did ask respondents whether they had received information from ACT Policing about services that assist and support victims of crime. Of the responses provided, 41 percent responded with ‘yes, every time’, 21 percent said ‘yes, once or twice’ and only four percent did not receive information about support services (VoCC 2008a). ACT Policing’s Crime Prevention Unit has two VLOs who are mandated to assist ACT Policing in adhering to the governing principles inherent in the Act (Wilson & Segrave 2008).

At the time this research was conducted in 2009, the Australian Capital Territory was one of the few jurisdictions where a police referral mechanism for victims of crime had been developed. SupportLink Systems Pty Ltd is an early intervention system that links police, schools and doctors to the social support sector (Campbell 2002). SupportLink is the provider of the netPol Referral Management System, which is an online electronic tool used to streamline the referral process for police. Acting as an intermediary, SupportLink assesses the range of services that can assist the victim; a process that is based on a combination of personal contact with the victim as well as information provided by the police (Campbell 2002).

Conclusion: A best-practice approach

Overall, the literature describes victims of crime as a largely heterogeneous group with needs that vary in nature and across time. This creates difficulties for police in deciding who needs what support and for how long. In addition, a gap exists in the research on assessment tools for victims of crime in general, exemplifying the challenge in appropriately screening and referring victims of crime to the appropriate services. This challenge is directly reflected in the varying strategies employed by police in order to meet the legislative requirements for the provision of information and access to services for victims of crime. These strategies vary in their degree of formality and statutory basis. Victim Support Australasia has provided a position paper delineating possible mechanisms of police referral (VSA 1998). Two main options are presented:

  • the automatic transfer of victim contact details to an appropriate and authorised victim support provider; or
  • a police victim liaison person making the contact for referral based on consent (VSA 1998).

Therefore, two key elements are revealed in establishing best practice principles for police referral mechanisms for victims of crime and support service provision. First, police must have a constructive relationship with victim service agencies, including a thorough knowledge of the services they provide. Another aspect of this relationship is the freedom of exchange of information. Privacy and confidentiality laws often set limitations on the ability of the police to successfully refer victims to the appropriate services. In Australian jurisdictions, this issue has historically been addressed via signed MoUs, within legislation or more informally through the establishment of a constructive relationship between victim services and police.

Second, there must be a clearly outlined process of referral that maintains objectivity in the provision of services to victims of crime. This refers to the belief that using ‘needs’ as a basis for service provision is inadequate (Mawby & Gill 1987). Basing service provision on victim needs involves assessing what the victim requires, often according to offence-type and other rudimentary characteristics. This approach may bias the supply of services to a certain type of victim and neglect the fact that victims’ needs may vary regardless of offence type.

The implementation of victims’ charters and other relevant legislation are vital steps to ensuring that services are available and accessible by all victims of crime who need and want access.