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Discussion of key issues and policy recommendations

A number of issues relating to the ACT victims of crime referral and support mechanisms were identified through interviews with stakeholders. While these were mentioned above, this section presents each of the issues and discusses them in further detail, highlighting possible policy options and performance indicators for each option where applicable.

How police communicate information to victims of crime

There is an apparent lack of consistency regarding the information that is passed on to victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory. The AFP currently produces a booklet titled Are You a Victim of Crime? This booklet is small, easily accessible and provides a good range of information for victims, including a detailed list of contact numbers for support services. At the time the research was conducted, this booklet was being updated by the Crime Prevention Unit of ACT Policing.

While the booklet is believed to be a useful reference tool for victims, questions arise as to whether the booklet is appreciated and fully understood by those who receive it, particularly those with vulnerabilities, such as people with intellectual disabilities and/or victims who are mentally ill. It would be beneficial for the contents of the booklet to be reviewed by a sample of victims. As part of the review process, it would also be important to gain the input of Victim Support ACT, DVCS and CRCC to comment on the content of the booklet. Finally, to improve the booklets accessibility, an electronic copy should be made available on the internet.

Once the contents of the booklet have been reviewed, ACT Policing should consider instructing police members to hand the booklet out to every victim of crime they come in contact with. In this way, if a victim is offered referral and declines, or if referral is not offered, the victim will still have access to information about victim services on hand if they wish to make contact at a later stage.

In terms of performance indicators, if an appropriate number of booklets were printed each year, the proportion of books to go into the community would be the best indicator of the extent to which the booklets were being handed out.

ACT Policing guidelines for referral to victim support services

ACT Policing should consider establishing guidelines outlining when it is appropriate for police officers to offer a referral through SupportLink to victim support services. It is also recommended that ACT Policing initiate training on these guidelines. Below are several policy options:

  • ACT Policing encourage police members to refer all victims of crime, regardless of the severity of the offence or the reaction of the victim. Where a victim refuses referral, they should be left with the Are You a Victim of Crime? booklet.
  • ACT Policing develop and implement guidelines that establish a triage system linked to the more severe crimes for active referrals and those that have been followed up. Given that victim support services have a finite budget and capacity to respond, this may be a means of ensuring that those most in need are offered assistance.
  • ACT Policing undertake a police education campaign to increase the likelihood of referrals being offered to victims, as well as develop referral tools to promote greater consistency in the referral process.

This set of guidelines should go some way to addressing the stereotyping of victims and the assumptions that arise when associating a victim’s reaction with their need for support services. It can be seen that within the current referral process, signs of emotional distress are linked with need for support, such that victims who do not display the typical symptoms of victimisation may not be offered a referral to support.

In theory, a referral should be offered to all victims of crime. Given that it is not always practical or welcome, it is recommended that at the least, victims should be left with the Are You a Victim of Crime? booklet. In addition to this, key groups should be targeted for referrals, including victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Finally, in terms of performance assessment, the most obvious indicators are the number of victims who accept a referral, as well as service coverage. However, it is also important to include indicators linked to service quality, such as indicators that assess victim satisfaction and whether positive outcomes were achieved. Further, it is important to determine whether the support services provided met the needs of the people receiving them and whether they helped victims deal with the effects of victimisation.

Males victims seeking assistance

Men, particularly those under 30 years of age, are more likely than any other group in the Australian Capital Territory to become a victim of crime. However, men are less likely than women to self-identify as a victim of crime and therefore are less likely to display aspects of vulnerability described by police members as being a trigger for referral to victim services.

The introduction of a set of guidelines, as suggested above, will assist with this issue. It is important that where possible, victims of similar crimes receive a similar level of service from ACT Policing regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or apparent levels of trauma. Furthermore, it cannot be assumed that all men will react in the same way to an offer of a referral or access to services.

Limited resources of Victim Liaison Officers

The services provided by the ACT Policing VLOs are valued by police, however, VLOs and other policing staff indicated that they felt that the area was understaffed. ACT Policing’s practical guides for VLOs and victims make it clear VLO’s should have a proactive, clear place in the criminal justice process, yet the current staffing levels prevent this and limit VLOs to a reactive role. This inhibits the ability of VLOs to educate other policing staff about the needs of victims.

It is understood by the authors that the Crime Prevention Unit of ACT Policing has already identified this as an issue and has allowed for additional VLOs within the Crime Prevention Unit. This is a positive initiative and will assist in gaining better outcomes for victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory.

Feedback mechanisms from victim support services to ACT Policing

Ongoing feedback from victim services to police with regard to consumer/client feedback on the services provided by victim services will help enhance police understanding of the positive benefits of the involvement of victims with victim’s services. While the authors understand that SupportLink has a feedback mechanism, interviews with police members indicate the mechanism is not well understood or well used by police. In addition, at a higher more strategic level, there is no feedback to ACT Policing on the overall experiences of victims who use victims support services 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.

As part of this process, a review of SupportLink is encouraged. While the feedback on SupportLink has been positive, SupportLink is a pivotal link between ACT Policing and victim support services, and it is important to determine formally whether the service is functioning well.

Needs of victims

Victims of violent and traumatic crimes such as robbery and assault, and the families of road fatalities were identified by both police and victim services as being victims who may not receive referrals or access services. The victim support system in the Australian Capital Territory is primarily focused on assisting victims of family violence and sexual assault in particular. Due to the traumatic nature of family violence and sexual assault, much work has been done in examining the needs of this group of victims, who are predominantly women. This work is necessary and that these victims are so well catered for was identified as a strength of the system.

However, the needs of victims of other crimes, especially those listed above, are not as well understood. For example, in the course of this research, it emerged that it is not well understood that families of road fatalities could be referred for support by ACT Policing under existing arrangements. 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.

Case coordination

There are cases where victims, usually of a serious crime, are dealing with several professional support agencies at one time. For example, a victim of sexual assault whose case goes to court may be provided with the services of an ACT Policing VLO, a court witness assistant, a support person from CRCC as well as their own personal support network. Where this is the case, it is in the best interest of the victim that one agency takes the lead role in organising the support network for the victim.

The decision about which agency should take the lead role is beyond the scope of this report, as this will differ depending on the case, the victim’s preferences and existing workloads of the agencies involved. However, it is recommended that 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. The victim’s choice in this decision-making process is supported. However, this change may require legal discussion, since some of the professionals assisting victims may have special duties to the criminal justice system under law, while others have only duties to the client victim.

Information exchange

It was identified by both ACT Policing and victim support agencies that the process of obtaining information on current cases with the DPP can be difficult. For example, one interviewee mentioned a family violence case where the victim was not informed that the offender had been released on bail as the courts had not notified police. This caused serious trauma to the victim.

As the DPP is not a partner-funding organisation, this issue to be an issue outside the scope of this project. However, as it is legislated that victims are given certain information about the status of their case in the Australian Capital Territory and in the general interests of victims and victim support agencies, it is recommended that the DPP, ACT Policing and victim service representatives conduct a roundtable to discuss improved information exchange, including specific information sharing requirements and the means of enhancing the process of information exchange.

Community level understanding

There are many different agencies that provide services to victims in the Australian Capital Territory. Some agencies are specialist agencies (eg DVCS and CRCC) and some are generalist (eg Victim Support ACT). There is also a level of crossover between the services that each agency can provide—for example, most are able to provide counselling services. However, the difference between services that each agency is able to provide does not appear to be well understood within the community.

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. Obviously, the cost implications will vary according to the scope of the campaign, but at a minimum, it is suggested that information materials be produced, including web-based items and an updated pamphlet/booklet outlining each victim support service and the assistance they provide. This pamphlet should be produced in consultation with all service providers. While some information about support services is provided in the Are You a Victim of Crime? booklet handed out by some police, the service provider’s pamphlet/booklet will contain more comprehensive information. The pamphlet/booklet should be placed at all ACT Government Shopfronts, ACT hospitals, police stations and other public places. Copies should also be made available to ACT Policing to assist them when they offer referral (possibly to be handed out with the Are You a Victim of Crime? booklet).

In addition to the pamphlet/booklet and depending on available funds, running a radio and television advertising campaign, or possibly an expanded web-based program (ie YouTube and blog items) could be considered. Items should be short and simple, and highlight that if individuals are a victim of crime in the Australian Capital Territory, there are a range of services they can access free of charge (eg counselling and support, and help with negotiating the criminal justice system).

In terms of performance measurement, a community survey could be undertaken prior to and following the campaign to measure the impact of any change in community knowledge. It is recognised that extra funding would be required to run this sort of campaign, which may cause limitations, yet it is recommended that any funding applications include an allocated amount for such an evaluation.

Conclusion

The findings of the research were presented to Victim Support ACT and ACT Policing in late 2009, providing a number of policy-focused recommendations to enhance the experiences of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory.

A range of data were analysed in order to assess the experiences of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory, including data provided by ACT Policing and ACT victim support services, results from a survey of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory and interviews with a range of stakeholders.

The findings suggested that the current victim referral process by police in the Australian Capital Territory had evolved to become a collaborative cross-agency operation that was well received by many victims. 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 demonstrate that the number of referrals made in the Australian Capital Territory was significantly higher than the national rate outlined in the literature.

During 2007–08, there were approximately 19,500 crimes reported in the Australian Capital Territory where the victim was an individual (ie the victim was not the Crown or an organisation). During the same period, there were just under 6,000 documented referrals made through ACT Policing’s victim referral system, SupportLink. This suggests that almost one in three victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory were referred. This can be contrasted with Australia’s national coverage rate of just six percent (Van Dijk, Van Kesteren & Smit 2008). Yet it is important to recognise that for two in three crimes that are reported in the Australian Capital Territory, victims did not receive assistance through formal victim support mechanisms.

Analysis of results from the survey of victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory indicated that respondents felt that police treated them fairly, but some were unhappy with the lack of communication following the reporting of a crime. A significant number of respondents indicated that they were not informed by police about victim support services in the Australian Capital Territory and of those who were offered a referral to SupportLink and accepted, some were only contacted 10 days or more after reporting the crime to police.

Interviews with stakeholders indicated that there was no comprehensive framework to guide police on when to refer an individual to victim support services. Findings from this research suggested that service responses should be expanded to cater for a variety of diverse and long-term needs of victims, particularly services that address victims’ practical needs. It is suggested that the establishment of clear guidelines to assist police with referring victims of crime could address who should be referred to services, as well as when they should be referred.

Linked to this was the need to enhance the understanding of the needs of victims of certain types of crime who were typically not well understood and whose needs were not necessarily met by the current victim support services available in 2009. Examples of such individuals included victims of robbery, burglary, non-family violence stalking and cyber-crimes, as well as families of victims of road fatalities.

In addition, there was a clear need to enhance communication strategies between agencies, victims of crime and the community more broadly. Specifically, enhanced interagency communication would help in ensuring victims received a wraparound service, that they remained informed and that they would know which agency to contact if they needed assistance. In addition, communities need to be aware of the services that are available to victims of crime so that individuals are able to access services even where a referral does not occur. Mechanisms for feedback from victim support services to police relating to victims’ experiences of referral processes and accessing services could assist police in understanding the importance of the referral process.

Finally, a series of policy-focused recommendations associated with key issues identified through the research were noted, including:

  • 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 targeted services for them.
  • Where it is likely that 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 in 2009, 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 this research not only ensures transparency, but establishes a baseline upon which improvements to policies and programs concerning victims of crime in the Australian Capital Territory can be measured. This research remains an important reference point that can guide the work of Victim Support ACT and ACT Policing in developing and refining their partnership to enable victims of crime to access services.