Compilation of Services for Victims of Crime Throughout Australia

Criminology Research Council grant ; (8/88)

It was intended that one of the functions that such a directory would fulfil would be to assist in the referral of victims of crime to services appropriate to their needs. Of equal importance however, was the concern to go some way towards providing systematic information about the range of services actually being provided for victims of crime in Australia, and conversely to assist in identifying the gaps and limitations in service provision. It was considered that such information was basic to the task of rational policy development and service provision.

It was also anticipated that the project may serve an educative function, by bringing the needs of victims of crime to the attention of various service agencies.

In order to compile the Directory a national survey was conducted of a wide range of government and non-government agencies considered likely to provide relevant specialist or generalist services to victims of crime. Approximately 1,200 survey forms were distributed nationally.

The survey sought information concerning whether a given agency provided a service to victims of crime, the proportion of crime victims among the agency's clientele, the nature of services offered, and whether the services targeted particular groups of clients. Details were also collected about the availability of the services, the geographical area serviced by the agency, the hours of operation, cost (if any), the provision of interpreter services, child care, and disabled access. This information, together with the address (where this was able to be disclosed) and telephone number of the service were compiled into a Directory of Services for Victims of Crime in Australia.

Additional information was also collected from each respondent to the survey (whether currently providing a relevant service or not) concerning the perceived needs of victims of crime, factors currently limiting the provision of service to victims of crime and suggestions for additional services to meet the needs of victims of crime, either generally or for specific categories of victims. This latter information was analysed and used in part as the basis of the report to the Council.

In all, 439 responses to the survey were received, 321 indicating that the responding agency did provide a service to victims of crime, and 118 indicating that the agency did not provide a relevant service. The majority of the responses (54 per cent) were received from within the state of New South Wales, which is likely to reflect at least in part the local knowledge of, and links with, New South Wales agencies by members of the research team.

In most states the majority of services listed were not offence specific - that is, they were available to any category of victim of crime. Such services included those offered by government departments such as Police, Family and Community Services or the equivalent, Victims of Crime Compensation (offered in various forms by most states and territories), and those offered by the community sector such as community legal centres and information services of various kinds.

Where services targeted particular clients, most often these were oriented to the needs of victims of sexual assault, child abuse or domestic violence. There were no services evident in any state or territory which targeted the needs of victims of any other specific category of offence.

The majority of the services offered throughout Australia were free of charge, and most of those that involved some cost were means tested. Few services were available outside normal office hours and on weekends, and very few 24-hour crisis services are listed (no such services are listed for New South Wales, Victoria or Queensland). Only about half of the responding agencies indicated that they had disabled access and few agencies provided child care for their clients.

Very few services throughout Australia have a specific focus upon the needs of non-English speaking people, or Aboriginal people. The various Aboriginal Legal Services are an obvious exception, and many of the women's refuges also indicated that bi-lingual and Aboriginal workers were employed in recognition of the special needs of victims of crime from cultural groups other than that of the dominant Anglo culture. Less than half of the agencies responding to the survey indicated that they had interpreter services available for non-English speaking victims of crime.

Whilst many of the agencies indicated that their services were available statewide, it was not possible to assess the extent to which services could or did in fact adequately service such an area. Some of the agencies surveyed acknowledged the difficulties of providing an adequate service outside metropolitan and/ or regional centres.

There were a number of general themes apparent in the responses to the survey, with very little variation evident between the different states and territories. Many services are said to be under-funded and over-used.

Respondents stressed the need for more crisis services available on a 24-hour basis to provide counselling, emotional support and emergency accommodation, and for on-going counselling and support. The need for affordable medium and long-term housing was also raised particularly by women's refuges.

The need for the victim to be informed about the progress of matters throughout the criminal justice system was also a common theme suggested by respondents as was the concern that police and other criminal justice personnel needed education as to the needs of victims of crime.

A National Victims of Crime Resource Centre is recommended by the research team as a means of facilitating the sharing of information, the rational planning of future services and the referral of victims of crime to appropriate existing services.

The researchers also recommend the examination of 'outreach' models for service delivery for victims of crime. Since most existing services rely upon self-referral by victims of crime, the risk exists that many victims of crime are unaware of the available services or not equipped to avail themselves of those services.

Other recommendations arising from the research include careful consideration of the role of specialist police units in providing assistance to victims of crime, the need for a thorough examination of the use of alternative dispute resolution techniques involving offenders and victims, and the need for a rigorous evaluation of criminal justice reforms introduced to assist victims of crime.