Tom Mullins St. Augustine's College, Kyabram
With crime in Victoria on the rise, an increased number of victims are seeking assistance. The total number of crimes against the person rose by an enormous amount this past year. In 2011/12, the number of criminal offences recorded in Victoria rose by 8.2% from the previous period, 391,325 offences in total. As shown by these alarming statistics, there is cause for concern. Not only do they endure physical and emotional harm, but the majority suffer a financial loss making matters even worse. Support and assistance, compensation in particular, is made available to victims through a number of services. These are vitally important and without them, many people would find it tough to get back on their feet.
Recent changes in the law have created various benefits for victims, with courts now being able to award compensation without the need of an application from a victim. This new legislation which was introduced in June of this year, received positive feedback as it was an intelligent idea which people relate to. The main aims focused on by these changes are to give victims a greater input in the sentencing process, make it less complicated and not as time consuming for them to receive compensation. Sentencing will now be partially influenced by the victim, as they’ll be able to share with the court the impact that the crime has had on them. This will be taken into account when deciding on the final outcome of the trial.
As they should, criminal sentences focus on the offender, but the effect on the victim is just as important, so these changes should be a welcome addition to the prosecution of criminals. For victims, knowing that the criminal will be locked up for a long period of time gives them comfort and can contribute to their mental recovery.
Victims of crimes often experience psychological distress, which requires counselling to solve. After the crime has occurred, many different things will take place and ultimately lead to the decline of the victim’s mental state. Stress and anxiety are potential problems victims face, especially in the aftermath of a crime. The court process can be enduring and overwhelming for some people, that’s why support at the time is essential for victims. Even after the matter has been dealt with by the courts, difficulties can still arise, such as victims becoming paranoid and finding it tough to move on. Injuries sustained also keep the incident in the mind of the victim, months if not years of rehabilitation are sometimes required.
Victims of Crime Victoria and the Victims Support Agency are two services that aim to assist victims and end the suffering caused by the crime, eventually recovering them to a stable state of mind. Family members of the victim may suffer as well, especially if the crime involved a violent act. As seen in the media recently, Jill Meagher’s disappearance and murder was incredibly difficult for her family members. The shocking situation will only get worse in the coming months when the accused murderer faces court. Counselling services would be strongly recommended to those affected, especially to her husband and brother, who have been heavily involved in the crisis.
Even though crime victims can regain money they’ve lost during the period, it often takes a substantial amount of time before they receive compensation. If someone isn’t prepared for an unfortunate situation, medical expenses can be extremely costly and time off work could see the victim lose much needed money. The Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal is just one of the various options for people looking for assistance after being involved in a criminal offence. Their main objective is to provide victims with financial support and help them recover from the ordeal. A vast range of financial assistance is available such as medical and counselling expenses, however the Tribunal only offers assistance for crimes against a person and don’t deal with the damage or loss of property.
The Victims Register is an effective program which assists victims by providing information on an offender. However their eligibility criteria should be addressed and have changes made to it. Victims aren’t allowed on the Register if the prisoner has been released and is no longer under sentence. This definitely needs to change, as the victim should have full knowledge on the whereabouts and current status of the offender. Knowing this vital information is crucial to their recovery process, even if it’s well after the crime has been committed.
An important change which needs to be made is the awareness of counselling and other services on offer to victims. There are constant advertisements which are aimed at victims of sexual assault, however more needs to be done in regards to victims of general crime. If victim support services can increase their publicity, such as advertising, people will be informed of available options. This would place less stress on victims after unfortunately experiencing a crime, knowing where to go for assistance would be one less thing to worry about.
Increased education is another necessary change which needs to be made. A range of topics that should be covered include financial management, psychological information and stories by victims of crime in the past, and how they handled themselves during the difficult time. Most of this information can be found online, however providing it through the mail or even on television would reach a larger audience.
Crime victimisation is a serious, yet overlooked issue in today’s society. The media in particular, generally focuses on those who committed the crime rather than the victims and their well-being. People need to realise that a crime impacts a whole community, rather than just an individual. Essential assistance is available in many different types and can be easily accessible for victims, ranging from counselling to financial support. These services coincide with The Victims‘ Charter which states that victims should be treated fairly by the people involved in the case. Although crime statistics have risen, the right tools are in place to deal with the after-effects of criminal actions moving forward.
For victims of crime support and advice call 1800 000 055 or go to www.victimsofcrime.com.au