Topic: “Are the current avenues for Victims of Crime in Victoria to access compensation effective? If so, how? If not, what are the alternative avenues for victims to seek compensation? Also address the impact of crimes on individuals and society and whether or not our sentences are effectively addressing the crimes.” Essay by Piotr S. Debowski of Caroline Chisholm Catholic College
Crime is the act, or omission to act in such a way, that causes an infringement against a law that has been set by the State. Despite this narrow definition crimes affect people in different ways, whether it be; psychologically, emotionally, physically or financially. Often, crimes occur without any real prosecution on the felon despite their being grandiloquent trauma experienced by the victim or victims as the case may be. These crimes not only affect those directly involved, but also affect family members, witnesses and the hoi polloi. Thus, it is essential that both perpetrators be held accountable for their crimes and affectees of crimes be restored to their original position before the crime, as far as possible, or be compensated for their losses or injuries.
Crime in Victoria, as around the world, is variant. But despite its form, it is universally accepted as having significant impact on those around it, with many identifying it as having a ‘ripple effect’ (Dunne etal, 2011, pg. 109; Remer etal, 1995, pg. 407) In Australia, sexual assault reached a peak of 19.1% in 2005, with nearly 1 in every 5 women (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006) being the victim of some form of assault. Despite this large number, an even larger number is generated when we calculate secondary victims, such as: family members, co-workers and friends that have a relationship with these primary victims.
While the primary victims, 1 in every 5 woman, have to deal with both psychological and physical trauma, the secondary victims have to be able to provide support for the primary victims. This support includes: financial support –such as the payment for psychological help from a counsellor for the victim-, job retraining –if the victim is an employee who is no longer able to perform their normal duties due to trauma, or has other physical injuries as a result of the crime which leave them disabled-, lifestyle support –such as reassurance about the primary victim’s welfare and security- and the moral support of helping the primary victim overcome their experience.
The effects of crime do not end with sexual assault. It is estimated that for every road death an average of thirteen people are affected (Haywood, 2002, pg. 228) In Australia, with the national death toll on roads being 1,531 over the last decade (Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, 2012, pg. 2) this has meant that an additional 19,903 people have become secondary victims, having to play similar roles as those of the secondary victims of sexual assaults (i.e. having to provide financial support, psychological support, lifestyle support etc.)
While crime affects both primary and secondary victims, the general public also suffers. In 2005 the cost of the amalgamation of all types of crimes -such as fraud, drug related offences, assault, robbery, burglary, thefts, arson and criminal damages- was estimated at $36 billion (Australian Institution of Criminology, 2008) which is equivalent to 16% of the governments total revenue in 2005 (Australian Government, 2005). This means that where taxpayer money should have been delegated to facilitate better education, transport or healthcare it was exhausted on crime prevention.
In order to assist victims of crime, Victoria employs a very high standard of institutions which provide the necessary resources and assistance required by victims in order for them to return back to their everyday lives and overcome the tragedy that they have become a victim of.
The Victims of Crime Counselling and Compensation Services (VOCCS) is one of these institutions that Victoria is fortunate to have. VOCCS provides financial compensation to both primary and secondary victims of crime for up to $70,000 AUS or $60,000 AUS respectively. Furthermore, VOCCS provides other assistance which can cover self-defence lessons, relocation costs, gym membership and can even cover all the costs offered by solicitors or psychologists. Working together with another institution, called the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) which also provides financial assistance similarly like VOCCS but expands to provide finances to cover funeral costs, victims can receive appropriate compensation.
By being able to provide financial support covering solicitor bills, victims are able to take control of their lives and receive justice which could otherwise escape them if they were not financially capable of pursuing a court case with the perpetrator. By being able to provide financial support to victims who have recently been burglarised, robed or assaulted in their own home, these victims are able to either relocate to a new home or increase their own home security in order to feel safe, secure and have that peace of mind that every person is entitled to in their own abode.
Although there are several institutions which provide assistance for victims of crime, the disadvantage is that victims must prove that they were injured in order for them to receive compensation. This is not always possible as some injuries are not direct but often haunt the victim through the trauma that they have experienced as a result of the crime. At other times the victim can be further traumatised by undergoing medical or psychological examination. A solution to this would be to allow victims of crime some compensation without the need to provide evidence. This is already employed in the New South Wales and Northern Territory, whereby their State judicial systems have employed an award where victims of family and domestic violence do not need to prove medical or psychological evidence of their injuries (Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, 2010, pg 5) often reducing the potential of re-traumatisation. Where victims provide evidence of their injuries they are entitled to a greater threshold of compensation.
In order to tackle crime, proper sanctions need to be put into place. These sanctions should, as Dunne (2011, pg. 92) suggests: act as a punishment for the perpetrator; deter the perpetrator and future perpetrators from committing the crime; rehabilitate the perpetrator as so that they are less likely to recommit the crime; show the perpetrator of the communities disapproval of his or her conduct; and, most importantly, protect the community from the perpetrator and others who commit similar crimes.
In order to look at how effective sanctions are it is important to note that there is not just one category of ‘criminal’ but instead there are many different types of criminals. David Tait, in his research paper The Effectiveness of Criminal Sanctions (2001) breaks up criminals into several different groups and then analyses the most appropriate and effective sanctions respectively.
Tait shows that longer prison sentences given to those perpetrators who break the more serious of crimes are more effective at protecting the community than other forms of sanctions, but only to a certain degree as when the perpetrator is released they are more likely to reoffend. Juxtapose, Tait shows that fines and community service given to those perpetrators who break the less serious of crimes are effective at deterring the perpetrator from reoffending, but do little to show the communities disapproval of their conduct.
When looking at the effectiveness of sanctions we must also be asking ourselves the questions ‘why did the perpetrator commit the crime?’ Was it because the perpetrator was poor and needed to feed themself that they broke into and stole money from the local convenience store? Was it because that they were set a bad example as a child that they now think it is acceptable to go and vandalise property or assault others? The answers to these questions will greatly influence the effectiveness of the sanction given.
Using the former example of the robber, under the Crimes Act 1958 (Victoria) a “person found guilty of robbery… is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to level 4 imprisonment (15 years maximum).” But a prison sentences, regardless of tenure, will do little to rehabilitate the perpetrator and prevent them from reoffending if the reason as to why they committed the crime was because they did not have a source of income. After leaving prison they will most likely still not have a source of income and will resort, once again, to robbery or theft. Fortunately, in Victoria, those serving prison sentences will often be given the opportunity to education and work.
Under the Corrections Act 1986 all Victorian prisoners are given the right to take part in educational programs which provide them with recognised qualifications and skills once they serve their time in prison. These educational and training programs include those offered by TAFE institutions encompass: construction, hospitality, engineering and business management amongst others. In addition, prisoners in Victoria are also given the ability to work, for at least 60 hours a fortnight and receive payment for their work. As a result of either receiving education or being able to work, perpetrators are said to be rehabilitated in that they now have skills which they can use to gain employment and, using the former example of the robber, will be less likely to reoffend because they do not have a reason to do so. This is probably the reason as to why robbery has declined in Victoria over the past year by over 9% (Victorian Police News, 2012) with the introduction of such programs.
On the whole, crime is a series of great ripples in a pool that is society -we are all affected by it, even if we do not know it. It affects the very core of us, psychologically, financially, physically, and although there are good avenues in which to receive compensation, there are always advances that need to be made.