Sarah Langley St Augustine’s College in Kyabram.
Between 2011 and 2012 in Victoria, there were over 50,000 offences recorded as ‘a crime against the person.’ These crimes do not just affect the victim, as the community often suffers too. Financial burden, grief, and damages are all real consequences, and can take substantial funds and time to be dealt with. Victims can apply to the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, seek a payment from the offender, or make a claim through a civil court action. Although money may be necessary to help the victim pay for medical or court fees, money does not bring back loved ones taken by criminal acts, or irreplaceable family possessions.
Counselling should be the first priority. Social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists are all trained to help people deal with situations that they can’t manage by themselves. Of course, becoming a victim of crime can be a traumatising life event. Counselling sessions can help victims of crime to realise that what they are feeling and thinking is a normal reaction to an unusual event. Victims are not just limited to feeling sad or scared, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression are all common reactions to distressing events. Financial compensation will never cure a person’s depression, most of the time the victims just need to talk to someone who truly cares.
The Victims Register is where a reform should be introduced. By submitting a claim to the Victims Register, a victim can be notified of the length of their offender’s sentence, when they are granted parole, and the earliest possible release date from prison. This information can have positive and negative effects. The positive is a feeling of relief that the offender cannot re-harm them, or anyone else. Also the realisation that what happened was indeed a criminal offence and they have not gotten away with it. The downside here is that reminders are being sent home to the victim about the crime, and painful memories may be re-surfaced. The Victims Register is voluntary, but this is where the reform should come in, with three simple steps:
1. This register should be involuntary, however victims should have the choice to decline receiving updates about their offender.
2. By registering all victims, counselling services and support networks can be more easily offered, and tailored to suit certain crimes or situations. Victims could seek assistance to write their impact statement, seek counselling, or even just someone to talk to if necessary by being included in such networks.
3. Victim details will most definitely still remain confidential, and the public and offender will not be allowed to access any details.
This reform would help victims to reach closure, and although they will never forget what happened to them, at least they would know that someone out there cares for them.
A second reform that must be addressed is social media. It has been widely suggested that opinions shared on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter could taint a jury’s opinion on a case. Although the Australian government cannot technically make a law about what is posted on these sites, they can co-operate with the companies regarding content control.
During the recent Jill Meagher case, the Victoria Police E-Crimes Squad did investigate certain posts that could be used to sway the jury. Some have argued that banning people from posting their opinions would be a removal of free speech, however it may soon be necessary, as high profile suspects facing cases may not receive a fair trial.
A report by Sensis showed that 62% of Australian people have a presence on social media sites, which include Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace. With this many people publicly sharing opinions, it is getting harder for law enforcement to crack down on the people who are doing the wrong thing. False information can be easily spread; Bill Cosby has been announced dead by Internet hoaxes five times already.
Social media has even affected family court, as Facebook profiles can now be used as a form of character record, and opposing parties are using printouts from these to incriminate the other party. This potential reform would not only cover interference with court cases, but also cyber bullying. The proposed reform should include:
1. More pressure on Facebook to remove incriminating pages. Many hate-provoking messages and posts were directed towards the suspect in the Jill Meagher case, Adrian Ernest Bayley. The fact that Facebook refused Victoria Police requests to have these removed is just as disappointing. Although speaking out this way may help some people feel better about the situation, these pages have caused havoc as the trial gets closer. There are also better ways to deal with anger and frustration than posting unsavoury comments on a website.
2. Tougher punishment for cyber bullies. Should an online bully that causes someone to commit suicide be included under a homicide sentence? That could work, if the law was executed properly. Even if a separate law was made to cover ‘bullycide,’ as it is known, extremes of bullying can have irreparable effects that need to be dealt with accordingly. Cyber bullying is rampant in our society, a quarter of all Australian children have been cyber bullied, whether it be a rumour was spread, something defamatory said about them, or just plain abused by another person; either way it is wrong, and needs to be stopped.
3. Like the proposed reform for the Victims Register, victims of bullying should be receiving regular support. We often forget that bullied individuals are also victims of crime. On the other side, the bullies themselves need some kind of support. They need to be given strategies or counselling to help them deal with what they have done, and to prevent further misdemeanors, whilst still making them accountable for their crimes. Community service, rehabilitation and social skill programs can assist the bullies to learn how to behave properly, and make them realize what effect their actions had on others.
Social media is not a problem that only Australia suffers from; the whole world has been changed by its presence. By making a stand and working to stop bullying, degrading posts and trolling, Victoria can start a trend that hopefully the rest of Australia would follow.
Victoria is privileged to have access to quality programs and support networks to assist its victims of crime. Our Legal system and police departments are more than reliable, and counselling services are readily available when necessary.
Someone needs to make the first step towards making peace both online, and in everyday life, and I believe that the Victorian Law Reform Commission has the ability and the drive to do the job. Everyone has a part in this, and we all need to work together to make a stand against crime.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ – Lao Tzu.