Victims Support Agency (VSA) is responsible for coordinating a whole of government approach to services for victims of crime and for representing the voice of victims within the Justice system. It provides practical assistance to help victims recover from the effects of crime and is pivotal in linking the service system so victims don’t need to continuously repeat their story to a range of services.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The current VSA structure necessitates victims to continuously repeat their story over an extended period of time.
Firstly, the victim contacts the very well publicized Helpline phone number. The Helpline staff will generally, without informing the victim of alternate options, refer the victim to a Victims Assistance & Counselling Program (VACPs).
The victim will then be required to contact the VACP and repeat their story to another Clerical Worker. This Clerical Worker will then advise the client that they will be contacted by a Case Manager.
The victim is contacted by a Case Manager, usually within around 6 – 8 weeks, and will then be required to repeat their story to the Case Manager. The Case Manager will then generally refer the client to an In-house Counsellor.
The victim is contacted by an In-house Counsellor, usually within around 8 – 12 weeks, and will then be required to repeat their story to the In-house Counsellor. On around 80% of occasions, according to statistics provided by the VACPs, the victim is then referred to an external Counsellor chosen for them by the VACPs. The victim is told by the VACPs (supporting documentation available) that if they elect to chose their own counsellor that this counsellor may not be paid.
The victim is then contacted by an external Counsellor, usually with around 4 – 6 weeks, and will then be required to repeat their story to the external Counsellor.
According to the current system the victim is required to repeat their story a minimum of five to six times over a period of around five to six months before the victim may actually receive any counselling. The victim is also restricted from choosing their own treatment provider. It is very questionable if this process actually helps victims recover from the effects of crime, or in fact impedes recovery.
Victorian Auditor-General, Des Pearson, criticised the Victims Support Agency stating that the waiting time to receive counselling under this model can be up to five months and that the quality of counselling services provided varied.
Furthermore, the current VSA model assumes that all victims of crime will require and will benefit from counselling and subsequently generally refers all victims to a VACP. Statistics collected suggest that around 90% of victims of crime do not seek counselling and that the benefit to those actually seeking counselling will be largely dependent on several factors, including the experience of the counsellor and the rapport the client establishes with the counsellor.
Most victims of crime simply seek financial compensation for out of pocket expenses, such as medical bills and loss of wages, as per their entitlements according to the VOCA Act. We have had examples where victims have been told by VACPs that they need to complete a certain number of counselling sessions before they could be referred to an external body to assist them with seeking compensation. Recent research has suggested that victims who do not freely elect to participate in counselling will not benefit from it, with a suggestion that such may in fact be harmful.
We again call on the Attorney General, Mr Robert Clark, to address the issues of concern which are now very well documented and put the best interest of victims of crime first. Instead of spending $20 Million on this scheme why not make this money directly available to whom it is meant for – victims of crime. Mr Clark you did not create this scheme but you are in the position to make it right.