Harrison Smyt Salesian College Chadstone
Unfortunately, actions against the state that are punishable by law have become all too prominent in our community. More formerly known as crimes, there is no denying that the unsociable trend has been increasing steadily over a number of years. In 2011/ 12, Victoria Police recorded 391, 325 offences state wide, which is an 8.2% increase since 2010/11. Despite this alarming evidence, we must remember the victims of these crimes who can be physically, emotionally or mentally marked by their offenders. This raises the question; do we give enough support and assistance to those people who are victims of crime in Victoria? It seems that everyone wants a piece of naming and shaming the offenders, however, the needs of the victim should be remembered, as well as their family and friends and the way their lives have been affected.
Alarmingly, crimes against the person such as robberies and assaults have increased 11.8% last financial year, in particular family violence. There is support out there for the victims of crime. Namely the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) established through legislation to provide financial assistance to victims of crime in Victoria. VOCAT may provide counselling for financial assistance, lost earnings, expenses to assist recovery as a result of becoming a victim. These support services are extremely important to victims of crime, and help them get back on their feet to continue with their lives. Nevertheless, many people do not know who to turn to and are unsure who to contact for assistance. On the 10th of August 2006, the Koori VOCAT list was launched to address difficulties faced by the Koori members of the community. This was a big step to providing greater scope for assistance in the community.
Another support structure is the Victims of Crime helpline in which a victim can speak to a professional seeking advice and specialised counselling. This may be more beneficial for more reserved individuals or those who may prefer to remain anonymous. This is generally a good first step for people who are unsure where to turn to. Most importantly, they don’t have to deal with it alone. Children and youth can also become vulnerable and may become victims of crime such as family violence. They may be unawares to their rights and may be afraid to speak out. It is mandatory for teachers to report suspicions of these sorts to higher authorities and many schools have counsellors to deal with these types of issues. However, these types of cases can go unnoticed and offenders escape the law to recommit again. More needs to be done in this area to educate these children in society to bring forth justice.
Parliament introduced the Double Jeopardy legislation late last year which stated that people may be tried twice for the same crime if new evidence emerges. This gives hope to victims of crime who feel that their offenders have received lighter sentences; it also ensures victims of crime can receive proper closure even if the offender is found guilty on first judgement. This may be used for the high profile Walsh Street murders case, where there may be new DNA evidence, or where witnesses gave false evidence. A reform such as this could provide the victim with better access to support and assistance and justice is more likely to come as a result.
Another potential reform is to abolish committal hearings which add time and delays to the case. The purpose of committal hearings is to establish whether there is enough evidence to be tried in a higher court. If committal hearings can be eradicated, cases with guilty offenders can sooner be off the streets and cannot recommit. Abolishing these hearings ensure closure occurs more quickly for the victim.
Alternatively, abolishing the bail process could remove potential dangers to the community. A victim may feel uneasy if an offender was ‘on the loose’ and still living in the community and could be seen by the victims as a threat to society. On the other hand, those offenders who may mistakenly being arrested therefore should not be kept in the remand section, this would only occur on the rarest of circumstances. What can be done to remove this fear from victims of crime? Victims can have restraining orders put on offenders, but this may not stop a malicious murderer from inflicting continued pain towards a victim. It seems as though victims cannot win.
Another possibility would be to bring forth conferencing in Victoria. This is where the victim and maybe the victim’s family meet the offender. The offender may admit their wrongdoing directly and conversely the victim may express their emotions and the pain that they have been caused. Although this does not provide a fix and in no way is the offender to walk free, however, a victim may want to address the offender to reach some sort of common ground on the issue.
The high profile Thomas Towle case made headlines in 2008 when a man driving with his four year old son veered into a group of teenagers killing six and seriously injuring four near Mildura; he was sentenced to a maximum of ten years behind bars. However the crash victims’ families believed that the jury should have been aware of his criminal record. It is not until events like this happen, victims of crime are taken on an emotional rollercoaster. In this instance, the families had to watch a man receive a light sentence, knowing that he could be set free in a few years. He returns to society with 40 court appearances that resulted in three jail terms. Victims of crime rely so heavily on the criminal justice system to see that offenders get their right due.
It is no secret that victim’s crime can be deeply affected by offenders in our community. By abolishing committal hearings or increasing the use of conferencing in Victoria, victims of crime would be free to take care of their own mental, emotional and physical problems that menaces of society have inflicted on them.
For victims of crime support and advice call 1800 000 055 or go to www.victimsofcrime.com.au