This module is a resource for lecturers
Topic six: Victim services - institutional and non-governmental organizations
The United Nations Declaration indicates that victims should receive material, medical, psychological support and social assistance (Article 14), and information about the services available to them (Article 15).
Surviving a crime does not imply forgetting what has happened or pretending that everything will return to its former state (Baldry et al., 2016). Life for people affected by crime is conditioned in one way or in another for a long time to come. However, victims have a right to be empowered so that they can move on with their lives, which implies that they are enabled to do the things they like, to be with people they love, to work, to study, to go out, and to sleep while feeling safe in their own home. Services for victims play an important role in making this possible.
The level of support required is generally related to the type and intensity of harm experienced: not all victims will need the same level and form of assistance. In fact, some victims may require limited support. A tailored, victim centred assessment of victims' needs is the best approach for an efficient victim assistant service. Services for crime victims should be free of charge.
The government provides services to victims through the police, in hospitals, in the criminal justice system and in court, as well as through social services. Professionals, such as police officers, doctors, social workers, lawyers, psychotherapists, and educators who work in these specialized services should receive specialized training on victims' issues.
Specialized non-government organizations (NGOs) often complement the services that victims need to recover from their negative experience. They are often set up by groups of volunteers, including survivors, victims, or family members of victims. Victim self-help groups that build on their own experience of victimization, can play an important role in empowering victims. Some NGOs are self-funded. Others receive money from lotteries or foundations, or government subsidies. In many countries, volunteer organizations offer high quality services by specialized professionals, providing much more than just basic support to victims.
As Hill (2009) points out, services for victims, regardless of their nature, should make sure that people are asked about the victimization and its meaning, impact, and personal and contextual factors. In particular, they should:
- Address the victim's history, including previous negative experiences, life circumstances, vulnerabilities
- Address the current situation, including personal and living condition of the victims in relation to risk and vulnerability dimensions
- Address any crime related characteristics which may be helpful for understanding the crime as well the possible impact on the victims, including the relationship with the offender and how the victim expresses him or herself
- Address the strengths and resources of victims. These can be material, relational, or emotional, including for instance resiliency, coping skills, cognitive abilities, self-esteem.
Services for victims, regardless of their nature, should dedicate attention to particular needs of each individual victim, including victims with special needs. While there may be specialized services for certain categories of crime victims, such as victims of trafficking in persons, or victims of terrorism, it is important to have strong general services that can benefit all victims, on which these more dedicated services can build.
With the development of the Internet, outreach services and basic information to victims is often provided by victim support services online. This can play a key role for victims, including victims of domestic violence. Call-centres are also essential in this regard.