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Topic seven - A brief outlook on current developments regarding victims


In the decades since the adoption of the United Nations 1985 Declaration, the world has changed in significant ways. Globalization has advanced, and an increasing number of people have left their home countries to work or study abroad, or to escape conflict or poverty. Inexpensive flights have made it possible for people to frequently travel abroad, including for leisure and tourism. At the same time, the Internet and new ways of communicating, including through emails and social media, have evolved to be an important part of people's everyday lives. New technology and devices, such as smart phones and portable tablets, are ubiquitous in many parts of the world.

This new reality impacts on all aspects of our lives. It is unsurprising, therefore, that crime has also changed. Criminals have effectively adapted their strategies to the expanded arena enabled by technological developments and an increasingly globalized world. The "globalization" of crime has seen the emergence of new transnational and international forms of crime, including various forms of cybercrime (for more information on cybercrime, please see the E4J University Module Series on Cybercrime). In addition, criminals have effectively sought, and found, gaps between the various national law enforcement efforts and legal frameworks, which they exploit to evade law enforcement and prosecution. In response, national governments and the international community have adapted their legal and policy frameworks to counter new threats from crime and criminals transcending national borders. One particularly important response was the adoption, in 2000, of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto (2004) , the latter providing a legal response to trafficking in persons, the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in firearms. For more information, please see the E4J University Modules Series on Organized Crime, on Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants and on Firearms.

These developments have also had an impact on the victims of crime and have affected their ability to receive justice in both positive and negative ways. While a full treatment of this topic is outside the scope of this Module, the following section touches on some aspects of how current developments affect justice for victims.


Challenges and responses to cross-border victimization



As a result of globalization, an increasing number of people are affected by something often referred to as "cross-border victimization", i.e. cases in which the criminal offence is committed in a jurisdiction outside of the victim's home country. Indeed, "foreign" victims, such as, for instance, tourists, exchange students, or foreign workers, who find themselves abroad at the moment that they experience a crime, may be especially vulnerable. They may struggle with language problems and problems of understanding the foreign legal system, factors that often directly affect their ability to report the crime to the relevant authorities. Cultural differences may add to this difficulty and may exacerbate the victim's risk of feeling isolated and being traumatized. Moreover, being far away from their family and friends, victims may find themselves without social support networks on which they would need to rely on in the aftermath of the crime. Any of these factors, or a combination thereof, would likely worsen the experience of the crime and its impact on the victim.

Victims of cross-jurisdictional crimes may be unable access the services that they require: they may find themselves being caught up in situations which allow them neither to access victim assistance systems set up in the country of crime, nor those of their country of origin. In addition, when victimization occurs abroad, the victim's temporary stay in the country where the crime has occurred may come to an end. This may make it impossible for the victim to participate in criminal proceedings in any meaningful way.


Against this backdrop, recent decades have seen the development of encouraging initiatives to mitigate the negative consequences of globalization on crime victims, including the increasing number subjected to crimes in cross-border contexts.

New and stronger legal frameworks

Victims can increasingly rely on legal frameworks that consider their needs and rights and on the institutions that support them. Studies demonstrate that over the past decades, the United Nations 1985 Declaration has been a catalyst for change and an important source of inspiration for lawmakers across the globe (Letschert and Groinhuisen 2011). As a result, justice for victims has become more tangible both in terms of legislative change that reaffirms victims' rights, as well as through the emergence of dedicated governmental and non-governmental institutions that serve victims and address their needs.

In fact, new legislation, at the global, regional and national level has strengthened victims' rights, including in cases that have a transnational and/or a cross-border element.

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (2004), in Article 25, has a specific provision on victims, providing that States parties, within their means, shall take appropriate measures to provide assistance and protection to victims of transnational organized crimes, in particular in cases of threat of retaliation or intimidation. States Parties are also obliged to establish appropriate procedures to provide access to compensation and restitution, and to enable victims to present and have considered their views and concerns at appropriate stages of criminal proceedings.

The provisions on victims are even more extensive in the related Trafficking in Persons Protocol (2000) which stipulates, for instance, that States parties shall consider implementing measures to provide for the physical, psychological and social recovery of victims of trafficking in persons, including, in appropriate cases, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations and taking into consideration specific needs of victims. The Protocol also requires States parties to consider adopting legislative or other appropriate measures that permit victims of trafficking in persons to remain in their territory, temporarily or permanently and in Article 8 provides for the right to repatriation with due regard for the safety of that person of victims of trafficking in persons. These latter two provisions are particularly important additions to the standard victims' rights because they respond to the need of many trafficking victims for legal certainty about where they can and will remain after the crime that often brought them to a foreign country, has ended. Further materials on trafficking in persons is available in the E4J University Module Series on Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants.

At the regional level, and particularly in Europe, significant improvement of justice for victims has been achieved, including in cross-border cases. In 2015, the European Union issued a comprehensive and legally binding victims' rights directive, establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. The directive ensures that persons who have fallen victim of crime are recognized and treated with respect and receive proper protection, support and access to justice in all European Union Member States. The directive also specifically addresses issues related to cross-border victimization.

Previously, the European Union had already set up a system to allow for mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters with a view to effectively protecting victims of violence and harassment. In practical terms this new legislation means that if a victim of violence obtains a protective or restraining order in one jurisdiction, which for instance instructs an alleged abuser to stay a certain distance away from the victim, this order is also valid in other jurisdictions within the European Union.

The European Union also adopted two legally binding directives on compensation, reaffirming and implementing the rights of victims to compensation. However, significant challenges remain. In particular, very few victims make use of the possibility to file applications to foreign compensation funds through the sister organizations in their home countries. Furthermore, the eligibility criteria for these funds vary considerably between jurisdictions, often limiting the possibilities for victims to claim compensation (Letschert and Groinhuisen, 2011).

Enhanced cooperation

In parallel to these legislative developments, regional and international cooperation on victims' issues has also increased at the institutional level. The above-mentioned legal developments mean that countries have been given the tools to cooperate more closely across borders, both in bringing perpetrators to justice but also with a view to enhancing the protection of victims and their rights.

New civil society organizations that protect victims have started to play an important role in contributing to and fostering such cooperation. In 1990, a European umbrella organization of victim support providers, Victim Support Europe, was created. At present, it represents 50 national member organizations, providing support and information services to more than two million people affected by crime every year in 27 countries. In 2018 efforts intensified to build a comparable network in the Asia region: Victim Support Asia. These networks have important functions in that they carry out advocacy to improve legislation on victims' issues at the regional and national level, through research and knowledge development, and through capacity-building at the national and local level.

At the global level, the World Society of Victimology (WSV), an international non-governmental organization with a wide membership of victim service providers, academics, government representatives, doctors, lawyers, law enforcement and emergency service personnel, students and members of the interested public, continues to advocate for victims. The WSV has, for instance, lobbied that victims should be given more rights in the context of requests for mutual legal assistance, i.e. that their perspective be considered in the formal information exchange between criminal justice national authorities in cases that concern several jurisdictions.


Victims in the age of the Internet: social media, new forms of communication, and their impact on justice for victims

The significance of the Internet and new ways of communicating form an integral part of our lives. The following discussion will just briefly touch upon how this may affect justice for victims. There are several more specific and detailed E4J Modules developed on related topics, including Modules 12 on Interpersonal Cybercrime and Module 13 on Cyber Organized Crime of the E4J University Module Series on Cybercrime.

Negative consequences

The Internet and social media have allowed for the emergence of new forms of crime. (The topic of ethical use of social media is further explored in Module 10 of the E4J University Module Series on Integrity and Ethics). Cybercrime, in its various forms, has specific characteristics that make it especially challenging from a victim's perspective. Cybercrime creates enormous damage and affects many victims. However, it is often difficult to bring perpetrators to justice, not least because they are well hidden behind a cloak of anonymity. The fact that perpetrators may be located in a jurisdiction other than that of their victim means that victims may not be able to see justice being done in the same way than victims of "conventional" crimes. Another factor that sets cybercrime apart from other forms of crime is the fact that cyber criminals can interact and threaten their victims in virtual ways, and are able to do so at any time during day and night, which potentially reduces the opportunities for the victim to find refuge in a safe space. It also remains very difficult to "scrub" the Internet and completely delete information and images that were posted or misused with criminal intent. In response to these new threats, a wide range of prevention initiatives have been undertaken in many parts of the world, including programmes for educating the public, and young people in particular, on safely using the Internet, social media and other modern ways of communicating.

Positive aspects

On the positive side, the Internet and social media offer new fora which victims can use to inform themselves about their rights and about the availability of assistance and services. Law enforcement agencies, victim assistance service providers, victim lawyers, legislators and other relevant stakeholders all offer a broad range of relevant and immediately accessible information that can help victims to orient themselves in the aftermath of a crime and find first answers to the urgent questions that they may have. For instance, the city of Barcelona in Spain operates a dedicated website in English to inform tourists how to avoid being targeted by criminals and what to do when a crime has occurred.

Moreover, the Internet and social media offer new platforms in which victims can express themselves. For example, victims maintain websites for victim self-help groups, where they exchange experiences and approaches to overcome the negative effects of the crimes that they have experienced, making it also easier for someone who only recently experienced a crime and may not know where to turn to find a support network.

A stronger victims' voice: the #MeToo movement and backlashes against it

One example of the opportunities but also the challenges that new ways of expressing oneself to a wider, a "global" audience offer to victims, is the #MeToo movement, initially launched by Tarana Burk, an African-American activist, that has sparked of a wider social movement against the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment.

The hashtag #MeToo spread virally in October 2017, soon after sexual misconduct allegations against a famous US film producer. According to a CNN news report, within the first 24 hours of its first use on the social media platform Facebook, 4.7 million people used the #MeToo hashtag, in twelve million posts.

The #MeToo movement quickly developed into a global phenomenon, inspiring victims of sexual harassment and assault, primarily but not only women and girls, in all parts of the world to speak out publicly about their experiences. In doing so, these victims showed perpetrators their resolve to no longer be quiet. The movement created a climate of empathy and solidarity between victims. Importantly, it made the magnitude of the problem visible, and thereby prompted a public debate about the existence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in arenas that have, hitherto, quietly denied or ignored these issues. The #MeToo movement gave victims a voice in urging recognition that this culture is inacceptable, and in making clear that it is not the victims who should feel ashamed about sexual violence and assault; instead the blame and responsibility is, and should be, on the perpetrators.

After millions of people started using the phrase, and it spread to dozens of languages other than English, the purpose of the #MeToo movement came to mean different things to different people. Movements by men have emerged, aimed at changing a culture of sexual violence through personal reflection and future action, including #IDidThat, #IHave, and #IWill. Other hashtags have focused on the experience of women in particular situations or professions.

On balance, and despite these backlashes, the #MeToo movement, has contributed in a positive way towards advancing Justice for Victims. In particular, it has shown us how new ways of communicating via social media can give victims a platform whereby they can make their voices heard. The movement has offered victims of sexual assault and harassment, crimes often associated with shame and taboo, an empowering demonstration of solidarity, both by fellow survivors as well as the general public. More importantly, the case of the #MeToo movement illustrates that if a victim-led movement becomes a widespread or even a global phenomenon, as has been the case for the #MeToo movement, it can become a driver for social change, forcing us to challenge and rethink how we treat, and in how far we show the necessary respect, recognition and support to victims of crime.

Next: Topic eight - Victims of crime and international law
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