Irvin Waller calls for governments to meet international standards of victim assistance and invest in preventing victimization.

Victims Rights : Smart Ways to Enforce Them

Victims of crimes such as rape, robbery, murder, break-ins, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and assault suffer losses and trauma as a result of crime. They are often frustrated and further traumatized by police and courts.

In 1985, all of the governments who were members of the United Nations General Assembly resolved to reduce crime and provide victims with services and justice. Since 1985, governments across the world have made many strides forward by multiplying the numbers of laws, the amount of compensation and the availability of services.

But too many victims still do not get the services and rights that they deserve for no truly good reason. To change this, we must make victim rights measurable, inform victims of services and rights, and invest in effective victimization prevention.

1. Rights that are measurable

Most every State in the USA has legislated victim rights. Most Canadian Provinces have victim compensation and service laws. Both Canada and the USA have federal laws that mention some rights for victims. Every country in the European Union has agreed to the directive on victim rights.

These are all steps in the right direction. Unfortunately, victims often do not get the right or service in the laws because legislators have rarely provided for adequate funding or a remedy to make sure the victims get the service.

One significant, but too often overlooked, way to make these rights enforceable is to make them measurable. What gets measured gets done.

Fortunately in 2014, we can build on progress by many pioneers, such as: England and Wales has set standards; The European Union calls for data; The International Association of Chiefs of Police calls for surveys; Ontario Task Force wants gaps measured; The US GAO monitored the Crime Victims Rights Act.

2. Victims that are informed

Surveys in Europe and North America show that victims are not using services that are available, because they are not informed of the services or linked to the services.

Conversely, when victims find out about services or compensation, they turn to them and get the service and generally are satisfied. An important way to inform victims is the police as has been recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. This is particularly important as victims increasingly do not report their victimization to the police. An Ontario Task Force chaired by their retiring Chief Justice recommended specific wording in reference to compensation and by implication other services.

Police called as first in aid, judges in courtrooms and correctional officials must inform victims of the services available, of how to access the services and where to go when the services do not meet their needs. The services available and how to access them must be provided on the web and on leaflets or cards that emergency responders and others provide to victims.

3. Prevention that stops violence

In 2014, we have significant knowledge and evidence on what is effective and cost effective in reducing crime and so victimization. This knowledge is available among others on websites of the US Department of Justice, Her Majesty´s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Public Safety Canada and the World Health Organization.

This knowledge shows the potential for reducing harm to victims significantly and saving tax-payers money (see Smarter Crime Control for a guide to politicians on this knowledge and its savings of many lives, avoiding injuries and billions of taxes). So governments must reinvest in public safety that prevents violence before there are victims.

What are rights for victims of crime?

Rights for Victims of Crime includes a model law that sets out inalienable rights for victims of crime which would meet the needs of victims for support, justice and good governance. Among rights proposed are the following (some proposed in the USA as a constitutional amendment are in italics):

Be treated with dignity and respect;

Restitution and Compensation
Restitution to be paid by the offender in cases that result in a conviction;
• Apply for victim compensation in cases involving violent crime;
• Be reasonably protected from the accused
• Special protections as a witness
Reasonable notice of the release or escape of the accused;
Reasonable notice of, and shall not be excluded from, public proceedings relating to the offense;
• Be present at all hearings at which the defendant is entitled to attend;
Be heard at any release, plea, sentencing, or other such proceeding involving any right established;
• To confer with the prosecutor
Proceedings free from unreasonable delay;

Full Implementation
• Right to pursue legal remedies if your rights are violated.

Some of these rights would need to respect at least the special needs of children, women, Aboriginal Peoples, and disabled.

It is estimated in Smarter Crime Control and Rights for Victims of Crime that an initial reinvestment of about 15% from current expenditures on policing, courts and corrections towards implementing these rights might both reduce the number of victims and funds services at levels similar to leading US States and EU countries as well as compensation at levels similar to the United Kingdom. The reduction in victimization would over 5 years reduce the needs for policing and corrections by substantially more than the 15%.

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