Kōrero: Victims of crime

Whārangi 4. Ongoing issues for victims

Ngā whakaahua

Despite progress, in the 2010s many issues remained unresolved.

Community-based responses – funding issues

Voluntary Victim Support groups were set up in different parts of New Zealand in the 1980s and in 1993 a National Office for Victim Support Groups was established. A 0800 Victim crisis line was set up in 1997 and by 2004 a national structure was set up to manage the employment of staff and the delivery of national and local programmes of victim support. 

Police rely on victim support groups to provide crisis services. Groups such as Women’s Refuge and Rape Crisis also work to ensure the safety of victims and prevent further offending. However many groups, such as Victim Support/Manaaki Tāngata, receive only partial government funding, and must depend on donations and sponsorship.

In 2016 Victim Support had 120 paid and over 600 volunteer staff in over 60 locations around New Zealand. It relies on donations, fundraising events and support from the NZ Police and the Ministry of Justice.

Information for victims of crime

In 2007 a Victims Charter 2007 was set up which set out the standard of service victims should receive from government agencies and a Victims’ Rights Code was launched in September 2015. It sets out what victims of crime can expect from government agencies and organisations. The code includes the right to be informed, the right to make a victim impact statement, the right to express views on bail, and the right to make submissions relating to the parole plans for an offender. The activation of these principles in the operation of the justice system is the subject of ongoing review.  

A Victims Information Line, a Victims Centre within the Ministry of Justice and a Victims Information website were established in 2008 to rectify this. The NZ Police has a Victim Notification Register that records contact details of victims and enables them to be kept informed about the person who has been responsible for the crime. If the victim is under 17, then parents and guardians of the victim can also register as victims. Despite attempts to define victims’ rights and provide information for victims, many victims unaware of their rights and of the support services available.

Information about victims of crime

A greater understanding of crime victims’ experiences was gained from crime and safety surveys in 1996, 2001, 2006, 2009 and 2014. These surveys are used by non-governmental organisations and government agencies to inform their work with victims of crime.

In 2015, the then New Zealand Minister of Justice, Hon. Amy Adams, appointed a Chief Victims Advisor to the Government. Dr Kim McGregor was appointed to provide independent advice to the Minister of Justice on victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system and on strategies for supporting victims of crime. She was not directly involved in providing any services to victims of crime.

Addressing emotional and physical harm

Victims of serious crime, such as homicide, sexual assault or violent assault have been eligible financial grants from the Accident Compensation Commission to meet the costs arising out of these crimes. Grants can include the costs of burial, cremation and related services as well as counselling sessions for victims, families, friends and witnesses of a violent crime. Grants are also available to attend High Court hearings, other court hearings, parole board or coronial hearings, or restorative justice meetings. Some discretionary cash grants are also available.

These grants are accessed through Victim Support and victims of crime need to register as a client of Victim Support before they can access these grants.

Financial disadvantage

Many victims never receive reparation – for instance if an offender is not caught, or not convicted. Often an offender fails to pay, or pays slowly in small instalments, making it difficult for the victim to recover from the crime.

Aside from property losses as a result of the offence, victims may face other costs, such as travelling to attend court hearings. Victims of serious crimes sometimes have to give up work while recovering from physical or emotional trauma. These expenses are not fully covered by current support schemes.

In 2010 the New Zealand Law Commission/Te Aka Matua O Te Ture produced an extensive report on compensating crime victims in response to a request from the Government in 2008 to consider what improvements could be made to existing schemes of compensation. The report concluded that existing arrangements for compensation should be retained. However, the report noted that many victims of crime are not compensated because the offenders are unknown or the known offenders have no resources to pay them any reparation. The Law Commission argued that these should be improvements in current systems for enforcing orders for compensation.

Reparation arrears

In 2001 offenders avoided paying $38.5 million in court-ordered reparation. In 2005 the sum owed to victims but not paid was $59.2 million, and in 2009 it was $78.1 million. It had grown to $97 million by 2013.

Questioning the justice system

The justice system has been modified to take victims into account. Defendants in sex-offence and family-violence trials are no longer allowed to cross-examine the complainant, and vulnerable witnesses can be screened from the defendant when giving evidence. However, many victims still find the court process harrowing.

Restorative justice processes  have been used more frequently, particularly in the youth justice system and there is some evidence of reduced reoffending among young offenders aged 17 – 19 when restorative practices are used. Restorative justice includes offenders hearing directly from victims of crime about the impacts of their actions and being required to respond to these statements.

Despite innovation in the justice system, has been criticised for failing to respond in culturally appropriate ways to Māori crime victims. In addition, restorative justice has been criticised. There are often insufficient resources for proper facilitation of meetings. The process works only if the offender accepts guilt, and if both parties agree to take part. Its use for sexual and family violence crimes has been seen as unhelpful for victims.

Parallel justice

The current justice system helps only some victims, as it is based on the offender being tried and convicted. Many crime victims do not report the crime, and many offenders are not caught.

Victims Support advocates ‘parallel justice’ as a way of meeting victims’ needs. This process does not depend on the arrest and prosecution of an offender, and would provide adequate counselling support, compensation and practical assistance for all victims. This approach to justice focuses on the victim’s safety, immediate support, their opportunity to explain the incident and its effect on them. Parallel justice requires that victims access resources, support, financial assistance and public recognition that a crime has occurred, regardless of whether an offender is arrested or convicted.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Victims of crime - Ongoing issues for victims', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/victims-of-crime/page-4 (accessed 19 September 2019)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 15 Jul 2018