Multi-Site Survey of Victims of Crime and Criminal Justice Professionals across Canada : Summary of Victim Services Providers and Victim Advocacy Group Respondents

3. Findings from Victim Services Providers and Victim Advocacy Group Respondents (continued)


3. Findings from Victim Services Providers and Victim Advocacy Group Respondents (continued)

3.3 Information for Victims: Perceptions of Victim Services Providers and Victim Advocacy Respondents

Adequacy of Information Provided

Victim services providers who were interviewed were asked to describe the kinds of information they believe victims of crime most want to receive. There is general agreement that victims primarily want to be informed of developments regarding their own case, since this enables them to regain some degree of control over their situation. Victim services providers also believe that victims want general information about the criminal justice system as a whole, such as an explanation of the various stages of the process, a description of what they can expect in the courtroom, and an understanding of their role, their rights, and their options at every stage of the process. Additionally, victims want to understand the reasons for the release of the accused and any conditions attached to the release, and want to know how they can keep themselves safe and what the system will do to protect them. Victims also need to be informed about any services and resources available to them, and about what will happen to the accused after final disposition.

From the perspective of victim services providers who were interviewed, information provided to victims is sporadic and inconsistent. They believe that victims are more likely to obtain information if they initiate contact with the Crown Attorney or police or if victim services organizations are involved; sometimes the extent of information that victims receive depends on the particular police investigator assigned to the case. A few victim services providers reported that victims of crimes against the person are more likely to get adequate information than victims of property crime. Table 5 shows the proportion of respondents who believe that victims usually receive adequate information on various aspects of their case and on the criminal justice system as a whole. There is substantial agreement among victim services providers, Crown Attorneys, and police that victims generally receive adequate information with respect to the date and location of their court proceedings, victim impact statements, victim services, the ultimate outcome of their case, and conditions of release.

From the perspective of victim services providers who participated in the study areas for improvement in information provision include the progress of the police investigation, outcomes of bail decisions, conditions of release, charges dropped, restitution, the ultimate outcome of the case, the criminal justice system, alternative processes, and the rights of the accused.

From the perspective of victim advocacy organizations who participated in the study areas for improvement in information provision include the progress of the police investigation, outcomes of bail decisions, conditions of release, the charges laid, the charges dropped, restitution, the ultimate outcome of the case, the criminal justice process, the rights of the accused, and alternative processes, victim services and community services.. It is worth noting that in all three of these areas (and in general), police had a more positive opinion than their colleagues of the adequacy of information provided to victims of crime.

Please refer to Table 5 below.

TABLE 5: DO VICTIMS USUALLY RECEIVE ADEQUATE INFORMATION?
Percentage of respondents who agree that victims usually receive adequate information on… Victim services (N=318) Crown Attorney (N=188) Police (N=686) Advocacy Groups (N=47)
The progress of the police investigation 42% 32% 83% 19%
Outcomes of bail decisions 40% 64% 69% 23%
Conditions of release 55% 64% 79% 23%
Date and location of court proceedings 81% 70% 78% 60%
Charges laid 70% 59% 90% 49%
Charges dropped 49% 52% 67% 32%
Victim impact statements 71% 78% 74% 53%
Restitution 47% 66% 59% 15%
The ultimate outcome of the case 60% 61% 75% 43%
The criminal justice process 54% 38% 62% 21%
Alternative processes 27% 24% 57% 23%
Rights of accused 43% 28% 63% 32%
Victim services 69% 76% 93% 43%
Other community support services 66% 44% 76% 32%

Note: Respondents who gave no response are not represented in this table.

Responsibility for Information Provision

Table 6 below shows respondents' perceptions of criminal justice professionals' responsibility for providing information to victims of crime. With respect to certain pieces of information, respondents were mostly in agreement over which agency - Crown Attorney, police, or victim services - should be responsible for informing victims. For example, a majority of respondents in all groups believes that police should inform victims about the progress of the police investigation and any charges laid. Similarly, a majority in all categories believes that victim services providers should provide information about victim services and other community support services, while Crown Attorneys should provide information about the ultimate outcome of the case. However, when it comes to the other types of information, there is less certainty among respondents regarding the three agencies' responsibilities for information provision.

Furthermore, in no instance did respondents assign full responsibility for information provision to a single agency. Instead, they regard information provision as a shared duty. Even where large majorities of respondents identified a certain agency as primarily responsible for providing information to victims, substantial proportions also believe that the other two agencies also have a role to play.

For the most part, victim services providers and victim advocacy respondents were in agreement regarding who is responsible for providing information to victims. However, responses to who should be responsible for providing information about the conditions of release differed, with advocacy groups reporting more often that Crown Attorneys were responsible for this, whereas victim services providers were fairly evenly split between identifying Crown Attorneys, Police, and victim services providers as responsible for providing information in this area. Similarly, more advocacy respondents than victim services providers noted that Crown Attorneys should provide information to victims about restitution, the criminal justice process and alternative processes.

TABLE 6: WHO SHOULD PROVIDE THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION TO VICTIMS?

Obstacles to Information Provision and Possible Improvements

In interviews, victim services providers, Crown Attorneys, and police explained that there are several obstacles to providing information to victims of crime. Insufficient time and limited resources are perhaps the most significant. All three groups agreed that the sheer volume of cases in the system makes it impossible for criminal justice professionals to provide all victims of crime with all of the information that they may want or require. From the perspective of victim services providers, this difficulty is exacerbated by a lack of coordination and collaboration between victim services, police, and the Crown Attorneys. In a related vein, both police and victim services providers pointed to their own limited access to Crown Attorneys, court, and (in the case of victim services) police information systems, and observed that privacy legislation and policies limit the extent to which the various agencies involved can share information. Other difficulties in providing information include victim transience or reluctance to be contacted, and the possibility that disclosure of certain information may jeopardize the trial.

Among the more frequently mentioned measures to improve the information given to victims were more widespread establishment of court-based or police-based victim assistance programs; better provision of information by police and by the Crown Attorney and/or more police and Crown Attorney resources; a more active role for the court in providing information; creation of stronger links among all agencies involved in order to establish clear guidelines and direction on who should provide what information; and increased information-sharing among agencies. Other suggestions included education and training so that all criminal justice professionals gain a better understanding of the role of victim services organizations; more print materials; and implementation of a standardized checklist or protocol for reference by police, the Crown Attorney, and victim services, to ensure that all professionals dealing with victims are providing information in a consistent manner. There were also suggestions for implementation of a centralized, computerized repository of information accessible to all agencies and for improved public education about various aspects of the criminal justice process.

3.4 Information-Sharing and Collaboration

The victim services survey and interviews used open-ended questions to examine the extent to which information-sharing and collaboration occur between victim services, on one hand, and among other victim services and community organizations on the other. While there is evidence of some collaboration among agencies serving victims, there is also support for establishing stronger links among them in order to improve services for victims.

Victim Services and Community Organizations

Victim services providers were asked to describe their relationship with other victim services and community organizations. The results are in Table 7 below. Although 29% of those surveyed simply said that they have a strong working relationship with these other agencies, many gave specific details about the nature of that relationship. Referrals are evidently the most important aspect of the relationship; 38% reported referring victims to other community resources and receiving referrals from them. Additionally, 21% reported that they share information with other organizations through various committees, consultations, and meetings.

In interviews, victim services providers explained the nature of this information-sharing further, reporting that they meet with other community agencies on a regular basis to discuss a variety of issues, to coordinate activities, and to inform one another of the range of services available to victims, and a few reported sharing information on specific cases, although only with the consent of the victim. Small proportions of victim services providers reported the existence of working protocols with court-based or police-based victim services, inter-agency training and information sessions, and participation in community coalitions. Five percent reported no contact with other victim services or community organizations.

TABLE 7:COLLABORATION OF VICTIM SERVICES WITH OTHER VICTIM SERVICES AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS, AS REPORTED BY VICTIM SERVICES
Nature of collaboration: Victim Services (N=318)
Referrals 38%
Strong working relationship - nature unspecified 29%
Share information 21%
Working protocols with court-based or police-based victim services 6%
Training or information sessions 4%
Part of coalition of agencies 3%
Limited collaboration or contact 5%
Do not work together or share information 5%
Other 7%
Don't know or No response 14%

Note: Respondents could provide more than one response; total sums to more than 100%.

Relationship between Police and Victim Services: Perceptions of Police Respondents

Police were asked to describe the nature of their relationship with victim services. As shown in Table 8, just under one-fifth of those surveyed reported that victim services has access to police reports and files, while a similar proportion simply explained that police share information with victim services. While 15% reported sharing office space, 12% said that police and victim services do not work together or share information at all.

TABLE 8: COLLABORATION OF POLICE WITH VICTIM SERVICES, AS REPORTED BY POLICE
Nature of collaboration: Police (N=686)
Victim services have access to police reports or files 18%
Share information 17%
Victim services is part of police service or share office 15%
Victim services updates police after contact with victim 10%
Open communication or close collaboration 7%
Poor communication or limited collaboration 5%
Victim services attends complaints or occurrences 4%
Other 9%
Do not work together or share information 12%
No response 10%

Note: Respondents could provide more than one response; total sums to more than 100%.

In a separate question, police were asked specifically whether their division or department has a policy for allowing victim services to access victim files. Forty percent of those surveyed reported that such a policy is in place, although close to half did not know whether their organization had such a policy. Of police who reported the existence of a policy allowing victim services to access their files, more than one-quarter said that this access is unlimited. However, it was more common for police to report some limitations. For example, 17% of police who said that an information-sharing policy exists reported that victim services has access only to certain files; 13% said access is possible only with the victim's consent; and 11% said that federal legislation limits the extent to which they share information with victim services. [2]

Police were also asked about the referrals they make to victim services. More than three-quarters of police surveyed said they generally refer victims to police-based victim services and more than two-thirds generally refer victims to specialized victim services for domestic violence. Over 60% refer victims to specialized services for sexual assault and specialized services for children, and one one-third refer victims to court-based victim services.


[2] Note: Federal privacy legislation is applicable only to RCMP, not to other police forces.

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