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

3. Findings from Victim Services Providers and Victim Advocacy Group Respondents

3.1. The Role of the Victim in the Criminal Justice Process

While victim services providers and advocacy organizations were most supportive of an active role for victims, there is considerable agreement among all respondent groups that victims of crime have a legitimate role to play in the criminal justice process. In interviews, victim services providers emphasized that providing information to victims and giving them opportunities for input not only empowers victims, but also allows them to gain a better understanding of the criminal justice system as a whole and a greater acceptance of decisions made in their case.

See Table 1 below for a complete review.

Perceptions Regarding the Role of the Victim in Bail Decisions

Among the criminal justice professionals surveyed in this research, a substantial proportion in all categories believes that victims should be consulted in bail decisions. Victim advocacy organizations, victim services, and police were most likely to support a consultative role for victims at bail, followed by Crown Attorneys and judges and lastly by defence counsel. In interviews, victim services providers pointed out that victims can sometimes shed light on prior unreported criminal activity in which the accused may have been involved and past breaches of conditions, and can thus assist the court in determining appropriate conditions in bail decisions.

Perceptions Regarding the Role of the Victim in Plea Negotiations

Compared to bail decisions, a slightly smaller proportion of victim services providers and Crown Attorneys support consulting with victims during plea negotiations. (The opposite was true for victim advocacy groups, where 81% indicated that the victim should be consulted.) Slightly more than 60% of victim services providers surveyed believe that victims should be consulted at this stage.

Perceptions Regarding the Role of the Victim in Sentencing

There is also considerable support for consulting victims at sentencing. With the exception of defence counsel, between half and three-quarters of respondents surveyed in all categories approve of consulting the victim at this stage. In interviews, victim services providers said that consultation at the sentencing stage should occur primarily by way of the victim impact statement. In addition, a few victim services providers suggested in interviews that victims should be permitted to make sentencing recommendations. This position, however, had no proponents among the other respondent groups.


3.2. Services for Victims

The following section considers the availability and accessibility of victim services in the sites studied. Respondents were asked about the types of services available in their community, the services offered by their particular victim service organization(s), challenges to accessing victim services, and how to improve accessibility, including how best to inform victims about available services. The emphasis in this summary will be on responses from victim services and victim advocacy organizations.

Types of Services Available

In order to determine the full range of victim services available in the sites studied, respondents to the victim services, Crown Attorney, and police surveys were asked to list the types of victim services available in their community (including their own organization, if applicable). Table 2 below provides these results.

As seen in Table 2, two-thirds to four-fifths of respondents reported that police-based victim services and specialized victim services for domestic violence, sexual assault, and children are available in their communities. A smaller percentage of respondents reported that court-based services are available.

Type of service: Victim Services (N=318) Crown Attorneys (N=188) Police (N=686)
Police-based victim services 82% 64% 82%
Court-based victim services 57% 50% 49%
Specialized victim services for domestic violence 78% 73% 79%
Specialized victim services for sexual assault 69% 65% 73%
Specialized victim services for children 66% 64% 69%

Specific Services Offered by Victim Services

In addition to obtaining information about the types of services available to victims, the survey also sought information on the specific services offered. Each victim services respondent was asked to identify the services provided by his or her organization from the list given in Table 3 below.

From the survey responses, it appears that victims generally receive most of the services on the list. In particular, as Table 3 shows, victim services almost always make referrals, provide crisis support, accompany victims to court, and inform victims about court procedures and the workings of the criminal justice system. Many of these organizations also inform victims about victim impact statements and help them prepare to testify in court. Assisting victims with requests for restitution received the fewest mentions.


Challenges to Access

In addition to the availability of victim services, the survey asked about accessibility. Three respondent groups victim services providers, police, and victim advocacy groups were asked to comment on whether particular accessibility issues exist for victim services in their communities. Across all three respondent groups, a sizeable minority (approximately 10 - 25%) did not comment.

As seen in Table 4, police and advocacy groups have conflicting views about the accessibility of victim services. Few police perceive any difficulties with accessibility, and most advocacy group respondents say that some impediments exist. Victim services respondents represent a middle ground. While these respondent groups may disagree about the extent to which accessibility is a problem, there is considerable agreement about the reasons. However, one-third to two-thirds of respondents did not provide any additional explanations.

Percentage of respondents who indicated challenges to accessing victim services: Victim Services (N=318) Police (N=686) Advocacy Groups (N=47)
Language barriers 53% 11% 66%
Financial barriers 43% 6% 77%
Services do not respond to cultural needs 35% 5% 70%
Lack of victim services because of rural location 29% 9% 55%
Services do not respond to needs of both genders 26% 6% 53%
Physical barriers for person with disabilities 21% 3% 51%

The most common challenge to accessing victim services mentioned by victim services providers is providing services to victims whose first language is not French or English, combined with a shortage of interpreters and translators available to assist. As Table 4 shows, about half said that language barriers exist in accessing victim services in their community. Two-thirds of victim advocacy groups and one-tenth of police agreed.

Financial and cultural issues were mentioned by over one-third of victim services providers and about three-quarters of advocacy groups. (Less than one-tenth of police agreed). The two main financial obstacles offered by survey respondents were transportation and/or childcare costs.

In interviews, several victim services providers indicated the importance of culturally sensitive services by noting that different cultures react differently to being victimized and, as a result, many individuals who belong to certain cultural groups choose not to report a crime or not to access victim services. They also mentioned the need for training in cultural sensitivity for victim services providers and the need for more cultural diversity among victim services providers. Similarly, a few police noted in interviews that some racial or ethnic groups exhibit a general mistrust of police, resulting in reluctance to access police-based victim services.

The absence of victim services in some rural locations is a challenge according to about one-third of victim services providers, half of victim advocacy groups, and one-tenth of police surveyed. Lack of adequate transportation is the major impediment to access. In interviews, victim services providers in both large and small centres mentioned the challenges in serving their geographic area. Respondents in large centres noted that while the city boundaries extend over a large area, many victim services are concentrated in the city centre. Respondents in small communities noted the difficulties in serving more rural areas. While a few victim services organizations do home visits to these rural locations, distance is a challenge faced by many victims.

About one-quarter of victim services respondents surveyed said that victim services are not responsive to the needs of both genders. Half of victim advocacy groups and 6% of police agreed. According to those interviewed, there are significantly fewer specialized victim services for men as many of the specialized services for victims of domestic and partner abuse serve women and child victims only. Interview respondents also indicated that not only are there fewer services for male victims, there has also been less education regarding male victimization, which results in very few men in these situations coming forward and asking for help. In addition, a few victim services and advocacy group interview respondents commented that individuals in same-sex relationships who experience partner abuse are disadvantaged because often these cases are not considered to be 'domestic' and thus are not included in the mandates of specialized victim services.

One-fifth of victim services respondents and half of advocacy groups mentioned accessibility issues for persons with disabilities. The most common difficulties mentioned were inaccessible buildings, and lack of appropriate transportation. Three victim services providers also mentioned insufficient staff for home visits. In interviews, victim services providers also mentioned additional access issues that did not appear on the survey. Several believe that there is a lack of awareness of the available services, which could be rectified with more publicity for victim services and more education of both the public and criminal justice professionals about what services are available. In addition, a few cited the extensive waiting lists for services caused by the increase in the volume of cases without a corresponding increase in resources. Literacy was also mentioned by several respondents who indicated that victim services mail outs, brochures, and pamphlets are often too complex and are not understood by many individuals.

Lack of coordination, integration, and information-sharing among the various agencies and professionals was mentioned as an important challenge by a few victim services providers who were interviewed in large cities. A concern was expressed that non-acceptance by the formal criminal justice system limits referral by other organizations.

Improvements to Increase Accessibility of Services

Victim services providers were asked in interviews about what could be done to improve accessibility of victim services. The main suggestion was that Police, Crown Attorneys, and judges would benefit from additional training on victims' issues. Likewise, victim services providers would benefit from training on cultural diversity and the needs of male victims and gay, lesbian, and trans-gendered victims of crime. Finally, a few victim services providers stated that increased collaboration and information-sharing among all professionals and victim services providers would be beneficial to victims and would facilitate their access to services. A few respondents also indicated that more outreach is needed.

Best Way to Inform Victims of Available Services

In interviews, victim services providers were asked what would be the best way to inform victims of services available in their community. Interviewees stressed flexibility and repetition, explaining that information should come from a variety of methods (written and oral) and should be provided at various points throughout the criminal justice process. According to several victim services providers, this is important because victims, at the time of the crime, are often too traumatized and overwhelmed to retain everything that is said to them. Therefore, while police should initially inform victims of available services both orally and in writing with a list of resources, victim services must follow up this contact by phone and/or mail. A few believe that victim services should first use written material to ensure that they are not too intrusive and to give the victim the opportunity to initiate contact with victim services.

Several of those interviewed also suggested public education and publicity through the media as effective methods for creating awareness. A few specialized victim services organizations mentioned the importance of having visible information on victim services in places such as doctors' offices, grocery stores, etc. According to these victim services providers, this type of publicity will assist in reaching victims of domestic violence and spousal abuse.