Victims of Crime Research Digest

Codes of Ethics for Victims Services:
An Annotated Bibliography

By Aubrie McGibbon, Research Assistant, Research and Statistics Division, Department of Justice


The exploratory study carried out by McDonald in 2007 on the professionalization of victim services in Canada highlighted the need for a better understanding of victim services in other Western, democratic countries. Based on this identified need, the members of the goverrnent's Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working Group on Victims of Crime agreed that a research project would be undertaken to develop an annotated inventory of codes of ethics for victim services in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

The purpose of this research project was twofold: (1) to identify what jurisdictions have codes of ethics for their victim services providers, and (2) to identify and compare the common elements present in these codes, as well as in the development of these codes. This article provides a summary of the findings from the annotated inventory of codes of ethics for victim services.


The examples of codes of ethics identified in this article were obtained by conducting general internet searches and searching the websites of each jurisdiction's provincial, state, or territorial government. Based on the initial search results, additional sources were identified from the links provided by the original sites. When a code of ethics was mentioned but not included on a website, an email was sent to the service provider requesting an electronic copy.



Victim services in Canada are largely administered by the 13 provincial or territorial governments. They can assume the role of funder, service provider, or a combination of both. In general, the provincial or territorial governments oversee victim services directly relating to the justice system (e.g., victim compensation or restitution, victim impact statements, and victim notification). An exception to this rule is the territories, where the federal government collaborates with the territorial governments to provide certain victim services. Crisis intervention, court preparation and attendance, counselling, and referral services are offered by both the government and non-governmental organizations in all provinces and territories.

At present, the use of a code of ethics for victim services is completely voluntary. This has translated into varied levels of development and implementation amongst the provinces and territories. For example, in British Columbia, the Attorney General's office commissioned the development of a code of ethics for victim services to provide a comprehensive set of ethical principles to guide their victim service providers[1] in relationships with clients [2], colleagues, governing agencies, the criminal justice system, and the public. Similarly, New Brunswick is currently drafting a code of ethics for their victim service providers. Certain national and provincial non-governmental organizations (e.g., Mothers Against Drunk Driving [MADD] Canada and Victim Assistance Services of Ottawa-Carleton [VASOC]) have also taken the initiative of developing their own codes as a mandatory component of training, while other local non-governmental organizations (e.g., Red Deer Crisis Centre) have adopted existing codes of ethics (e.g., The Canadian Social Workers' Code of Ethics).

The development and implementation of codes of ethics varies amongst the provinces and territories. Alberta, for example, has drafted the Victims of Crime Protocol, which outlines what a victim can expect throughout the criminal justice process. It is similar to the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime developed by the Home Office in the United Kingdom and the victim charters adopted by the states and territories of Australia.

United States

The United States offers a diverse selection of training opportunities for victim service providers. This is a reflection of the multi-jurisdictional nature of victim services. These training options have been grouped into four broad categories: (1) certification for federal employees, (2) state certification, (3) national/international certification, and (4) academic certification. Depending on the jurisdiction, training can vary from mandatory certification to voluntary professional development. In certain instances, individuals require certification for practice eligibility or client confidentiality privileges (e.g., similar to the privileges lawyers or doctors have with their clients). Other circumstances dictate that programs must have certified staff in order to qualify for state funding.

The U.S. Attorney General has developed guidelines for victim and witness assistance. These guidelines define a victim of a crime, outline the steps to take for various types of victims, describe the Victims' Bill of Rights,and outline mandatory training for all new federal employees having contact with victims of crime. The minimum training requirement for all federal employees in regular contact with victims is a one-hour briefing on the U.S. Attorney General Guidelines that is to be administered within 60 days of hiring. In addition to this, the Justice for All Act (2004) adds an element of enforcement to the Victim's Bill of Rights. U.S. Attorney General offices are now required to complete and submit annual compliance reports. As a result, employees can be suspended or terminated for failing to comply with these provisions (section 102 sub.3771 (f) (2) (c)). Finally, section 102 sub.3771(d)(1) of the Justice for All Act(2004) permits victims (or the Government) to assert their rights in a district court if they feel that their rights were not recognized during the original proceedings. Although this clause does not provide grounds for a new trial, it does a permit victims to make a motion to re-open a plea or sentence under certain circumstances (section 102 sub. 3771(d)(5)).

State certification differs considerably from the certification of federal employees. Unlike federal employees who receive mandatory training for victim services, individuals employed by state-administered or state-financed victim assistance programs require different levels of certification. To this end, the United States Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) established the Standards for Victim Assistance Programs and Providers and created the National Victim Assistance Academy (NVAA). The NVAA developed a week-long university-based training course that includes modules specific to victimology, victims' rights, ethics, and victim services for practitioners employed in victim services and allied areas (Office for Victims of Crime 2007).

To augment the availability of training opportunities across the United States, the OVC began funding State Victim Assistance Academies (SVAA). To date, 29 states offer victim assistance training in conjunction with a university. Based on the same principles and core training as the NVAA (which includes a module on ethics), each SVAA offers state-specific training for victim assistance providers. Since the training is linked with an academic institution, participants can acquire, for an additional fee, academic credit in addition to their certificate of completion.

Similarly, most states have domestic violence and/or sexual assault coalitions which can administer, manage, and evaluate training provided to domestic violence and sexual assault specialists. The role of the coalition in providing training is dependent upon the certification requirements of the individual state. All training programs that are offered as criteria for certification include an ethics component within the curriculum.

In addition to federal and state training requirements, victim service providers also have the option to acquire national and/or international credentials. Both options are governed by independent non-governmental organizations and include an ethics module. Credentialing is voluntary and includes a continuing education requirement for renewal eligibility. The National Organization for Victim Associations (NOVA) offers a National Advocate Credentialing Program (NACP) for individuals who provide services to victims. It offers three levels of credentials-provisional advocate credentialing, basic advocate credentialing, and advanced advocate credentialing-with an option to renew every two years. The Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists (ATSS) offers a voluntary, international credentialing process for trauma responders. The ATSS offers three types of certification: Certified Trauma Specialist, Certified Trauma Responder, and Certified Trauma Service Specialist. Renewal for all three categories is every three years. Both credentialing processes include a code of ethics to assist members in maintaining a professional and ethical practice.

Academic certification is growing in popularity and arguably shifting the field of victim services closer to a professional designation. California State University at Fresno, Washburn University, and the University of New Haven in conjunction with the Joint Centre for Violence and Victim Studies offer undergraduate and master's concentrations in victim services or victimology. California State University at Fresno is also developing a doctorate in Criminal Sciences with a victimology option.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom utilizes well-developed networks of community-based organizations to deliver the majority of its victim services. These networks include multidisciplinary organizations as well as service-specific organizations (e.g., sexual violence and domestic violence centres). Certain networks have expanded their jurisdiction beyond the United Kingdom to include 30 European countries by taking a lead in policy and research initiatives (Fantini 2003).

The first network, Victim Support Inc., helps people cope with the effects of crime. Similar to the Australasia model, Victim Support Inc. is an umbrella organization for victim services in the United Kingdom. The national office of Victim Support Inc. is responsible for managing the funding provided by the Home Office, developing national policies, and training paid staff and volunteers. Amongst the policies developed are the National Standards, which "describe a desired quality of governance, management and service delivery that people can expect from [the organization]" (Fantini 2003). Branching off from the national office are four regional offices located in (1) England and Wales, (2) Northern Ireland, (3) Republic of Ireland, and (4) Scotland. They coordinate and oversee the service delivery provided by local Victim Support offices.

The second network, Rape Crisis Network Europe, is the umbrella organization for crisis centres in 30 countries across Europe. The United Kingdom has three chapters: (1) England and Wales; (2) Scotland; and (3) Ireland. The Irish chapter has taken the lead on research and policy projects with the development of Models for Training and Strategies for Accreditation (Fantini 2003). This report assesses the advantages and disadvantages of professionalizing rape crisis workers across Europe. Two principal challenges were identified in the report: (1) the amount of variance amongst rape crisis centres from staff, to ideology, to clients and available services; and (2) the lack of regulation concerning the field of counseling in Ireland. This last challenge mirrors the current discourse in North America and Australia, where victim service providers are contemplating the professionalization of victim services.

The third network, Women's Aid, is a central network of domestic violence centres consisting of 370 local organizations in England providing shelters (over 500), helplines, advocacy, and outreach services. To ensure the provision of high quality services, Women's Aid has developed a set of national service standards for all member organizations. The standards have combined the service standards from the Supporting People program[3] and the Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA) Charter to produce a comprehensive set of standards for its membership. Similar to other standards documents, it includes ethical components such as confidentiality, safety, equal access to services, and accountability.

In addition to these networks, the Home Office plays a dual role in victim services. As funders, they provide the financial resources necessary to non-governmental organizations. Given this position as a funder and the reporting requirements (e.g., services offered, target clientele) for recipients of funding, the Home Office also serves as an information centre that can provide a comprehensive list of services available to victims. It has also begun to take a leadership role in policy development for victims. In April of 2006, the Code of Practice for Victims was adopted. Differing slightly from a code of ethics, the Codeprovides the minimum services standards for victim and witness services offered by the government.


With few exceptions, criminal justice programs and services fall under the jurisdiction of the six state and two territorial governments (Victim Support Australasia 2006). However, the implementation, management, and supervision of these services vary amongst the states and territories. For example, Queensland, Western Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory have legislation specific to victims' rights. New South Wales and the Northern Territory both have legislation, which includes a charter of victims' rights. South Australia has victims' rights legislation as well as the Declaration of Principles Governing the Treatment of Victims in the Criminal Justice System. Victoria has a Charter of Rights for Victims, and Tasmania is currently developing a Charter of Rights for Victims.

Despite the variance amongst the documents, they are all based upon the United Nation's Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for the Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (1985). Unfortunately, these documents are limited to stating how a victim should be treated. Most do not include a complaint mechanism, and several explicitly state that they are not enforceable by civil or criminal redress. However, in select contexts, these documents are further supported by state and territorial public service standards applicable to all public servants. These standards offer an accountability mechanism and assist in addressing the lack of enforceability of victims' rights legislation and victims' charters.

This variation with codifying victims' rights translates to an equally diverse array of service delivery models. The services offered to victims can include, but are not limited to, restitution and compensation programs, information concerning an investigation and court proceedings, notification of the status of an accused/offender (e.g., bail, parole, escape or release), assistance with the preparation of victim impact statements, court preparation and accompaniment, counselling and referral services, crisis intervention, and information concerning their rights as victims.

In order to soffer this extensive variety of services, each state or territory provides a combination of government- and non-government-administered victim services. For example, Western Australia and Victoria have adopted a predominantly government-administered victim services model, whereas Queensland, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, and New South Wales utilize both governmental and community-based organizations for victim service provision.

Several government ministries administer victim services: the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Corrections, the Attorney General's office, and the Ministry of Health and Community Services (e.g., support and counselling services in New South Wales). Generally speaking, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Corrections and the Attorney General's office oversee services related to the justice and court systems (e.g., victim impact statements, restitution and compensation programs). These programs are almost exclusively administered by the government. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Community Services oversees crisis intervention, counselling, and other services also offered by non-governmental organizations.

New Zealand

With a relatively small population of approximately 4.1 million (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development2007), New Zealand utilizes one organization to serve as an umbrella organization for victim service providers. Victim Support Inc. is a national, independent non-governmental organization that oversees 77 regional offices and works closely with various government ministries including Justice, Corrections, Social Development, and Youth Development, as well as local police departments to coordinate victim services (Victim Support Australasia 2006).

Common Elements Across Jurisdictions

Certain themes were identified across all jurisdictions. These themes addressed the rights of victims or clients as well as victim service providers' responsibilities to victims or clients.

The rights afforded to victims and clients highlight the need to strike a balance between respecting the voice of victims or clients and protecting victims or clients. Self-determination was amongst the most universal tenets across all jurisdictions and occupations. It encompasses the right victims have to choose which services best suit their needs, to refuse service, and to be given referrals to other service providers.

Victims and clients also have the right to be informed. This includes the right to be informed about the investigation, the court proceedings, the custody and release of the offender, the services available to them, and the limitations of client confidentiality. In addition, victims have the right to be protected from contact with the offenders. Finally, victims have the right to provide information. This was most commonly associated with victim impact statements.

Promoting a safe space and respecting the right to confidentiality of victims or clients were the two principle tenets of protecting victims or clients from future victimization. Promoting a safe space emphasized respectful, non-discriminatory, and compassionate service delivery with all victim services. In order to protect the confidentiality of victims or clients, any identifying characteristics pertaining to victims or their cases should be withheld from the media, members of the public, and colleagues not directly related to the victim and/or the case.

In order to uphold the rights of victims or clients, victim service providers have several responsibilities. As mentioned above, protecting victims or clients is paramount. To accomplish this, the confidentiality of victims or clients must be protected, unless the victim service provider is required to report. The exceptions to upholding confidentiality include child abuse or neglect (including threats thereof), threat of suicide, threat of homicide, and court order (i.e., subpoena).

The clarification of roles between victim service providers and victims or clients is equally vital to protecting the rights of victims or clients. Victim service providers should avoid conflicts of interest and dual relationships at all costs. In the event of a conflict of interest or dual relationship, it must be reported immediately in order that the issue may be rectified.

A final responsibility of victim service providers concerns activities not directly related to a specific victim, client, or case. In addition to their responsibilities to victims or clients, victim service providers have a larger responsibility to society. NGOs often take on the role of advocates or activists as well as that of service provider. This advocacy or activism occurs on two levels: individual, which entails supporting survivors to identify and advocate for their needs and rights (with their consent); and institutional, which encompasses the goal of influencing or changing law, policy, and practice for the benefit of victims/survivors.

Concluding remarks

This review has demonstrated that there are models of codes of ethics that have been developed and implemented in numerous jurisdictions. Despite differences in terms of the structural organization of victim services in jurisdictions (within Canada and in other countries), there are key elements that are common to codes of ethics. Any further work on this issue in Canada should strive to incorporate the findings of this review and build on the excellent work that has already been accomplished in this important area.