The devastating impact of physical and sexual violence on the lives of its victims has had prominent discussion in Australia in the past year. Many of us have heard the horrific accounts of victims brave enough to tell their stories in the public hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and alcohol-fuelled violence has been a frequent topic of discussion in the media in NSW.
Victim support and victim compensation schemes (‘victim schemes’) play an important role in supporting victims of violent crime, although in some cases these schemes may only be a small part of the support network for victims. While these schemes often receive limited airtime, they are increasingly relevant to the broadening health and wellness focus of injury support schemes. This article is based on a paper presented at the 2013 Injury Schemes Seminar. The aim of the paper was to discuss some of the key issues faced by these schemes in providing support to victims of violent crime and to increase the awareness of these schemes.
THE IMPACT OF VIOLENT CRIMES
Many people are affected by violent crimes every year in Australia, including the direct victims of the violent crimes, their families and those who witness the act of violence. Figure 1 shows the number of violent crimes reported in NSW in each financial year by offence type.
While each crime is unique, there are some common characteristics underlying each offence type.
The victims of common assault are predominantly young males while the majority of sexual assault and domestic violence victims are women or girls. The offender of sexual assault and domestic violence victims is often well known to the victim, most commonly being a family member, close family friend or person in the same workplace or school as the victim. This can create difficulties for the victim to report crimes to the police because the prospect of the criminal justice process can be confronting and traumatic.
There is an over-representation of violent crime in certain subsections of society. For example, the prevalence of violent crime is often higher in culturally and linguistically diverse people, people living in rural and remote communities, people with disabilities and homeless people.
The assistance required following the act of violence may vary significantly depending on individual circumstances and on the type of crime:
- medical and/or dental services and rehabilitation services may be required to improve the victim’s physical capacity;
- counselling can help the victim cope with the shock, pain and suffering following the incident and can help non-offending family members cope with emotional distress;
- sexual assault victims may need specialist medical care to help the victim’s concerns regarding infection, pregnancy or other injuries;
- domestic violence victims may need to be relocated or may need an increase in security measures in the home; and
- families of homicide victims may need financial assistance with funeral costs and practical assistance to deal with the coroner, the police and the media.
WHAT KIND OF SUPPORT IS AVAILABLE?
The establishment of the principles underpinning many victim schemes originates from the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. The Declaration recognises the profound impact crime has on victims and calls on member states to provide assistance to victims of crime, to provide financial compensation to victims when restitution is not possible from the offender and to provide fair and accessible criminal legal and judicial processes.
In Australia, each state and territory has a victim scheme that provides compensation, financial assistance and support. They are broadly consistent in their goals to improve victim welfare although the benefits are not intended to provide full restitution.
The financial support provided varies considerably between different victim schemes.
Some schemes, such as NSW, VIC, QLD and ACT, focus on providing timely care and financial assistance to cover expenses. Typical expenses covered by the victim schemes include counselling, medical expenses, loss of earnings, incidental travel expenses, and other expenses in exceptional circumstances such as relocation or upgrading security.
Other schemes, such as WA, SA, TAS and NT, focus more on lump sum compensation amounts. These are usually determined on a discretionary basis, and generally include amounts for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of income and treatment expenses.
It is important to recognise that victim support and compensation schemes are only a small part of the broad range of support services available to victims of violent crime. Many victims also have access to financial, health and legal support from community and other government service channels.
WHERE DOES THE MONEY COME FROM?
The level of funding available for victim schemes remains fairly modest at approximately $9 per capita per annum in most states across Australia. One of the major challenges for victim schemes is finding an appropriate funding source. The majority of the revenues associated with these schemes generally arise from broader community funding sourced from state consolidated revenues. Additional revenues may be sourced through restitution from convicted offenders or more broadly, from all offenders of crime through court fine levies.
Each funding source has particular challenges and limitations. For example restitution from convicted offenders of violent crime is difficult because their capacity to pay is generally limited as they are often from lower socio-economic backgrounds and debt recovery initiatives can be problematic. Additionally, in many cases victims are reluctant to confront their offenders through the justice system.
Finding a suitable funding source that is linked to the characteristics of the risks being covered is a challenge for these schemes. Potentially lucrative funding sources may include the greater use of court fine levies, other fines, proceeds of crime and alcohol taxes.
VICTIM SCHEMES VERSUS OTHER PERSONAL INJURY SCHEMES
Accident compensation schemes are formal insurance arrangements providing coverage for personal injuries arising from a variety of different circumstances. Compulsory forms of injury insurance, such as workers compensation and CTP insurance, have a relatively high utilisation of benefits, especially for more seriously injured persons. This high utilisation of benefits has arisen because there is strong public awareness of these insurance products and many processes have been established to promote reporting of injuries in a timely manner. This is not the case for victim schemes, with the number of claims lodged being only around 6% to 10% of reported violent crimes.
The demographic profile of victim scheme claimants is likely to be very different to accident compensation scheme claimants. For example, there are relatively high proportions of child claims (often with a long latency period), lower socio economic groups and those of a minority cultural background. These characteristics mean victims may have a higher need for support navigating the complex welfare and medical networks that help victims get back on their feet. The diverse cultural background of victims means that interpreter and other services specific to various cultural backgrounds can be useful within victim schemes.
The needs for victims of violent crimes are often very different to those of other personal injury schemes, and victim schemes may therefore target a broader range of support and rehabilitative objectives. This is generally done with very limited funding which can lead to significant trade-offs between victims of various crime types and the support that is available. One particular trade-off may be between providing specific financial and non-financial support for the immediate needs of victims compared with the needs of victims who suffered violence many years ago.
The reporting period for some types of violent crimes can be long and changes in societal attitudes to some forms of violent acts can mean that forecasting the future utilisation of these schemes is challenging. Some parallels can be drawn with latent claims within accident compensation schemes as while many victims report their abuse as they enter adulthood, a large proportion of victims only come to terms with the trauma of their abuse decades later. With increasing awareness and community sensitivity to the rights of victims, we are beginning to see a greater proportion of crimes reported by victims in their 40s and 50s. This trend may continue, considering the potential of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to unearth more incidents that are decades old.
The types of injuries suffered by victims may be different from those injuries arising within accident compensation schemes. In particular, there is a higher prevalence of psychological injury in victim schemes and hence a greater focus on counselling as a form of support to meet the needs of these victims. Parallels can be drawn with increasing trends of psychological injuries within accident compensation scheme claimants and the need for similar assistance.
OUR VIEWS ON BENEFIT DESIGN
Based on the issues discussed earlier, we have views on benefit structure that best balances the immediate and longer term needs of victims. We summarise victim benefit needs from victim schemes under five main types as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Key Benefit Design for Victim Schemes
Many support services are available to victims including mainstream welfare and social services and specialist victim services. However, there can be difficulties accessing these either because of significant waiting lists or the inability to navigate the complex variety of support services. A case co-ordinator role is critical in ensuring victims have a single point of contact to help navigate the different channels of support available.
Counselling plays a critical role in helping the victim process their psychological trauma and to move forward with their lives. The importance of counselling for victims, their families and witnesses is a highly valued service within victim schemes.
Many victims require urgent medical attention or assistance to escape further violence (e.g. short-term accommodation and relocation costs). Addressing these immediate needs through the benefit structure of the victim scheme helps to improve the safety of the victim, break the cycle of violence and enable a quicker recovery.
Victims may require additional financial support particularly in situations where the victim is dependent on the offender or where more expensive, longer term medical treatments are needed.
A lump sum recognition payment which provides acknowledgement to the victim of the trauma and grief experienced plays an important part in the victim’s closure process. However, where the time to wait to receive this was significant it was also seen as an issue inhibiting the healing process.
Victim schemes play an important role in helping victims get back on their feet and find a place of safety. It is an area that has a number of unique and interesting challenges and one where actuarial skills are able to add value to these schemes such as identifying and interpreting emerging utilisation trends and highlighting longer term funding challenges.
As part of the 2013 Injury Schemes Seminar we presented a paper that contains a more detailed discussion of the challenges facing these schemes.
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