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Helping victims of crime rebuild shattered lives

In her latest blog, Alison talks about the work of the Victim Care Unit and the Government's renewed focus on victims of crime.

Being a victim of crime is often worse than might be imagined, even if the offence falls into a category defined as ‘minor’. I’m not keen on that term because even non-violent offences or those where items of little financial value are stolen or damaged can have a devastating and a long lasting impact.

Not only might the injured party have lost something material, or been hurt emotionally or physically, but their faith in humanity is likely to have been shaken. They might not trust others as much as they did before, or feel as safe in their community.

We are lucky in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly that in my opinion we have some of the most caring police officers and robust communities in the country. We also boast one of the lowest crime rates of any force area. Nonetheless when police officers have done their job investigating offences the legacy of the crime lasts with the victim, their friends, family and community. The impact of more major offences, such as sexual offences, is likely to last for the rest of someone’s life.

Fortunately help is at hand for residents of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in the shape of the Victim Care Unit.
This organisation, funded by my office, can provide a wealth of support and advice to victims of crime large and small, recent and historic. Commonly victims of crime are referred there by police officers but residents of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly can self-refer, even if they have not reported a crime to police.

The strength of the network lies not only within the professional advice that can be offered by its paid employees but by the registered and approved providers who can provide support through commissioning. Help could come in the form of advice finding an approved local locksmith to providing long-term counselling or an opportunity to engage in restorative justice. Importantly the service is free to the public.

This support network has existed for some time now, and I am keen it is used to its maximum potential so that the impact of crime on our communities is minimised. Although referrals to the unit have increased steadily since it was set up in 2015, I will be campaigning this year to help raise awareness of the work it does.

I was therefore pleased to see that the Government has placed a renewed focus on what happens after a crime is reported through a new Victims Strategy.

Ministry of Justice research echoes the findings of a Devon and Cornwall survey which found that many victims were not accessing support, and awareness of the services available is generally poor. The Ministry of Justice will consult on a revised Victims’ Code to ensure victims’ needs are better met by the services offered and the changing nature of crime is recognised. The consultation, due to start early this year, will also ask for views on a Victims’ Law to underpin the code.

The ministry will also review the entire Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme - particularly around applications relating to child sexual abuse and terrorism - and improve communication and support for victims during the parole process.
In England and Wales a Victims’ Commissioner was established in 2010 to stand up for victims and witnesses in the criminal justice process. Since 2012 the role has been held by Baroness Helen Newlove, who knows more than most about being a victim of crime after her husband was murdered. The new proposals also recommend a strengthening of the commissioner’s powers which I wholeheartedly support.

I am pleased that our Victim Care Unit has already adopted many of the attributes that the Government would like to see across the country, but there is still work to be done in raising its profile, both within the force so all front-line officers and staff are ready to champion its services, and externally, so the public know that there have been huge strides in this area in recent years, and really valuable services are on hand.

Nothing can take away the distress and trauma of being a victim of crime but by making these services available, and effectively connecting victims to them, will show those who have suffered that there is a society that cares so that can be well placed to rebuild their lives and move on.

If you have been a victim of crime and would like to contact the Devon and Cornwall Victim Care Unit you can find them online at www.victimcaredevonandcornwall.org.uk or call them on 01392 475900. Lines are open from 8am to 8pm from Monday to Friday and between 9am and 5pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Alison Hernandez