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Victims of Crime – vocal about VOCAL

By John Hargreaves - 16 May 2016 2

Victims of crime 2

In March last year I posted an article on restorative justice and in it I talked about the types of victims of crimes there were. Primary, secondary and tertiary.

I indicated then that the primary victims, of course, are those who are the immediately affected person, such as a victim of an assault or a kidnapping; a person who has been robbed. You get the point.

The secondary victims are the families of the primary victim, bystanders affected by gruesome sights, emergency services personnel; essentially those who have been affected by but were not the target of the crime.

You can see a copy of the report at http://www.parliament.act.gov.au/in-committees/previous-assemblies/Standing-Committees-Fifth-Assembly/Standing-Committee-on-Community-Services-and-Social-Equity/06.-The-forgotten-victims-of-crime-Families-of-offenders-and-their-silent-sentence.

In the earlier post, I talked about the notion of restorative justice and the idea that “restoration” is and should not be only directed at the “rehabilitated” offender; that is, his/her restoration into the community from which they come. Of course this is part of the story and we hear a lot about services aimed at restoring the offender back into the community and all the difficulties this presents. There is usually a correlation between successful restoration and recidivism rates.

But restorative justice also includes restoring the victims (compensation, counselling etc), restoring the community from the damage it caused that community (fears of lack of community safety, damage to property are some examples) and help for the families of offenders (and we give very little as a community to give that help).

More often than not though, a community expects a government to shoulder the burden of restoration. But it is really a community which can deliver the healing. Governments are “the system” which let the victims down. That’s why we have the victims of crime financial assistance process.

Now the process of assistance through the Victims of Crime Commissioner is an administrative one, provided as part of government assistance, delivered by people of the government payroll. They, unfortunately, are part of the system which let the victims down in the first place and thus can only be partially successful in addressing the concerns of victims.

A visit to their website will be helpful. It is at http://www.victimsupport.act.gov.au/victims-of-crime-commissioner. This service is extremely valuable and necessary.

But it is not part of the community. It can’t pretend to “understand” the pain and suffering felt by the three types of victims. However, a community based NGO does exist to provide that service.

This is the Victims of Crime Assistance League (VOCAL). It has an office in Narrabundah, is staffed by volunteers and has role specific volunteers who provide that one on one service to victims.

Their website is worth going to as well. It is http://vocalact.webs.com.

Their most recent patron was the late Gwen Winchester. This speaks volumes in itself.

The worry that I have is that the ACT Government removed the financial support from VOCAL in 2014 and it had to go totally volunteer in 2015. This is really not good enough.

If one of the most important measures for successful restoration is involvement of the community, for the community, and by the community, why would anyone remove funding of such a small amount and fully fund a public sector service? These two services should work hand in hand and be supported by the ACT Government to ensure successful restoration.

The value of VOCAL has been demonstrated by the contribution of the Snow Foundation and many small individual donations. So the ACT Government should recognise the partnership needed for success and restore the funding to VOCAL.

What’s Your opinion?


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2 Responses to
Victims of Crime – vocal about VOCAL
aussielyn 5:08 pm 04 Jun 16

VOCAL asked me to include the following:

Actual History

VOCAL was forced to apply for a tender in 2011 because the ACT Government did not want to recognise Vocal House as the only community service able to provide the community segment of services to victims of crime according to the requirement of the Victims of Crime Regulation 2000 part 3 Division 3.1 Section 23 (j). In 2007 the government had quietly changed the Procurement Act 2001 and its Regulation 2007, in which at Part 2, section 9, it allowed the government to put to tender any community organisation seeking more than $200,000 p.a. funding from government. VOCAL had managed to ask for just under that sum from 2000 to 2010, by reducing its hours of operation to three days per week in order to cope with rising costs of operation over a ten years period. But a few months earlier, Simon Corbell MLA had offered VOCAL extra funding, requesting that VOCAL resumes full time work. We had not figured out that this was not in our best interest in the long term, as accepting this sum of money pushed us right up past the amount stipulated by the new Procurement Regulation 2007. Although the Act at section 10 Pt 2, deals with potential exemptions from tender requirements for a long standing unique service, the government did not wish to give us this privilege and demanded that we either apply through a tender process or else quietly disappear.

VOCAL felt at the time that the point of this tender exercise was to make a move to a larger entity with less actual connection to the grass root service to victims of crime, and to appoint another service instead of VOCAL and its 25 years of experience in the field. Communities @ Work had been having private discussions with VOCAL at the time with a view to a merger. However, when it came time for the application to a tender, they confidently went ahead and applied without any concerns for VOCAL, having already been assured in various subtle ways that the deal was already in the bag. There were only two or three applicants that year. In November 2011 we were advised that we had not been successful. Although Communities @ Work had no means to carry out its new commitment, it had won the Tender and did not begin operation until July 2012. Six months to set up, and with much less to offer the ACT community than VOCAL. It is in our opinion, a shadow of the government service Victims Support ACT, just as is intended, responding to requests and referrals from the government service. As a contrast, VOCAL began 12 years before the creation of the government service, and maintained its independence throughout the 10 years period that it had a partnership with the government segment of the victims service. VOCAL seldom received any referrals nor shared in clients or data base as stipulated in the contractual agreement with ACT Health which in those days managed the contract. Things did not change though, even when the Management of VSS went over to DJACS. Records of our excellent performance can be seen in the annual reports for the 11 years. VOCAL performed well above the call of duty as acknowledged by various organisations. We even won awards for excellent early intervention.

Today it can be observed that the government service which started with only 4 staff in 1999 to carry out the Victims of Crimes Act (1983), has grown into a huge department with a Commissioner at its head. In July 2016 this department is poised to take over the role of the Government Solicitor in processing applications for Financial Assistance for victims of crime (the newer term for criminal injuries compensation). The FA Act has also been recently amended. So one would have to ask and ponder about the real reason that such a huge department, as solid as can be, with its echelons for career and promotions for public servants, seems still hell bent in keeping VOCAL, a small community service, out of the loop and bereft of any government financial support.

We at VOCAL have always worked hard to cooperate with our partner and would continue to work in the best interest of victims. It is our experience that many victims fall in the crack between the two only known services, and that the government service cannot possibly think that on its own, as a one stop shop, it can handle all victims in the ACT past the requirement of the Act ( limiting services duration per individual), and its Regulations, on a long term basis, according to individual needs.

So Yes I wholeheartedly agree with the writer of the article you sent, that VOCAL should be funded to do what it has been doing for 28 years now. All our staff have had to revert to being volunteers using the long standing model we have. As can be seen, it works well.

gooterz 10:35 pm 16 May 16

Should we spend the money helping the victims or trying to stop the crimes happening in the first place?

As sad as it is that there people are innocently affected by the actions of others isn’t part of the punishment of a crime in knowing that your family have suffered because of it?

With the revolving door of the prisons it’ll be up to those families to keep the law breaker in line.

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