Section 2 - Victims Of Violent Crime
No group or individual is exempt from the possibility of becoming the victim of a violent crime. Crime victims do not form a static or homogenous group. They are of all ages and gender, and can be found within all social, economic, religious, geographic and ethnic groups. Crime victims also include secondary victims such as the family members of crime victims. Families' lives, particularly the families of homicide victims, are often shattered by the serious victimization of an individual family member.
Understanding the impact of violent crime and the resulting needs faced by victims provides an important foundation for reviewing the role of financial assistance for victims of violent crime.
A. Impacts of Violent Crime
Violent crime can have significant emotional, financial and physical repercussions for victims.
During my meetings, I heard many stories about the emotional suffering borne by victims, including feelings of fear, shame, isolation, and humiliation. As the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime has written:
Criminal victimization is a frightening and unsettling experience for many Canadians. It is unpredictable, largely unpreventable and often unexpected. Unlike normal life experiences, victimization is not sought out and never welcomed. It is debilitating and demoralizing. Its effects can be often long-term and difficult to overcome. 1
In addition to short-term emotional and other suffering, it is undisputed that many victims of violent crime also suffer very significant and long-term psychological harm.
Violent crime can impose many financial burdens on its victims, including property damage, lost wages, and various other out-of-pocket expenses. The federal government estimates that "[i]n 2003, [all] crime in Canada cost an estimated $70 billion, a majority of which - $47 billion or 67% - is borne by the victims." 2
Violent crime often, of course, results in physical injuries. While some victims of violent crime may suffer relatively minor injuries that require little or no medical attention, the CICB's decisions reveal that the physical injuries resulting from a single act of violence can, not surprisingly, compromise a victim's quality of life.
In addition to the direct impacts of violent crime, crime victims may experience secondary victimization following the initial criminal act. Secondary victimization is the insensitive treatment that victims sometimes face in the criminal justice system and elsewhere. This insensitive treatment may occur as early as the initial police investigation and may continue for many months or years as a victim is required to navigate through criminal processes such as the preliminary hearing, the trial and perhaps a parole hearing. Often the cause of secondary victimization is simply a lack of training or understanding of victims' needs, or criminal justice processes and programs that are focused on the prosecution of the accused and operate at times without sufficient awareness or sensitivity to victims' needs.
B. Needs of Victims of Violent Crime
Those I met with who work with victims of crime directly, as well as the organizations and individuals who submitted written submissions, consistently identified five specific needs that victims of violent crime often face independent of safety concerns and the need for information and support relating to the prosecution process:
- financial assistance,
- acknowledgment of victimization,
- an opportunity to relate what happened to an official decision-maker, and
- individual assistance in navigating through the network of victim services and programs.
Not surprisingly, early assistance was identified as being most effective, although some victims of violent crime obviously require longer-term assistance and support.
Victims of violent crime very often face expenses in order to ensure their on-going personal safety and to regain a degree of normalcy in their daily lives. The list of these expenses can be quite varied, such as paying for counselling, installing security devices, replacing broken locks and windows, paying for temporary or alternative accommodation, replacing prescription eyeglasses, buying new clothing, etc. For those with limited financial resources, even minor unexpected expenses can create additional uncertainty and anxiety.
Counselling is also a critical need faced by many victims of violent crime. In order to be effective, such counselling is often best delivered by persons outside the medical profession who have significant experience working with crime victims. Social workers, psychologists and experienced victim support workers appear to provide a great deal of the victim counselling in Ontario. As one victim whose son had been murdered observed during our meeting: "Victims don't have mental illnesses - we don't need psychiatrists for our counselling." The Ontario Health Insurance Plan, however, only covers the costs of psychiatrists. The services of social workers, psychologists and other victim counsellors are not similarly funded.
Victims of violent crime also often desire a formal acknowledgment about what happened to them. The criminal trial process, of course, focuses on determining whether an accused person is guilty or not. Its purpose is not to provide victims with societal acknowledgment of their victimization. In contrast, the issue at a CICB hearing is whether an applicant was a victim of a violent crime. When the CICB grants an application, the written decision that is sent to the victim specifically states that the applicant was a victim of crime, and acknowledges the injustice that individual suffered. For many victims, the CICB decision is the first official acknowledgment of their victimization and the acknowledgment can be very meaningful.
There is also a desire among some victims of violent crime to have the opportunity to relate what happened to an official decision-maker and therefore it is clear that a hearing may be quite therapeutic. For example, a study of the effect that the workers' compensation process in Quebec can have on workers' health noted:
One of the facets of the process that was identified as having a favourable effect on the workers' health was that part of the appeal hearing where the workers could be said to have had their day in court. 3
There is considerable literature supporting the notion that individuals often highly value the opportunity to be heard by decision-makers and that people are more accepting of outcomes, even negative ones, when they have had an opportunity to participate in the decision making process through a hearing. 4
Finally, victims of violent crime require individual assistance in navigating through the network of victim services and programs. Most of these services and programs in Ontario are delivered by local community agencies, and it can be confusing for crime victims to determine which agency has the services most appropriate to their needs.
C. Police and Crime Victims
The duties of all police officers in Ontario include "assisting victims of crime". 5 Police officers are often a victim's first contact with the criminal justice system following the commission of a crime. This contact may continue for some time if there is a police investigation, particularly if criminal charges are laid. Police are therefore well situated to play an important and positive role in the lives of crime victims and to ensure that they are treated with respect and compassion. While many victims of violent crime described very positive experiences with police officers, some individuals described insensitive treatment, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the crime.
Police officers are under tremendous pressure to enforce the law and to investigate crimes, and often face competing pressures at a crime scene. Notwithstanding this, victims must be given a high priority by police services and police officers must receive the necessary training and support so that they are able to convey a sense of societal compassion and sensitivity to crime victims.
- Canadian Resource Centre For Victims of Crime, The Impact of Victimization, online: http://www.crcvc.ca/docs/victimization.pdf.
- Government of Canada. "Cost of Crime in Canada", online: http://www.victimsweek.gc.ca/archive2006/fact-sheets/p2.html. The $70 billion is divided as follows: $18 billion for violent crimes, $40 billion for property crime and $12 billion for other crime.
- Katherine Lippel, "Workers describe the effect of the workers' compensation process on their health: A Québec study" (2007) 30 International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 427 at 438.
- See, for example, E. Allen Lind & Tom R. Tyler, The Social Psychology of Procedural Justice (New York: Plenum Press, 1988)..
- Police Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. P.15, s. 42(1)(c).