The right of victims of crimes to have access to information, the right to participation in criminal proceedings, the right to get support and protection…
As the European Commission is about to announce the EU Victims’ Rights Strategy for 2020-2024, Victims Support Europe’s team is glad to present its recommendations for the Strategy, which were developed with members and partners from around Europe. We called on an ambitious agenda supported by clear, time bound activities and a vision of how victims lives will be improved in reality through EU action.
Thirty years ago, in 1990, 12 victim support organisations came together to officially form Victim Support Europe. Their vision was for a Europe, united in its efforts to help every person who had fallen victim to crime.
In the 30 years, we have seen much progress. That progress has been achieved through the determined efforts of thousands of people and organisations across the world. People of all professions and backgrounds have joined behind the victims cause. Support workers, police, judges, prosecutors, medical professionals, movies stars, singers, entrepreneurs and any friend, family member or colleague of a victim have stood by people they know and don’t know – but who all shared the common thread of victimisation.
They have advocated for victims of domestic and sexual violence, for abused children, victims of trafficking, of murder, violence, fraud, theft, and many millions of victims of other crimes.
They have stood for victims coming from every sector and group including ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, religious communities, the LGBTI community, migrants, the young and the old.
Through their actions and their voices, we have seen the slow yet unstoppable progress towards rights and services for victims.
Yet, we know that millions of victims continue to face terrible hardship and pain every single year – not just from the crime itself but also from the way our societies, systems and professions treat them or fail to support them.
The research we have carried out across Europe – in the Vociare Project – shows that the greatest problem we face today is the gap between legal rights and the reality that victims face.
Simply put, laws are not being fully implemented in every country:
- Too many victims continue to suffer in silence – their victimisation unknown, the crime unreported. These are victims who never access justice or support.
- Support services do not consistently, uniformly and sufficiently exist across the whole of Europe.
- Many victims do not get the information they need, in a way they understand.
- They continue to face prejudice, bias, blaming and a lack of protection within our law enforcement and justice systems,
- And obtaining compensation from criminals and from the State is often hit and miss with many victims simply giving up.
2020 – Time To Act
2020 marks the start of a new decade. It is one that holds many fears and challenges for us, but one that is also full of opportunity. There is, today, a greater understanding of the plight of victims and the need for change.
Let us start this new decade by seizing the initiative and making sure it is a decade of action for victims.
At the end of 2019, the European Commission announced the adoption of two important strategies in 2020: the EU Gender Equality strategy for 2020-2025 and the EU Victims’ Rights Strategy for 2020-2024. In March 2020, the European Commission launched a public consultation to collect feedback from different stakeholders on the proposed Roadmap. VSE has contributed to the consultation by submitted its contribution.
The main objective of the Strategy will be to ensure that all victims of crime can fully rely on their rights, regardless of where in the EU the crime took place. The Strategy will identify policy priorities, set common targets and define specific actions to be taken by the EU institutions, Member States and civil society. The European Commission has singled out a set of key priorities in the area of victims’ rights which will constitute the backbone of the Strategy:
- Empowering victims of crime;
- Strengthening cooperation and coordination;
- Improving protection and support of the most vulnerable victims;
- Facilitating victims’ access to compensation; and
- Working on the international dimension of victims’ rights.
VSE has been calling for the adoption of such a Strategy for a long time and we welcome the initiative of the European Commission. Despite more than 75 million people falling victim to crime every year in the EU, European action for victims over the last 20 years has been characterised by its start stop nature, with most recent laws suffering from widespread failure to implement in practice.
Whilst VSE strongly supports the EU laws that have been adopted and the increasing focus on victims of crime, the new EU Strategy for Victims’ Rights represents a very important opportunity to break from the past. Therefore, VSE has provided a submission based on the priorities suggested and highlighted specific actions and tools that should be included in the Strategy. VSE supports the overall approach of the Roadmap proposed by the European Commission on the EU Strategy on Victims’ Rights for 2020-2024 whilst highlighting some key priorities:
- All victims of crime should benefit from EU actions and policies. This includes the most vulnerable people, specific groups of victims who may not be regarded as vulnerable, and all victims as a whole;
- Full implementation and evaluation of all existing EU legislation related to victims;
- A fully inclusive approach to ensure civil society and State actors cooperate and are part of the solution;
- Comprehensive systems of support: the EU must act to ensure that every Member State has victim support services, that they operate effectively, that both the public and victims are informed of these services, and that they are easily accessible;
- Access to safe justice and compensation: the EU must act to ensure that victims are supported in seeking justice while being properly protected in the system, and that compensation schemes are accessible and victim friendly;
- Victims’ issues are mainstreamed across all sectors of the EU, so that they can be actively incorporated in EU policy areas like education, health, and foreign affairs;
- Funding mechanisms are adjusted to cover victims’ issues in all EU policies, e.g. a specific funding scheme for the establishment and running of the 116 006 helplines;
- Research and training cover victim priorities to ensure a better understanding of problems and gaps, evaluate activities, develop innovative solutions, and carry out longitudinal studies.
Additionally, this Strategy presents an opportunity to really focus on the importance of not forgetting all victims, whilst also having priorities. Especially during times of crisis, victim support services are more important than ever, as economic downturns lead to increasing crime rates. Whilst budgets may be reduced, these are not times to pull back from victims’ rights and services, and the Strategy must be used as a tool for long-term, consistent and co-ordinated action.
VSE’s contribution has been developed in close cooperation with its member organisations and other EU NGO partners who actively participated in the process by providing feedback and guidance.