35 years may not seem like a hugely significant birthday to celebrate, but for our colleagues in Scotland this is a significant milestone.
Victim Support Scotland was formed in 1985 and the charity puts its success down to the sheer dedication and hard work of its staff and volunteers, as well as their ability to adapt services to the needs of those affected by crime.
Clearly much has changed since 1985.
Research shows that reported crime levels have fallen dramatically in Scotland since 1985, with Glasgow (the country’s largest city) transforming its reputation as the knife-crime capital of Europe, but this hides the true picture. While there has been an overall sustained decline in some serious and violent crimes, less serious offences have risen and remain relatively high.
However, sexual crime reports have risen by 136% in this period. There are many reasons for this increase, some related to the introduction of new legislation. With increased public awareness of sexual crime, and the prevalence of awareness campaigns such as #MeToo, there is a reassuring message here that people feel more confident to come forward and report sexual crimes.
We have seen major changes at a societal level: for example, greater public intolerance towards hate crime and increased support for minority groups; as well as significant advances in technology allowing offenders to commit crimes in new and opportunistic ways.
What has this meant for Victim Support Scotland?
Quite clearly, Victim Support Scotland (VSS) services have had to adapt and evolve over the last 35 years to deal with changes and this is reflected in the organisation’s history:
In 1996, a pilot programme of services to support witnesses giving evidence in court began with funding from the ‘Scottish Office’. By the end of 2002, VSS had 13 such services supporting victims and witnesses going through the judicial system in Scotland. This has since expanded the service to all courts in Scotland.
In 2004, VSS introduced its first dedicated anti-social behaviour service. Around the same time, the Victim Notification Scheme was introduced nationally allowing victims access to information about an offender’s release date for the first time. Aware that these updates could be triggering for some victims, VSS made sure its services were available for victims at any time, not just in the immediate aftermath of crime.
In 2008, VSS officially launched the Victims’ Fund, which has provided a lifeline for some of Scotland’s most vulnerable victims over the years.
VSS has continued to make strides in recent years. Kate Wallace was appointed as CEO in 2017. Also in 2017, VSS hosted its first Hate Crime conference with Lord Bracadale, who led an important review of existing hate crime legislation which has in part influenced the current Hate Crime (Scotland) Bill going through Parliament.
VSS trains Police Scotland probationers about the impact of crime on victims and the support services available. The organisation also has a pivotal role in the Scottish Government’s Victims’ Taskforce as a lead of the ‘Victim-Centred Approach’ workstream, overseeing an ambitious programme of systemic improvement that has already begun to shape the experiences of victims and witnesses.
In VSS’s first 35 years, hundreds of thousands of people affected by crime have been supported. In 2007 annual referrals into VSS services were over 100,000; and by 2015 this number had doubled to 200,000.
In April 2019, Victim Support Scotland launched its Support for Families Bereaved by Crime service, providing dedicated specialist support to some of Scotland’s most vulnerable families.
The criminal justice system in Scotland has a considerable way to go if it is to effectively address offending without sacrificing the needs of victims. Reporting a crime and going to court is still traumatic, with many people describing the trial experience as worse than the crime itself. Victim Support Scotland remains committed to championing the rights and needs of people affected by crime, and to working with its partners to put victims and witnesses at the heart of the justice system.