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Why Are Victim’s Individual Needs and Risk Assessments Essential to Their Support and Protection

Miren Špek
Wednesday 14 February 2024

Why Are Victim’s Individual Needs and Risk Assessments Essential to Their Support and Protection

Crime is not only a wrong against society, it is also a violation of victims’ individual rights. Victims of crime should therefore be recognised and treated in a respectful, sensitive, and professional manner without discrimination of any kind or for any reason. Generally, the State in which a crime took place is responsible for the victim, as it was unable to protect them, either through a lapse in security or social order, or it failed to ensure their access to justice, compensation or restoration. While Directive 2012/29/EU of the European parliament [establishes the] minimum standards on the rights, support, and protection of victims of crime, some victims remain at risk of secondary and repeat victimisation, of intimidation and of retaliation by the offender during criminal proceedings. Such risk may derive from the victim’s personal characteristics or the type, nature, or circumstances of the crime. Only by carrying out individual assessments[1], at the earliest opportunity, can such risks be identified effectively.

Professional literature (legal and psychological) and EU legislation on this matter[2], strongly recommend that individual needs and/or risk assessments should be carried out for all victims to determine whether they are at risk of secondary and repeat victimisation, intimidation or retaliation, and what special protection measures they may require. By assessing victims’ needs and risks, the police, prosecution or court officials can “tailor” protection measures to suit the individual victim, as well as their professional and private circumstances. It will also make adjustments for victims’ children or other family members. Furthermore, if a victim is injured, they will need medical assistance; or if the individual is a hate crime victim, they will require focused data protection policies[3] and measures.

Tailored protection measures must be practical in their enforcement and easy for the victim to live with. Victims’ concerns and fears in relation to proceedings should be a key factor in determining whether they need specific measures.

Once a victim’s needs have been identified, the next step is to put in place the appropriate protection or support; this is achieved through use of referral mechanisms and sharing assessment outcomes. Some European support organisations have much experience in providing victims with protection and support. They offer psychological and psychosocial support, primary legal aid and may cover victims’ court representation (attorneys-at-law) expenses, (safe) accommodation, psychotherapy, accompaniment during criminal proceedings, etc.[4]

Protection measures must be developed for each of the stages the victim encounters: such as during or after a trial/procedure. Police officers should conduct a risk assessment to determine whether a victim is in danger of intimidation or victimisation[5]. Investigations should establish whether contact between victims and the accused can be avoided in venues where both may be present as a result of victimisation.

A range of measures can be put in place to protect a victim while giving testimony in court or at the prosecutor’s office: visual contact between victims and defendants can be minimised before, during and after the giving of evidence by use of audio-visual communication technologies or by screening the victim in the courtroom; and unnecessary questions on the victim’s private life should be avoided. However, once the trial process is concluded, there may still be a need to protect the victim, witnesses, or other family members.

[1] Individual assessments should consider the personal characteristics of the victim such as age, gender and gender identity or expression, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, health, disability, residence status, communication difficulties, relationship to or dependence on the offender and previous experience of crime. They should also take into account the type or nature and circumstances of the crime such as whether it is a hate crime, a bias crime or a crime committed with a discriminatory motive, sexual violence, violence in a close relationship, whether the offender was in a position of control, whether the victim’s residence is in a high crime or gang dominated area, or whether the victim’s country of origin is not in the Member State where the crime was committed
[2] Directive 20212/29/EU of the European parliament and of the Council on Establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, EU Strategy on victims’ rights (2020-2025), Model Guidance on Individual Needs Assessments of Hate Crime Victims developed by ODIHR; Directive 2011/36/EU of the European parliament and of the Council on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims; VSE Handbook for implementation of legislation and best practice for victims of crime in Europe; Regulations (EU) no 606/2013 of the European parliament and of the Council on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters.
[3] Data protection is vital for the protection of victims’ privacy, health, and security. It aims to ensure that victims’ contact details and personal information, as well as information relating to the crime are not shared with anyone unauthorised to receive it. For instance, it is crucial that the names and addresses of victims of stalking and domestic abuse or of victims who have protected identities, are not accessible to the offender. Data protection and information security processes must ensure that this protection requirement is fulfilled.
[4] Handbook for implementation of legislation and best practice for victims of crime in Europe, Victim Support Europe.
[5] For instance, emergency barring orders, restraining orders or protection orders may be required during the investigation and should be available immediately without any undue financial or bureaucratic burdens being placed on the victim. If the suspect is released on bail, but there is still a risk that he/she might threaten, intimidate, or injure the victim or any associated witness, strict bail conditions should be set, for instance stating that the suspect/accused must not contact the victim or come within a certain distance from the victim’s work or home.
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