Victim support professionals

VSE upholds a set of 9 minimum standards for victim services, which can be used to guide victim support organisations in developing high quality, effective, efficient, and consistent services. Minimum standards can reduce the risk of victims being harmed, or resources being wasted.

1. Making services accessible to victims of all types of crime

A Victim Support organisation should clearly state in its relevant documentation and communications that it serves all victims, free of charge, thus implying respect for the principles of equality and non-discrimination. Its services should be accessible, visible, and well-publicised, given the challenges some victims face in seeking help, the organisation must ensure that receiving assistance is as stress-free as possible.

The organisation should understand victims’ challenges (for example, victims not wishing to report a crime won’t attend an office located in a police station) and should be able to provide alternative means of support: flexible opening times outside regular office hours; being in a place that is easy to reach by car, public transport, or on foot; offering home visits, etc; are some ways that can make support more accessible. Additionally, it must be made clear to victims that essential services offered by the organisation will be free of charge.

The more visible the organisation is and the more variety of support options on offer, the more accessible the organisation will be.

2. Respecting victims and treating them with courtesy and dignity

Victim support organisations and professionals should ensure communication with victims is appropriate. From the initial contact – whether by email, phone, social media or face-to-face – victims must be treated with courtesy, politeness, and kindness. Communication, verbal or written, should be non-judgmental, considerate of gender, cultural, religion and disability, mindful of the crime a victim may have experienced.

Victim support workers should maintain a welcoming environment for the victims, and provide easy to understand information about service procedures, clearly explaining what the victim can expect, while listening to them and giving them an opportunity to voice concerns or complaints, which should then be resolved.

3. Working to ensure victims are safe

On first contact with a victim, any ongoing risks should be identified by asking a few simple questions: is the victim afraid of anything, does the victim feel threatened, is there ongoing victimisation? A risk assessment can be used to identify the nature, the extent, and the probability of the risk. If a victim is considered at risk, an action plan to stop the ongoing victimization should be initiated. Referral to other entities, including contact with the police, may be part of this action plan.

Having safety and security measures in place, including basic victim safety standards within the premises, is an essential to ensuring victims’ safety. Victims should be informed about the measures that are in place, to provide them with reassurance.

During the initial contact with the victim, support workers should make it clear that all services are confidential, and how confidentiality should be maintained by both the organisation and the victim. There should be a clear explanation on how information is kept secure and under which circumstances information would be passed on to other organisations. This information should be reinforced if the victim appears stressed during this first contact or appears to have difficulty understanding all the details given to them.

4. Responding to individual victims’ needs

Before a support worker can address a victim’s needs, the needs must be understood.  As well as the requirement to treat the victim with respect and dignity, the victim’s status and suffering must be recognized and acknowledged. An immediate need for protection from harm and further victimization may be identified, requiring the victim to be safeguarded during the criminal and court procedures. Thereafter, the victim may need other forms of support: information, emotional, psychological, and practical help as well as referral to appropriate services. Above all, the victim needs access to justice and, if a violent crime has been experienced, the victim should receive financial compensation.

Other than these fundamental needs, certain groups of victims will have specific needs requiring specific support, which may be attributable to the type of crime experienced. Specific needs can also be based on a victim’s vulnerability: children and adolescents, persons with disabilities, women, migrants, minorities, cross-border victims, etc.

Each victim will have their own individual needs, which must be assessed by the victim support organization during the victim’s first contact and reviewed thereafter on each following contact. From this assessment, support appropriate to the victim’s needs will be determined.

When assessing a victim’s individual needs, the context and circumstances of the crime must be considered as well as the victim’s physical, emotional, social, judicial, practical and financial needs. Ideally, a victim support organization should be able to adapt the support and services they can provide to each victim’s requirements, while considering the specific needs of vulnerable groups such as children and adolescents, persons with psycho-social disabilities, women, elderly people, cross-border victims, migrants and minority groups.

5. Supporting victims through diversity of services

Unless victim support organisations deliver their services in a flexible manner, using a variety of approaches, fewer victims will be able to access the help they need. Ideally, organizations should give victims the option to ask about services electronically, by telephone and face-to-face. Services should be available in situ at local offices or wherever is convenient for the victim, through helplines or online web pages. However, staff will need to be appropriately trained to ensure the quality of the support, no matter how or where that assistance is delivered.

A variety of services can be offered to meet the specific needs of victims:

  • Information (on rights, services, impact of crime, etc.)
  • Advice and support on accessing compensation (explaining what compensation is; how to complete the forms, gather evidence or interact with the authorities)
  • Referral (to organisations better able to help the victim) through agreed procedures
  • Emotional support
  • Psychological support or referral to psychological support
  • Practical advice on financial, legal and everyday issues (guiding victims, finding solutions, empowering victims)
  • Advice on personal/property risk management and means of preventing future crime to avoid re-victimisation (knowledge on prevention is an important aspect of support for crimes such as domestic violence, gang related violence, cybercrime, fraud etc.).
6. Delivering for victims through referrals and coordination

A victim support provider should make it clear to victims of crime that other services are available, offering additional, often specialized, help.  Victims may find it difficult to differentiate between the organisations, and support providers can play a key role in advising victims on the choices available. Detailed information should be given on what each service offers and what that would mean to an individual victim. Procedures should be in place to chaperone victims through the referral process and to ensure that the referral of a victim to another provider can be carried out without the victim suffering re-victimisation.

Victim support providers should not only have a database of relevant victims’ services but are encouraged to turn the database into an active, collaborative network with which they can share information and best practices. As an individual victim support organization will be unable to provide all types of services, trust and confidence in the quality of work carried out by network partners will facilitate victim referral.

7. Ensuring good governance structures

Victim support organisations should comply with national laws and regulations by initiating required governance rules and policies. Governance and financial control mechanisms must be clear and transparent.

8. Achieving quality through training

Volunteers, paid staff, and professionals joining a victim support entity will be required to complete a basic training course before working directly with victims. Training may take place on a group or individual basis, however, the recruit will be provided with the knowledge needed to best support victims. After training has been completed, the recruit should work as ‘a trainee’ with an experienced Victim Support worker for a designated period.

Victim support providers should ensure ongoing training is offered to existing personnel pertinent to their contact with victims, and the nature or type of crime involved. Even those, who do not work directly with victims, should attend an appropriate course to learn about victimisation. Training will, at least, ensure that victims are treated with dignity and respect, that the support provided responds to the victim’s needs, and that no further harm is caused.

Training should be carried out on a regular basis to update staff on the latest victim support trends and best practices, which may change due to current research into victimization and victim support issues. Additionally, updates will be needed as and when national legal procedures are altered.

Managers must constantly reevaluate, update, or renew training programs to ensure they are fit for purpose.

9. Improving services through monitoring and evaluation

Victim Support Europe suggests that services should be evaluated at least once every two years. To this end, appropriate assessment tools should be in place, and victims should be at the core of this evaluation process. Strong ethical and moral guidelines should be followed when including victims’ opinions in evaluation procedures since responses guided by social desirability, secondary victimisation or retraumatisation should always be avoided.

Evaluation can be internal or external. Internal evaluation can be carried out by assessment on the quality of, and satisfaction with, services by employees, partners, the public, and victims using quantitative assessment tools, such as questionnaires, or qualitative assessment tools, such as interviews or focus groups. External evaluation refers to evaluation by an external auditor, who will develop a comprehensive methodology to look at the positive impact of daily practices and identify areas of improvement.

A complaints system, which enables victims to give feedback and resolve any disputes should be in place. This system should be accessible but should not open the door to further harm or victimization, support workers should give victims information on this system and its procedures.

Distance support services

Distance support services are an important facet of victim support services. In this time of lockdowns and quarantines because of the coronavirus pandemic, supporting victims at a distance is often the only way to get essential services to the victims and there are many ways to provide support without meeting a victim face-to-face, most notably through telephone helplines and online services (from specialised platforms to social media chats).

Many VSE members provide distance support on a regular basis and others are having to adapt to this new situation. This section provides useful information on distance support, please keep in mind that the use of all online platforms must be GDPR-compliant. Here are the guidelines on providing online services created by The Centre for Digital Youth Care and circulated by the European Commission.

Communication tools for online support (from the T@LK Handbook)

  • Email– an online communication tool that allows the exchange of email messages between email accounts; there is a time lag in the interaction between the professional and the user (i.e., reading and replying to a particular email may not occur immediately after it is being written and sent). It is tool most likely to be used to provide support, information and/or intervention via the Internet.
  • Online forms– a communication tool that, after completion, sends a request for support, information and/or intervention via the Internet. Online forms are considered safer than emails in the provision/reception of support, information and/or intervention for victims of crime/violence.
  • Chat– an online communication tool that allows the exchange of text messages in real time via the Internet, which may include the option of video calls over the Internet. Communication takes place using software, such as Skype and Messenger, and/or chat services developed by/for a particular organisation to provide support, information and/or intervention via the Internet.
  • Video call–a communication tool that allows the interaction between two or more people by using camera and audio settings; it is possible to share and exchange audio and visual information. It may or may not have the option of exchanging text messages.
  • Website– a page or set of pages with diversified information, which can be accessed via a computer and other devices with Internet access. Websites can also make available or have reference to other online communication tools (e.g. email, chat). Access can be free or restricted (i.e., requiring pre-registration or log in).
  • Apps– software that can be installed on smartphones and mobile devices, facilitating access to varied information. Like websites, apps can make reference to other online communication tools (e.g. email, chat).
  • Social Networks– virtual social structures of people and/or organisations, connected, via the Internet, by one or more types of relationships of shared common values and goals. Social networks are communication networks that involve symbolic language, cultural boundaries and power relations.

A support session via the Internet (or even an ongoing support process or follow-up delivered online), including different and complementary steps, should be structured coherently:

Alternative platforms to use for online support

Strategies for online communication

  • Follow the ‘netiquette’ rules: introduce yourself, use appropriate language, reply as quickly as possible, do not use all caps, do not leave before finishing the session, saying goodbye, and waiting for the victim to do the same
  • Use presence techniques to compensate for lack of face-to-face contact: you may write your feelings, emotions, or other cues in brackets. This is called emotional bracketing. For instance, “I think it could be useful to come up with a safety plan (I am worried about your safety in this situation)”. More presence techniques are available in the T@LK Handbook hand-book (pp. 86-88)
  • Listening – even if (or especially when) providing support online, it is important to listen to the victim. While you are not able to hear them literally, it is important to allow enough time and ‘space’ for the person to express themselves, to clarify any potential misunderstandings, and not to assume the victims’ feelings. Active listening techniques, such as paraphrasing and summarising, can be very useful.