Putting victims first
The experience of victims is at the heart of our efforts to drive down the harm caused by crime.
It's why, when victims told us they needed better support from the justice system, we listened. The Government is making changes to our courts and our laws to empower victims and reduce the potential for trauma from participating in justice processes.
Technology is making it easier for victims to give statements and for police to gather evidence at a crime scene.
The Government is also making changes to laws and considering ways to make it easier for victims of crime to access compensation.
What is being done
Providing best practice services for victims of sexual assault and family violence
The Government is funding the provision of critical support for victims of sexual assault and family violence.
This brings together a range of services and supports in one place, for victims to access. In 2017, the Government established the new Dandenong Multidisciplinary Centre, which co-locates services and supports for victims of sexual assault and family violence including:
- Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team
- Family Violence Investigation Unit
- forensic medical examiners
- child protection practitioners
- sexual assault counsellors
- community health nurses.
Co-locating these services means that victims are seen more quickly, that services work together to support them, and that they can assess specialist workers who understand their needs.
Work is also well underway to establish the Wyndham Multidisciplinary Centre, which is due to open in mid-2018, and to expand the Geelong Multidisciplinary Centre.
The Wyndham Multidisciplinary Centre will be the seventh in Victoria, joining others in Dandenong, Seaford, Geelong, Mildura, Morwell and Bendigo.
More support from Victoria Police
The Royal Commission told us that victim survivors need more support in court, and throughout the justice process.
It’s why in 2018, as part of its family violence reforms, Victoria Police will finish recruiting 39 extra police lawyers to support victims of family violence. They will also help police apply for intervention orders in court.
This will build on the existing police lawyer program and provide even more support to victims of family violence through the court process, particularly in regional areas.
Supporting victims through the court process
In 2017, the Government provided $28.5 million to support victims, witnesses and children during court processes.
This includes ‘intermediaries’ – or skilled communication specialists – who work with victims and help them to give evidence to police and in court.
Special ‘ground rules hearings’ will also be introduced to guide the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses and the use of intermediaries in proceedings. This reform aims to make the court experience less stressful for witnesses and improve the quality of evidence.
The Government has also provided funding for the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) for additional frontline services to victims and witnesses, as well as employing new specialised lawyers in areas like family violence, offences committed while on bail and offending by gangs.
The funding also ensures that the OPP has access to the best quality representation to prosecute important and complex cases.
A new OPP website was launched in 2017 to link victims and witnesses with information on support services and provide clearer information on the prosecution process.
As part of this package, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation received funding for its successful Cubby House program, which provides children a safe place to play when attending court.
The Government has also funded the Judicial College of Victoria to ensure judges and magistrates receive more training in how to better respond to the needs of victims in the courtroom.
Better representing victims’ needs
The Victims of Crime Commissioner plays an important role in representing victims of crime.
The Government will strengthen the role of the Victims of Crime Commissioner to review complaints into non-compliance with the Victims’ Charter.
This will further empower the Commissioner to be a strong, independent voice to advocate for victims in the justice system.
Improving compensation for victims of crime
In 2016, the Government asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) to review the way the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) currently deals with people seeking compensation.
This review was originally set up to find ways to improve the experience of victim survivors of family violence, following a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. In 2017, it was extended to include all victims of crime.
The VLRC will consider whether existing laws can be simplified to help victims better understand their entitlements and access help without the need for legal representation.
It will also look at ways to help victims avoid unfair or unnecessary legal costs, and whether legislation recognises the appropriate people as victims of crime. The VLRC will provide its report to Government on 27 July 2018.
In February 2018, the Government passed legislation to scrap the two-year time limit for childhood abuse victims to seek compensation from VOCAT.
The Government also asked the Sentencing Advisory Council to review whether restitution and compensation orders made for the benefit of victims should become a sentencing option. The Council’s report is due by 1 September 2018.
Assisting victims to tell their story without fear of prosecution
Some victims of crime want to share their experiences publicly without fear of legal consequences.
Under current laws, an adult victim who is a witness in a criminal matter in the Children’s Court could be subject to potential prosecution if they speak publicly about their experience.
In February 2018, the Government passed legislation to change the law so that an adult victim who is a witness in a criminal matter in the Children’s Court can speak without fearing potential prosecution.
Better support for Aboriginal victims of crime
The Government has also increased the number of Aboriginal workers supporting Aboriginal victims of family violence and other crimes against the person. The funding of these positions will improve access to the justice system for Aboriginal victims of crime, facilitate access to mainstream services and increase the cultural understanding of the victim support sector.
Trialing technology to improve responses to family violence
The Government is continuing to support Victoria Police to implement recommendations from Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence, including the introduction of body-worn cameras for police.
Victoria Police has made significant progress toward introducing body-worn cameras, which will eventually be available to all police personnel interacting with the public. In 2018, the cameras are being trialed in two locations. The trial will cover general use in interacting with the public, gathering evidence and specific gathering of victim statements in family violence incidents.
Consistent with a recommendation of the Royal Commission, the Government is also working on legislation to enable camera recordings of victim statements to be used in court hearings. This aims to minimise the trauma of the court process by reducing the number of times a victim is required to give evidence.
What we’ll deliver
- building on the knowledge of Victoria Police in recognising and responding to family violence
- ensuring additional support for victims during court proceedings
- building a stronger, safer and more inclusive Victoria Police.
Building a stronger and safer Victoria Police
In 2015, Victoria Police asked the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) to independently review sex discrimination and sexual harassment in Victoria Police.
After the Report was released, the Chief Commissioner accepted all 20 recommendations, and formally apologised to serving and former members of Victoria Police who were harmed in the workplace.
The review recommended that Victoria Police, with the support of the Victorian Government, develop a redress scheme for Victoria Police personnel who had been harmed due to sexual harassment or discrimination. VEOHRC recommended that the scheme include restorative initiatives and financial and non-financial reparation. The review also noted that the process would also help drive necessary cultural change.
In 2017, the Government undertook public consultation to inform the design of a restorative engagement and redress scheme and examined legislative reforms to support this work.
In 2018, Victoria Police and the Victorian Government will continue to work to design and implement an appropriate scheme.
These reforms will help make Victoria Police a safer and more respectful workplace.
More support for victims of crime
In 2018, the Government will further support victims during criminal trial proceedings, with proposed reforms including:
- amending the Victims’ Charter to better communicate and meet the needs of victims before, during and after the criminal trial process
- create a new role for the Victims of Crime Commissioner to improve the management of complaints
- provide clarity for the admission of Victim Impact Statements in criminal proceedings.
Improving police responses to family violence
Victoria Police, in implementing the Royal Commission into Family Violence's recommendations, aims to better meet the needs of victims, including ensuring police have the right knowledge and skills to recognise and respond to family violence.
To this end, specialist family violence police resources are being allocated, and a new Victoria Police strategy to combat family violence, sexual offences and child abuse – Policing Harm, Upholding the Right – has been released.
In addition, a dedicated Family Violence Centre of Learning is being established at the Victoria Police Academy to further enhance family violence training for all police.
An external Academic Governance Board has also been appointed and will start advising Victoria Police on family violence education in 2018.
These new resources, new strategy, and new training provide a strong foundation with which to implement each of the Royal Commission’s recommendations for Victoria Police.