Victims of Youth Crime – recognising the harm

In our first guest post from the National Youth Justice Conference 2016, workshop leader Michael Salkow of Victim Support Scotland explains why recognising harm is so important for victims.

At the National Youth Justice Conference in June I had the opportunity to deliver workshops on Victims of Youth crime – recognising the harm.  The workshop addressed and explored a key concern for victim supporter organisations: How does society recognise the harm a young person may have caused to another young person or adult if society states a crime has not been committed?  With Scotland currently considering raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility, this issue needed to be highlighted and addressed.

If society says the young person is not capable of committing the offence, what does that mean for the victim? Does this mean it did not happen for the victim? How do we align this? This workshop discussed the potential increase in the minimum age of criminal responsibility and the effects this may have on potential victims, if under legislation the young person has not committed a crime. In actual fact, most incidents may never be reported, some never recorded as crimes, and some suspects will never be identified or prosecuted.  However, there can still be a victim and support should still be offered.  It can often be forgotten that others are affected by the incident. The ripples of crime spread and affect people who may have been close to the victim or who were present at the scene of the incident. The impact of an incident will affect people differently and does not necessarily correlate to the severity or seriousness of what has taken place. As professionals we need to either offer support to anyone who has been a victim or refer them to an appropriate organisation that can provide that vital source of support.

Victims’ needs are wide ranging in the aftermath of crime.  They may be affected physically, emotionally, socially and financially and often require practical assistance. Victim Support Scotland supports victims of all crimes to improve health & well-being, increase safety, reduce isolation and help victims and their families feel informed about the criminal justice process or youth justice. Any change in legislation regarding the age of minimum criminal responsibility should strike a balance to ensure victims’ needs for information and participation are met within the system, and that they understand how youth justice works.

Victim Support Scotland’s research in 2011 found significant gaps in support currently available to children and young people in the aftermath of such an experience.  Young victims require support in various forms to cater for their broad-ranging individual needs, preferences, personalities and experiences.  In VSS’s Manifesto (2015) we call for this support in the form of “specialist professional support for traumatised children and young people, online support, one-to-one discussions with an adult supporter, group support with other children and young people who have had similar experiences and opportunities to participate in social/recreational activities with peers”.  Access to such support and guidance will aid recovery, prevent re-victimisation and make it less likely that a young person will go on to commit a crime or offence in the future.

 So, how do we meet the needs of victims in criminal or youth justice systems?

Professionals in criminal justice agencies and support organisations should treat victims sensitively and with respect.  Safety and protection needs must be taken seriously regardless of who is responsible for causing harm. Information should be provided in a way that is easy to understand.  Finally, victims, and their families, should be kept informed at every stage in the process and be supported to participate at all available opportunities. In this way, society can acknowledge that harm has been caused, irrespective of criminal responsibility.

Victim Support Scotland provides CPD accredited training on the Impact of Crime, Domestic Abuse and Victims of Sexual Crime.  View their latest courses and sign up to receive VSS training course updates. View VSS training page for further information.

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