: Victims of Crime Assistance

Victims of Crime Assistance

Roger Grime

The genesis of the ACT branch of Victims Of Crime Assistance League (‘VOCAL’) was heralded by the killing of a child, Grant Cameron, at the Duffy Primary School Fete in 1987. The victim’s parents were devastated when they were officially told, without any prior consultation, that the primary offender, also a child, had pleaded guilty to manslaughter. In their own words they were shocked, hurt, betrayed and angry. But, they also felt they were powerless to do anything and that they were letting their son down.

The victim’s father was an Australian Federal Police officer with the Rural Patrol Division. Even with such a rich background in law enforcement, witnessing some of the more unseemly sides of life in his career did not prepare him for how alienating and dehumanising the court experience could be.

A major part of VOCAL’s identity is about addressing the alienation of primary and secondary victims of crime through the court experience. Grant’s mother Rita Cameron summed this up by stating ‘that experience in court changed my life forever. I have never felt so cheated, so removed from it all’.

A unique component of the makeup of VOCAL ACT is the empathy possessed by many of their volunteers who have often been victims of crime themselves. This largely separates them from their government-funded counterparts such as the Victims Support Service (‘VSS’) and the Justice Advocacy Unit (‘JAU’). Another unique attribute of VOCAL ACT is its inter-jurisdictional availability. If a crime has been committed interstate, victims will still be supported in the ACT. VOCAL ACT also offers unconditional ongoing counselling. Large corporate counselling services sub contracted by the government usually limit their services to a limited number of counselling sessions. VOCAL ACT understands that limiting its services does not aid the ongoing healing process associated with grief and loss sustained by many victims of crime.

Unfortunately, there have been some developments in ACT government policies and funding approaches. Several larger broad spectrum community organisations have expressed a direct interest in the funding previously provided to VOCAL ACT, but they do not have the unique background that VOCAL ACT has built up over twenty three years.

Members of the executive committee have recently approached both ACT Attorney-General and Minister for Family & Community Services, as well as the Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for Family & Community Services. The primary reason for these meetings was to plead for an extension of funding and exemption from the tender process.

VOCAL have recently learned their tender application has been unsuccessful. However, since they have functioned altruistically without government funding in the past they are confident that they will sustain their valuable and unique community service through creativity and hard work.

It is hoped that VOCAL ACT’s unique access to meaningful practical help and counselling services, combined with the positive legacy of tens of thousands of victims of crime who have been supported and assisted in the nation’s capital for almost a quarter of a century, will be sustained.

ROGER GRIME is VOCAL ACT Court Support volunteer and Reference Librarian at the ANU Law Library

(2011) 36(4) AltLJ 282
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