: Victim Services: Age Should Be No Barrier

Victim Services: Age Should Be No Barrier

Catherine Schubert
South Australia

Young people aged between 14 and 24 years are heavily represented in Australian crime victimisation statistics, for crimes against the person. Nevertheless, victim agencies are typically designed primarily to assist adults. This means there is a lack of services that are both available and accessible for young victims of crime. While each jurisdiction is grappling with this issue, in South Australia it has formally been flagged by Victim Support Service (‘VSS’). This organisation is currently equipped to assist victims over the age of 16.

The Age Should Be No Barrier project was completed for VSS to identify ways they could potentially become more accessible for young victims. Literature reviews, internet searches, and semi-structured interviews with industry professionals were completed to ascertain the services that are already available, the needs of young victims, and the ways VSS could potentially meet these needs. Many of the identified ideas are being considered by VSS. However, it has also opened up an important dialogue within the industry, encouraging organisations to communicate with one another about this issue, and to work together towards closing this gap in services.

South Australia has a range of therapeutic service providers who assist young victims. However, they are all either broadly promoted as ‘health services’ or are only relevant to victims of a particular crime, such as sexual assault. There are no services that are focused on supporting victims of all crimes, while simultaneously being promoted as relevant to young people.

All victims need information, including:

•    the need to be informed of behaviour that constitutes a crime;
•    to be informed that the term ‘victim’ is not derogatory;
•    to be informed that what they are feeling is normal; and
•    to be informed that being a victim is not their fault.

This information is already publicly available. However, because young people are not usually the intended audience, they often do not receive this information or do not perceive it as relevant to them.

Successful provision of this information is paramount in making victim services more accessible for young victims. Following on from the promotion of their existence and general relevance, the information allows young people to determine whether victim services are applicable to their own circumstances, and encourages individuals to feel comfortable about accessing them. The key is to promote service awareness and service availability in spaces frequented by, and in a format appropriate to, a young audience.

It is vital that the accessibility of victim services for young people in Australia be improved. However, they should not replace the work health services do in assisting young victims, as individuals who do not identify themselves as crime victims or do not associate their symptoms as related to this status still seek these services. They also should not replace services that assist specific classes of victims. Instead, accessible youth victim services would complement these organisations, affording not only their clients but all young victims greater choice in the organisations and locations where they can access services.

CATHERINE SCHUBERT took the lead of the Age Should Be No Barrier project while completing an Honours degree in Criminal Justice at Flinders University in 2009.

(2011) 36(3) AltLJ 210
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