Recent reforms to reduce incidents of secondary victimization

Explain the secondary victimisation experienced by victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and critically evaluate recent reforms to eliminate or reduce such secondary victimization. 

Victimization can be either primary or secondary.  In the latter case, the victim suffers from the consequences of the initial trauma.  In other words, the victim “suffers from psychological and social damages by negative reactions of criminal justice system, families, friends, and media”.  Psychological affectation as a result of witnessing a traumatic event can also be called secondary victimization.  The Criminal Law of the UK did not deal with this aspect of violent crime until recently.  As a result laws pertaining to secondary victimization are inadequate and do not always lead to fair and balanced justice (Schafer, 2006).

Usually, secondary victimization cases don’t get proper understanding from the concerned authorities.  For example, police officers are known to misunderstand the nature of sexual violence, carry out their interviews in inappropriate methods and environments.  Sometimes, police officers supersede their realm of authority and offer settlements to the primary and secondary victims of crime.  There is also a trend in the UK, where prosecutors and interrogators hold a negative bias toward the parties involved in the criminal act (Schafer, 2006).

A very common manifestation of secondary victimization is through “victim responsibility”, where the victim is shown to be the instigator of the criminal act in the first place.  Such attributions are all the more common in rape cases.  Researchconsistently points out that victims may experience secondary victimizationand perpetrators may be handed disproportionately lighter sentences or even be absolvedof the accusation. Despite new legislations, guidelines and practices in the UK with respect to rape crimes, attrition rates remain extremely high.  One of the research findings states the following:

“Twenty-three interviewswere conducted with professionals and paraprofessionals whowork with sex offenders. The taped therapy sessions of a prisontreatment group were the source of perpetrator talk. Discourse analysis identified the existence of two discourses; the discourse of desire and the discourse of commonsense. Separately and together,these discourses served to attribute some responsibility to the victim and to conceptualize rape as sex.” (Finkelhor, 2005)

Secondary victimization can happen in other ways as well.  For instance, comprehensive investigation of some key groups related to violent crime – the primary victims themselves, and the broader group of their “families, friends, neighbourhoods, and communities” were carried out. Crimes such a rape (both male and female) need to be handled with tact and understanding.  In other words, It is crucial that advanced practice nurses and other medical professionals be aware of indicators of rape and sexual assault in both genders and trained in detecting them. This becomes all the more important “as men are much less likely than women to spontaneously disclose abuse”. Men who are victims of such offences do not get proper attention from healthcare personnel, undermining their potential “to receive appropriate referrals for counselling and treatment”.  If the primary trauma is not bad enough, the inability to seek therapeutic redress (psychotherapy) can lead to victimization a second time around.  But unfortunately, this area of victim justice is poorly legislated.  National charities like Victim Support are at the forefront of the movement for change and reform in the criminal justice system (Sundaram, 2004).

Victim Support has an entire division of its operations dedicated to providing counselling help for witnesses or secondary victims of crime.  Understanding the fact that witnesses feel apprehensive about going to court irrespective of whether they are directly involved with the incident or not.  Victim Support provides “Witness Service”, a program specially designed for secondary victims, in every criminal court in the United Kingdom.  Charities like Victim Support are also pushing for legal reforms in this area.  For example, the present legal framework does not consider the psychological affectations on defence witnesses.  There are also no provisions made for secondary victims who are children.  The latter fact is quite significant as the coping skills of children are much weaker than that of the adults, when it comes to stress and trauma (Sundaram, 2004).

Office for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR), a government agency, is the umbrella organization conceived in order to improve and reform the existing criminal justice system.  Presently, the agency is coordinating efforts to bring about some necessary changes in the system.  One of the main objectives is to make the process of reporting a criminal incident easier for the victims.  Being a victim is never easy, but by making the bureaucratic and regimented nature of the criminal justice system an integrated one will help move toward the stated objective.  There are a few other areas of redress, including a more rigorous law enforcement system that will “revolutionize compliance with sentences and orders of the court”.  The agency has also recommended joining disparate units of the system into a single, modern and efficiently run service.  In this context, the OCJR’s vision for the future is quite appropriate.  The following passage captures the essence of what OCJR expects in terms of reforms:

“To improve the delivery of justice by increasing the number of crimes for which an offender is brought to justice to 1.25 million and; Reassure the public, reducing the fear of crime and anti-social behaviour, and building confidence in the CJS without compromising fairness.” (Turner, 2006)

Overall, the deficiencies prevailing in the present criminal justice system are quite clear.  Not-for-profit organizations like Victim Support and government agencies like the OCJR have done a stellar job in trying to bring reform ideas into fruition.  This would mean that secondary victims get a chance to see the court beforehand and understand procedures pertaining to the courts and get proper guidance and support during the period of litigation.  On top of this availability of practical help, both primary and secondary victims have “easier access to people who can answer specific questions about the case (the Witness Service cannot discuss evidence or offer legal advice); and a chance to talk over the case when it has ended and to get more help or information.” (Turner, 2006)

Of late, the government of England and Wales has developed several projects to help victims think generally about victimization, and then think about people they know who have been victims themselves.  On such a contemplation of their experience of being victims, they gain a perspective on the consequences and aftermath of victimization. Organization such as Victim Support undertakes group therapy sessions with the victims to discuss the trauma of sexual abuse and its aftermath, and to conduct discussions about the misconceptions surrounding rape. Other programmes help prisoners doing service projects to make handicrafts for sale so that their earnings can go toward consolidating other victim empowerment programmes (Ditton, 2006).

Still other programmes organise interactions between primary and secondary victims.  This is supposed to help “victims’ experience real by allowing them to develop a relationship with their fellow victims, to hear their stories, and to reflect together on how crime affects the lives of many.” In all cases of crime, the perpetrators themselves are victims too.  Recognizing this fact, “The International Centre for Prison Studies in the UK initiated a “restorative prison” project in three prisons. One of the four key objectives was to create opportunities for prisoners to perform community service projects in and outside of prisons, such as reclaiming public parkland”.  Hence, positive results are already evident as a result of the few reforms made to the criminal justice system.


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