The Government recently published its draft Victims Bill which aims to improve end-to-end support for victims of crime, including enshrining the Victims Code in law and requiring better collaboration around the commissioning of victim support services.
At Changing Lives we support many people who have been victims of crime, including specialist services for people who have experienced domestic abuse and sexual exploitation. Every victim is entitled to certain services and treatment within the criminal justice system, including being provided with the right information, access to support services, the opportunity to have their views heard and the ability to challenge certain decisions. Many people we support are less likely to be believed or receive the treatment to which they are entitled because of stigma and discrimination attached to having a criminal record themselves, experiencing multiple disadvantage or being regarded as a sex worker (whether they are consensually selling sex or actually experiencing sexual exploitation). We welcome many of the measures that will be introduced through the Victims Bill but want to ensure that they are available to all victims.
Many victims of crime are unaware that the Victims Code even exists, and certainly wouldn’t know what to do if they did not receive what they are entitled to. It is crucial that, alongside this legislation, more efforts are made to raise awareness of victims’ rights and to ensure that criminal justice agencies are complying with their duties. We believe that the voluntary sector has a crucial role to play in this, as this is where victims are more likely to have built up meaningful and trusting relationships. If someone has had a negative experience with the police, for example, they may not feel safe going to the police to complain but might disclose to a specialist service provider who they trust. When monitoring compliance with the Victims Code, it is not enough to look at what is easy to measure as that is often not what is meaningful to victims. To ensure that criminal justice agencies are genuinely providing a positive service to victims, both the victims and the services supporting them need to have a voice.
The Victims Bill also provides an opportunity to address a concern that we at Changing Lives have been raising for a long time – the lack of a statutory definition of sexual exploitation of adults. Whereas there is a statutory definition of child sexual exploitation, there is no such definition for adults, despite the fact that exploitation often continues into or even begins in adulthood. Currently adults who have been groomed and coerced and experienced horrendous sexual abuse for the financial gain or advantage of a perpetrator are more likely to be seen as ‘prostitutes’ or ‘making poor choices’ than victims of crime. We need to change that and we urge all MPs and peers to seize this opportunity to do so by supporting an amendment to this Bill.
You can read Changing Lives’ full response to the Justice Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the Victims Bill here: