22 Feb Call to recognise the challenges faced by victims of crime – EU Victims of Crime Day.
Original article published in the print edition of Malta today on 21 February, 2017.
Thursday 22 February marks the European Day for Victims of Crime. A day to acknowledge the challenges faced by many victims as a result of heinous acts, to remind victims that they are not alone and to encourage civil society, human rights organisations and other actors to continue fighting for their rights.
As an NGO supporting crime victims, Victim Support Malta (VSM) cherishes this day as an opportunity to celebrate the work carried out over the years and to honour the many clients that it has supported and assisted. What VSM hopes, is that this day, is not just another day of symbolic and often detached commemoration and remembrance; rather, it is a chance to humanize victims, realising that they are people, just like you and me. They often fail to fit the description of what society considers to be the ‘ideal’ victim – weak, meek, objectively and indisputably right, prey of a big, bad offender. That’s because victims are first and foremost, human beings, with their merits and their shortcomings.
Victimisation and its manifold consequences – including trauma, physical and emotional pain, financial issues – does not lead to identical, one-size-fits all experiences. Why? Because people are different, because they react differently to similar situations and because crime is a complex matter. Accepting and respecting victims’ experiences, without blaming them, doubting them our belittling them is paramount; because by failing to acknowledge what victims have been or are going through, the media, society and criminal justice officials, are further harming them and alienating them.
Understanding victims’ experiences often entails a degree of awareness of what crime is and of the many shapes and forms that it can take. If we take domestic violence as an example, harm can be physical, but can also be sexual, emotional and financial. Women are disproportionately victimised and very often men are the perpetrators of such violence; but it’s also the other way around. Domestic violence can be found in gay and lesbian couples and within migrant communities. Many studies show that disabled people experience disproportionately high rates of domestic abuse.
Domestic violence, and many other crimes, such as sexual assault and rape, hate crime, elderly abuse, fraud, scam, sextortion are often underreported. Among the many reasons for this is the fact that victims themselves may not realise that they have suffered crime (often due to their limited awareness of local laws), because they do not trust the authorities, or because they fear that nobody will believe them.
How can we, as a society, change this? By not blaming, pointing fingers and accusing victims of not being real victims, based on anecdotal evidence. We need to help victims feel that they can be listened to and understood, as well as seek legal remedy, if they so wish to. And most importantly, we need to start this change now.
Victim Support Malta offers support to anybody who has directly suffered a criminal offence, as well as to family members of victims of crime and witnesses of accidental death. Please get in touch on 21228333 or via Facebook @victimsupportmalta for more information. Donations to Victim Support Malta can be made through our website http://victimsupport.org.mt, via text message on the following numbers: 50617313 – €2.33 ; 50617916 – €4.66 ; 50619246 – €11.65, or on our Facebook page @victimsupportmalta, by clicking on ‘donate’.