Article 8 – Right to Support Services

Article 8 – Right to Support Services

1) Member States shall ensure that victims, in accordance with their needs, have access to confidential victim support services, free of charge, acting in the interests of the victims before, during and for an appropriate time after criminal proceedings. generic and specialist victim support services exist and are available to victims in accordance with their needs across their territory and operate in a coordinated manner. Specialist support services may be set up in addition to as well as an integrated part of Generic support services. Family members shall have access to victim support services in accordance with their needs and the degree of harm suffered as a result of the criminal offence committed against the victim.

2. Member States shall facilitate the referral of victims, by the competent authority that received the complaint and by other relevant entities, to victim support services.

3. Member States shall take measures to establish free of charge and confidential specialist support services in addition to, or as an integrated part of, general victim support services, or to enable victim support organisations to call on existing specialised entities providing such specialist support. Victims, in accordance with their specific needs, shall have access to such services and family members shall have access in accordance with their specific needs and the degree of harm suffered as a result of the criminal offence committed against the victim

2) Victim support services and any specialist support service may be set up as public or non-governmental organisations and may be organised on a professional or voluntary basis.

3) Member States shall ensure that access to any victim support services is not dependent on a victim making a formal complaint with regard to a criminal offence to a competent authority.

4) Member States shall ensure that victim support services, both governmental and non-governmental, are granted sufficient human and financial resources. 

COMMENTARY – Article 8

The European Commission has proposed several amendments with respect to Support Services, including the requirement that victims are to be contacted by support services when predicated by an individual needs assessment, set out in Article 22 of the 2012 VRD. Furthermore, the amendments require services remain operational during crises, that psychological services are available to victims for as long as they are required (as determined by an individual needs assessment), that articles are aligned with the European Commission’s proposal for a Directive on combatting violence against women and domestic violence, and that new specific rules on specialist services for child victims are established.

Whilst we are generally supportive of the proposals, the procedures around the individual needs assessment – specifically, who carries it out and for what purposes – require further examination; support needs assessments and access to support services should not be the purview of the police and other authorities. Not only would this be burdensome, these entities are usually not well placed to make such decisions, which can impact the number of victims supported. We support the objective that psychological support is available for as long as needed, but suggest this should be determined by a psychologist, rather than by the organisation carrying out the needs assessment; especially if the assessment is carried out by police officers. Furthermore, services which do not themselves employ psychologists should at least be able to refer victims to ones which do.

Whilst these amendments are a good first step, they fall short of addressing key failings and challenges in implementing support. It must be noted that across Europe the quality of services offered is not standardised and varies widely, while in some countries generic services do not even exist and in others, services are inaccessible for a range of reasons.

The following amendments are proposed:

  • First and foremost, all countries must offer coordinated generic and specialist victim support services: addressing the failure to implement services. It is notable that is often repeated that some groups of victims can only be served by certain types of organisations. This does not reflect evidence based or victim focused approaches and it is dangerous to create through laws, monopolies on the delivery of services. The determining factor for providing support should be quality, based on compliance with identified standards, rather than other factors based on e.g. ideology. This approach places victims interests first and foremost in the organisation of support rather than the interests of organisations themselves;
  • Clearer stipulations to ensure services are, in fact, accessible which include the provision of support via multiple channels: the current Directive requires services to be accessible but does not specify how. This has resulted in inconsistent approaches with no measurable standards against which to hold states;
  • Introduction of recognised operating standards for services: this addresses inconsistent quality in services whilst leaving the precise standards for Member States to determine. VSE has adopted the following standards which it recommends for all support services:
    • Services are available to all types of victims of crime
    • Respect, and treat victims with courtesy and dignity
    • Work to ensure victims’ safety
    • Respond to victims’ individual needs
    • Diversify service provision
    • Provide services using referrals and cooperation
    • Ensure good governance structures
    • Provide and/or encourage training
    • Have monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in place.
  • In line with the EU Victims’ Strategy, recognition as essential social services must be given to support services, and therefore they should continue to operate in crises: the Covid pandemic demonstrated that in times of crisis, there is a higher risk of crime, particularly against the vulnerable and that it is essential to maintain support services. Recognition as an essential service can facilitate data sharing protocols with authorities.
  • Support services should be well funded: NGOs are often best placed to deliver victim services yet lack sufficient State funding. This obligation not only ensures the implementation of support services, it also aims to prevent States from unnecessarily taking over the delivery of services from existing civil society support organisations.