On 12th January 2017, the BSC Victims Network held a conference at Northumbria University with the overarching theme: Victim Policy and Support: Past, Present and Future.
Under this organising theme, three sub-themes were addressed:
- Past – the history and development of victim policy in the UK and how this compares with European and international jurisdictions. The relatively short history of victim-oriented policy developments as compared with other criminal justice provisions and offender focussed perspectives means that present and the future directions are contingent upon the social and cultural traditions of the recent past.
- Present – the current state of affairs as regards victim policy and victim support and assistance. During this part of the conference we considered where we are now and shared new findings from cutting edge research and practice based areas. Evidence for new directions and developments was shared and debated.
- Future – Convergence/divergence – what are the future prospects for victim policy and support in light of Brexit? The closing theme for the day explored future directions for victim policy and support giving consideration to the socio-economic and political contexts that are likely to shape such developments.
The conference programme offered an exciting array of speakers and presentations, both academics, policy makers and practitioners.
The Great Hall was the perfect location for this timely conference:
After a welcome and introduction from Professor Peter Francis (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Northumbria University), Dr Pam Davies (Chair) and Dr Hannah Bows (Co-Chair), Dame Vera Baird opened the proceedings with a thought provoking overview of the developments of victim policy over the last few decades. In particular, whilst there have been promising legislative changes to domestic and sexual violence over the last twenty years, policy has not been as quick to develop. Dame Vera Baird considered the Police and Crime Commissioner’s role in helping to hold the justice system to account and push for changes in responses to victims, but noted that change is slow and many victim’s rights remain unenforceable. In particular, Vera noted the courts have not been as progressive as they could have been, as victim maligning and blaming and victim stereotypes still underpin rape trials.Whilst there have been significant developments, there is much work still to do when it comes to victim’s rights and policies.
Following this opening presentation, academics and practitioners gave papers on a range of topics, with some common themes emerging; there remain gaps in support for some victims, particularly in gender-based violence cases, and inconsistencies between what policy says and what practice does. The demands on services, including the criminal justice system, is growing and yet resources are declining. Important lessons can be learnt from previous mistakes and case reviews provide important opportunities to reflect and develop practice. In terms of research, we still don’t know enough about access to justice, or what justice means, for victims of gender-based violence offences. Other issues raised include the importance of housing in helping and supporting domestic violence victims. Examples of best practice were shared by practitioners, including Graham Strange and DCI Deborah Alderson and her team. There remain significant challenges around hate crime, in particular the recording practices, encouraging victims to report and preventative initiatives. Professor Matthew Hall asked us to consider the future of victimology research and policy after Brexit, which remains uncertain.
A strong theme emerging from the day was the benefits of evidence-based practice, where academics and practitioners work together to address issues relating to crime and victimisation.
You can see an overview of the key issues that got our delegates attention on our Storify, compiled by Alexandria Hall (doctoral student at Northumbria University): https://storify.com/BSCVN17/getting-started
Overall, the day stimulated much interesting discussion about the key challenges, and opportunities, for victimologists, policy makers and practitioners. Both Dr Pam Davies (Chair) and Dr Hannah Bows (Co-Chair) felt the day was engaging and a number of opportunities for potential future collaborations on research and practice emerged. The conversations continued over a wine reception after the formal proceedings came to a close and we hope these will continue to develop over the coming months with a view to special issues and collaboration on funding bids.
Thanks again to all who came and in particular our fantastic presenters who made the day so informative and enjoyable.
Hannah and Pam