This week I am delighted to launch a new service for victims of crime in Hertfordshire called ‘Beacon – Hertfordshire’s Victim Care Centre’.
Over 40,000 people across the county report a crime to the police each year and for around one fifth of them, the crime can have a serious impact on them, or their families.
I set up the new service primarily to support these people through what can be a harrowing and difficult time. But the Beacon is also there to support other victims, including those who have not reported their crime to the police. I believe that everyone who has been unfortunate to become a victim of crime deserves all the advice, help and support they need.
For many victims, the impact may be practical and short-lived, merely a minor inconvenience, but others find themselves having to contend with the emotional effects of crime. For those subject to the most serious violent and sexual crimes, the effects can include distress, hardship, a life-changing injury or even bereavement.
Research has shown that victims struggling to deal with the impact of the most serious offences, or those who are repeatedly the victims of crimes, too often have not received the support they need. This is why it is so important that we have a very clear idea of our commitment to victims and why we must do better to target support to those who need it most.
I don’t want any Hertfordshire resident, who has been a victim of crime, to sit there feeling helpless, unable to move past what has happened to them and not knowing where to turn for support.
So, I have commissioned a bespoke service from Victim Support that helps victims first to cope with the immediate impact of crime and, subsequently, to recover from the harm they have experienced.
Hertfordshire’s Victim Care Centre is a multi-agency, co-located, wrap-around service based in the county that provides a single point gateway for victims of crime in Hertfordshire. It is staffed by highly trained and dedicated professionals from Hertfordshire Constabulary and Victim Support. It is open seven days a week 7am – 10pm and accessible by phone on 0300 011 55 55. Advice and support is also available on line www.hertfordshirebeacon.org
The word ‘beacon’ has a number of positive associations for me and I hope for victims - a signaling or guiding device that emits light, a source of guidance or inspiration, to serve or shine as a beacon. It underpins the principles of the Victim Care Centre to support victims of crime to cope and recover from their ordeal. I also hope it will suggest to victims that it is a safe place to come to if they do not wish to report a crime.
We have also adopted a blue ribbon for raising awareness of victims’ rights. It is already widely used in the USA and Australia to symbolise victims’ rights and serves as a reminder that there are national guidelines, that become law later in the year, setting out a code of practice for support to victims of crime that we must adhere to.
Extensive consultation including, our own on-going Victims’ Voice survey, has highlighted that victims want to understand exactly what happens after they report a crime, they want to be updated on the investigation progress, to receive practical and emotional support when required and have a single point of access.
So, the new service encompasses what we must provide, by law, and much more - victims will receive help as and when they need it. Our approach recognises the importance of ensuring that practical and emotional support is on hand immediately after the crime has been committed and that victims’ needs change over time.
All victims of crime are contacted and assessed by the police Victim Service Team. Where needed, Victim Support then provides a complete wrap-around service to help victims to cope and recover. Crucially, the Victim Support team will give confidential guidance and advice, even if someone doesn’t want to report the crime to the police. They also have direct access to Hertfordshire’s Mental Health services, Social Care Access Team and the Hertfordshire Home Security Service to refer people, as required.
The team is also able to refer victims to other service providers such as Mind, Women’s Centres and the Citizens Advice Bureau.
All in all a service that, rightly, gives victims the care and support they need - and deserve.
This article first appeared in the Speaker's Corner column of the Comet newspaper.