explainer

'Like Sarah Everard, my daughter was murdered. There is almost no support for victim's families.'

When a loved one is taken from you in the most horrific of circumstances, many people are unsure how to respond to the victim’s family. That’s quite understandable and many convey that they don’t know exactly what to say.

Many see the gravity of the crime and are equally lost for words. In my situation, the violence perpetrated on my daughter Courtney by her killer Henry Hammond is something I can never grasp.

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Without hesitation, I would say the volume and sincerity of support from family, friends and work colleagues is essential just to carry on. I found community and media support was, in general, also a great help.

That is the personal side of victim support. But what about how the state and wider community response and what is available?

We have a saying in Victoria that the best available victim support is other victims. To that end, there is a wide collective of other families supporting each other, especially if the circumstances of your tragedy bear similarities. It is indeed true that if you do not walk in these shoes, you may not fully understand.

The downside is that this drawing of victims to each other - while certainly therapeutic – is also forced upon us by a lack of state support or at the very lease an uncoordinated response. 

A complete void in victim support is that no effective support exists to guide victims through the legal and court process. While the police do on occasions fill this void, their primary role is to catch the violent offenders. Which they do well. 

Other agencies, such as the Office of Public Prosecutions, is more interested in pushing their own pursuit of cases. In Victoria, this resonates with all victims and their families that I encounter. 

Even more confusing in Victoria is the actual office of the Victims of Crime Commissioner. A call from this agency will tell you that they cannot act on your behalf but are supposed to make systemic changes to the treatment of victims. All victims are confused with this approach, especially when it appears no change is being affected.

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Victims and their families are then faced with a battery of government agencies who literally fall over themselves to assist the offender. This is particularly so for violent sex offenders and those with supposed mental impairment issues. 

This leaves victims confused about events and leaves them with the permeating feeling that the state - rightly or wrongly – has weighed in on the side of the perpetrator. This also extends to domestic violence and stalking offenders. As I wrote recently, Judges will often gush over offenders who are footballers or supposedly have other pressing problems. 

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Services on offer are patchy and what is available is limited to metropolitan areas. In fact the service provision itself has been outsourced to various charitable agencies. Likewise, providing 1800 numbers that are not always attended add to the frustration of victims. Domestic violence support services also suffer from the same dilemma. 

The system is broken, that much is obvious. It is certainly not from lack of funding applied to this space. 

What is needed is more coordination and a state Agency that is purely focused on supporting victims of crime and their families. Most of us are scarred for life and will carry the wounds of losing our loved ones forever. We are the ones who suffer the life sentences, not the perpetrators. 

But women in Australia have had enough. They took to the streets on Monday venting their frustration at a system which for too long has ignored them within the criminal and victim support space. They feel the authorities – Federal and State – are not taking their concerns seriously.

At the Ballarat March 4 Justice rally I attended; you could feel the general frustration with everyone.

But these are deadly issues. In the UK, Sarah Everard was murdered, allegedly by none other than a member of the Metropolitan Police. Outraged, women also took to the streets and were met with a heavy-handed response. 

I am often asked by many what I would like most of all. That is easy. I just want my daughter back.

Feature image: Supplied.

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