Survivors and advocates call for a more trauma-informed and accessible Victims Support Scheme
Organisations collectively representing tens of thousands of survivors in NSW are calling on the NSW Government to strengthen the NSW Victims Support Scheme and increase its accessibility.joint submission identifies multiple barriers to accessing vital support and recommends a range of ways to ensure victim-survivors can access the support they are entitled to and need. The submission recommends a phased approach, with some recommendations to be implemented by the end of 2022 and others to be implemented by 2023. Key recommendations from survivors and advocates include:The joint submission to the review of the Victims Rights and Support Act acknowledges the importance of the NSW Victims Support Scheme in providing much needed support for victim-survivors to recover from trauma, violence and abuse. Support includes counselling, financial assistance for immediate needs, financial assistance for economic loss and recognition payments. When the Scheme is working well, victim-survivors comment on the importance of having their experiences validated and recognised which helps in their recovery. However, the
- The removal of the requirement to separately prove injury in Victims Support applications which forces survivors to keep repeating their story and compounds their trauma
- The improvement of access to counselling and removing barriers to accessing Victims Support, such as shifting the burden of evidence gathering from Victims Services onto the victim-survivor themselves
- The increase of transparency and accountability of the Victims Support system, improving consultative mechanisms with victim-survivors and the services supporting victim-survivors and for an independent Commissioner Victims Rights.
“The fact of the act of violence should be sufficient to access Victims Support recognition payments and financial assistance for economic loss. The requirement to separately prove injury in NSW Victims Support applications means survivors have to keep retelling their story – first to police, a government agency or a service funded by government to assist victim-survivors and then to a medical professional. This compounds trauma. The harm arising from sexual, domestic and family violence is well known. It is offensive to ask survivors to prove such harm.”“We also need greater transparency and accountability and stronger consultative mechanisms with victim-survivors and their advocates. We are concerned that the Commissioner Victims Rights has removed the consultative function of the Victims of Crime Interagency. Reports from Victims Advisory Board meetings and comprehensive data on the Victims Support Scheme are no longer published. Since the role of Commissioner was established in 2013 one person is required to do two roles – to be Executive Director of Victims Services and also Commissioner Victims Rights. We need a fully funded and independent Commissioner Victims Rights.” – Liz Snell, Law Reform and Policy Co-ordinator, Women’s Legal Service NSW. The statutory review is an important opportunity to improve the scheme to make it more accessible and simpler to navigate for victim-survivors and reduce the potential risk of re-traumatisation. We are concerned that the changes to the Victim Services Scheme implemented in July 2020 have placed an unreasonable burden on specialist domestic and family violence services that they do not have the resources to meet. We are seeking increased transparency and accountability of the Victims Services Scheme, that the needs of victim-survivors are put first, and that the recommendations of victim-survivors and advocates in the sector are implemented.” – Elise Phillips, Interim CEO of Domestic Violence NSW. “To ensure sustainable health outcomes, our systems and processes need to be trauma informed. This includes the application of law and is particularly poignant for processes designed to support victims of crime. Research consistently highlights strong appropriate interventions support the capacity of victims of crime to sustain better health outcomes, full participation in the workforce and to maintain social connections, all the essential requirements for health and wellbeing.” – Denele Crozier, CEO, Women’s Health NSW. “We know from experience the barriers victim-survivors experience when applying to the Scheme, and we know there are achievable solutions to these barriers. The unnecessary delays when a woman urgently needs funds to relocate or access medical care but is asked to prove injuries the police already have records of. The lack of access to their own data, which cuts to the heart of procedural fairness. These issues can be resolved by simple reforms to the Act and to how Victims Services Assessors interpret the Act.” – Yvette Vignando, CEO of South West Sydney Legal Centre.