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Information Needs of Victims - Research Findings

DescriptionThe aim of the research was to identify both need and provision of the information provided to victims.
ISBN0 7480 2906 0
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateDecember 29, 1998
Crime and Criminal Justice Research Findings No. 5 (1995)
Information Needs of Victim

The MVA Consultancy

ISBN 0-7480-2906-0Publisher The Scottish OfficePrice £5.00
This research was commissioned as part of a Crown Office review of its provisions for keeping victims informed about the progress of their cases. The aim of the research was to identify both need and provision and identify any mismatch between these. It involved a survey of victims in a sample of criminal cases and a number of in-depth interviews with victims, criminal justice agencies and Victim Support. The sample size represents a significant number of victims and the victims interviewed were broadly representative of the age and sex of all victims of crime and of the distribution of offences.
Main findings
  • All police forces surveyed had a policy of operating a proactive system of information provision. In practice, forces felt the policy was not always consistently implemented because its success was dependent on the attitudes of individual officers and their workloads.
  • Fiscals and courts generally operated a policy of only providing information when the victim took the initiative and asked for it.
  • The police considered themselves as the main information providers and this was generally the perception held by victims. Only 24% of those interviewed said they had had any contact with the fiscal and 13% with the courts. All recalled their contact with the police and 47% said the police had contacted them directly to provide information.
  • Only 7% of victims had had contact with Victim Support. However, 38% who had not contacted Victim Support said it was because they had not been told about them when they reported the crime.
  • A significant proportion of victims said they had not received information at key stages in their case. This included 35% of victims who said they had not yet been told whether anyone had been charged and a further 58% of victims who knew someone had been charged but had not been told the outcome of their case despite reporting the crime over one year ago.
  • Most victims who had not received information at key stages of their case said they wanted the information. Most victims wanted the information because they were curious (40%) or they felt they had a right to know that something was being done (22%).
  • Sixteen per cent of victims wanted information in connection with their case for personal safety reasons. They were generally in fear of any further contact with the accused.
  • Ten per cent of victims thought they had been kept very well informed throughout the duration of their case. Fifty four per cent said they had been poorly informed. However, it was not always a lack of information that led to this dissatisfaction. Some victims felt they had been treated insensitively by criminal justice agencies. If the agencies had treated them more sensitively, then it is likely that information would not have been such an issue.
Who provides information for victims?
The police were the main information providers with 47% of respondents saying the police contacted them directly with information. Most commonly, they were told if anyone had been charged (51%). In comparison, only 24% of victims of detected crimes said they had been contacted by the fiscal and 13% by the courts. Where victims were contacted by either of these two agencies, it was usually as a by-product of other procedures, such as being cited to attend as a witness.
Who receives information?
Victims of certain offences were more likely to receive information in connection with their case than others. Most noticeable was that 60% of victims of housebreaking received information on their case whereas only 31% of assault victims received information.
Figure 1
Percentage of victims who received information from the police
Figure 1 Percentage of victims who received information from the police
Female victims aged 60 plus were more likely than other age groups to receive information. For example, 71% of this age group received information from the police compared to just 26% of males aged 16-24. This partly explains the differences in provision by offence type, given that more older victims were the victims of housebreaking and assault victims were usually younger. It also seems likely, however, that the police treat females, particularly older females, as the most vulnerable victims and they will make more effort to provide information to this group. The police officers interviewed generally confirmed that this was their approach.
Nature and extent of information provision for victims
The research identified a number of key stages in a case where victims would expect to receive information in connection with their case. Figure 2 shows the proportion of victims who received information at each of these stages.
Figure 2
Proportion of victims who received information at key stages in their case
Figure 2 Proportion of victims who received information at key stages in their case
A significant proportion of victims had not received information at each key stage shown above. For example, 35% of victims said they had not been told if anyone had been charged, only 13% received details on compensation and 29% on the timing and/or outcome of bail hearings. Similarly, fewer than half (42%) of all victims had been told the final outcome of their case, although victims of assault were more likely to receive this information than other victims.
Are victims satisfied with the current level of information provision?
Over half of victims (54%) said they were not well informed about their case. Only 10% said they were very well informed with 24% saying they were fairly well informed. Victims of undetected crimes who had not experienced the court process in connection with their case, were more satisfied with the amount of information they had received than victims of detected crimes, most of whom would have experienced the court process.
It is not always a lack of information which leads to dissatisfaction, however, occasionally victims were unhappy with the way they had been treated by criminal justice agencies. This was sometimes due to 'insensitive handling' rather than a lack of information or that information was provided in an abrupt, matter-of-fact manner without due concern for the victim. Also, a victim may have been given the information they wanted, but what they were told (eg. accused released when a custodial sentence was expected) was not what they had wanted to hear.
Unmet information needs
A significant proportion of victims who were not given information at key stages of their case said they would have liked to been given the information. For example, 89% of those who were not told whether or not anyone had been charged, wanted this information, as did 85% of respondents who were not told the outcome of their case
Reasons for wanting information
Victims' reasons for wanting information at each of the key stages in a case can be summarised under five main headings. These are presented below:

1. Curiosity - the victim is simply interested, or thinks it would be 'nice to know', if anyone has been charged, decision made to prosecute, etc.

2. Rights - the victim feels he/she has a 'right to know' certain information, so that criminal justice agencies can be seen to be doing their job.

3. Anger - victims experience anger and often need information to satisfy a need for retribution.

4. Fear - victims want information in connection with their case for personal safety reasons. For example, if the accused is remanded in custody rather than bailed, the victim may feel safer.

5. Financial - the victim wants information in connection with compensation and insurance.

Figure 3 shows the proportion of victims who, cited the above as reasons for wanting information.
Figure 3
Main reasons for wanting information
Figure 3 Main reasons for wanting information
Those who were curious formed 40% of the sample and they tended to be the victims of less serious offences. Victims who gave reasons relating to anger or fear were usually the victims of more serious ofences such as housebreaking or assault.
More victims than at other key stages said that fear was the main reason for wanting information on bail hearings. Overall 16% mentioned fear as a reason, but this accounted for 28% of reasons for wanting information on bail hearings.
Information required
Victims and the representatives of criminal justice agencies interviewed as part of the research were asked what type of information they thought all types of victims were entitled to receive. Generally, they agreed that two distinct types of information were required. These were:
  • Case-specific information - information unique to each individual case.
  • General information - not case specific.
The case specific information required was factual details on the progress of the case. The main priorities were to receive information on the progress of the investigation and the case outcome. Victims wanted to know whether anyone had been charged and also if the investigation had been concluded (ie negative results were also required). An official record of the case outcome was considered important.
The general information was required to cover the sequence of events followed in a criminal case and relevant criminal justice procedures. A list of agencies/people to contact for additional help and support was also considered necessary.
The majority of victims felt that both information types should be provided together. General information would act as a supplement to case-specific information.
While victims and agencies agreed on information types, there was disagreement about the method of provision. Some felt information should be provided automatically as part of a pro-active system, whereas others felt that this was too resource intensive and that victims should ask for information when they need it.
Three main difficulties with a reactive system of information provision were identified:
  • not all victims are able to telephone, visit offices etc. for information;
  • some victims feel their case is too trivial to request information (when in fact they may need it);
  • victims may not know when to ask for the information they require.
The final difficulty was considered potentially the most serious. For example, victims would not know when to telephone for the outcome of a trial if they were not told when it would take place. This would be a particular problem for those who wanted information due to needs associated with fear. As such, most respondents preferred a pro-active system of information provision.
Copies of "Information Needs of Victims", the research report summarised in this Research Findings, are available priced £5.00.
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Further copies of the Research Findings Paper or information about the Central Research Unit Programme can be obtained by contacting:
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