In the early 1970s the first women’s refuges and rape crisis services were established by feminists, who were increasingly aware of the prevalence of rape, sexual abuse and family violence in New Zealand. The services were run by women who were often survivors of violence themselves, and understood the experience of being a victim.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s property crime surged. Community concern led to the formation of Neighbourhood Watch in 1980, a scheme for neighbours to support each other in preventing burglaries. Widespread horror at a violent sexual attack in Auckland in 1983 led to an expanded scheme, Neighbourhood Support. In 1985 Citizens Against Violence was formed in Auckland, and circulated a petition calling for increased penalties for violent crime. That year the Salvation Army in Auckland began a victim support service, and a police-initiated service began in Gisborne. Soon other Salvation Army, police and community-run schemes emerged.
An international movement
In 1985 New Zealand signed the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. This urged consideration of the victims’ perspective, and called for fair access to, and information about, justice services, restitution, and compensation for injury. New Zealand was co-sponsor of the UN declaration, and this led activists to demand more government action on victims’ rights in this country.
Against this background of mounting anxiety about crime and concern for victims, the Criminal Justice Act 1985 introduced new sentences, including reparation. Used mainly for property offences, reparation involved both restitution and reconciliation. At a meeting mediated by probation officers, the victim and offender discussed how much money would make good the damage done. Reparation could be the only sentence, or imposed along with another such as community service. Importantly, it gave victims the opportunity to participate in the justice process. However it soon proved time-consuming to administer, and was used less often. In any case, many offenders did not or could not pay reparation.
Support for victims
In 1987 a committee of inquiry into violence recommended police training in victim support, and better services for victims. It also supported the provisions of a Victims’ Rights bill then before parliament.
The Victims of Offences Act 1987 was a breakthrough for victims of crime. They were granted rights to health and welfare services, and legal advice and help. Judges were to be given a victim impact statement, describing the effects of the crime, at sentencing time. Victims could have input into decisions about bail for certain offences, and apply to be notified if an offender escaped or was released from prison. The Victims Taskforce was set up to ensure victims received information about their rights, and to co-ordinate support services.
In 1990 the New Zealand Council of Victim Support Groups, better known as Victim Support, became the national coordinating body for victim support organisations, providing a 24-hour 7-day-a-week support service for crime and trauma victims. It also advocated on behalf of victims, and later administered government-funded schemes to provide or subsidise counselling and other costs for victims of serious crime.