Every crime involves commission of a legal wrong, and involves a perpetrator and one or more victims. Crime victims are people who have been “threatened, harmed or killed, by another person”. The central focus in the aftermath should always be community compassion, recognising the experience of the victim of the crime. The needs of the victim should be addressed first before the offender.
This should primarily involve giving the victim the health or social support they need to deal with the damage they have suffered, and generous financial compensation to indicate community care. The state then takes over the role of the harmed through the justice system to deal with the offender. Victims assist by publicly giving evidence in court. Coronial hearings ensure justice is seen to be done for the whole community. This process depersonalises the punishment, removes the desire for personal vengeance, and focuses on ensuring future safety for all in our civilised community. The maximum punishment is imprisonment and necessarily consequential losses. Revenge beatings or torture are illegal. Differential treatment of prisoners is only permissible as a security issue rather than relating to the unpopularity of the crime or offender. It is significant to note that often, the offenders of crimes are victims first.
Victims of crime may have a variety of responses in the short or long term to their harm. Most people will experience stages of disbelief, shock, sorrow, grief, numbness and anger. Some may return to a regular lifestyle and move beyond the event. Others cannot forget the experience, and the heinousness of the crime increases the pain of the memories. The suffering caused by a crime “changes the lives of many more than the direct victims”. Hence this issue is no less poignant for families of victims of violent crime, who through the loss of a parent, child, sibling or other relative will also carry painful memories of the experience.
It is the responsibility of the community to support victims and their families so that they may deal with their grief and loss. The focus should be on restorative justice if possible; reconciliation of the victim with their injury, reconciliation with the community who has helped them to cope, and reconciliation with the perpetrator who caused the harm.