Guidance Around Making Contact With Victims In Historic Cases

Published: Wednesday, May 6th, 2015


Charlotte Calkin blogs about issues of concern to Restorative Justice facilitators.  An experienced facilitator herself, Charlotte is keen to hear the views of other practitioners and of victims who have been through Restorative Justice. Her first post discusses how best to establish a relationship with the victim of a crime which happened a long time ago.

Guidance Around Making Contact With Victims In Historic Cases

Recently we have had several calls into the Why me? office about additional complications regarding contacting victims when the referral is:

a: historic and b: offender-led.

To build a better picture around guidance I contacted a number of agencies for advice to discover how they manage this area of their RJ practice.

The initial discussion centered on the difficulty of obtaining victim details in historic cases – the perennial problem! – but, assuming we have the victims details, what then is the best approach?

Why me? recommends that when an RJ referral is offender-led, the best practice is to contact the harmed person by phone and try to arrange a meeting to discuss the possibilities open to them; focusing on the harm the victim may have experienced and what their needs might be.  Many agencies also choose to send an opt-out or introductory letter prior to a call or visit.

Some agencies have a policy of not dealing with historic cases because of the potential risk of re-victimisation.  However, this approach also takes away the possibility of healing the harm for these victims by not giving them that choice.  So the question then becomes how can we make contact so as not to cause re-victimisation?

It is important to re-iterate the words of Heather Strang from “Repair Or Revenge: Victims and Restorative Justice” 2002:

The offer of restorative justice does not negatively impact victims; what’s important is that the information is made available to victims in an open, honest and non-threatening manner

Standard Contact

Why me? has dos and don’ts guidance around standard phone calls to victims, including:

DO:

  • Explain where you are from.
  • Check it is a good time to talk

DON’T:

  • get into a conversation on the phone; ‘I’d rather discuss this in person.’
  • talk about the offender!

(I remember one occasion when I made both of the above mistakes.  The upshot was the victim felt that my call was all for the benefit of the perpetrator and got upset; I haven’t made those mistakes since!)

It is also useful to mention the Victim’s Code; explaining that it now gives agencies more resources to offer to victims.

More information on the Victim’s Code

Historic Cases

However the above advice changes dramatically when the offence is over 4 (for example) years old.

So, the questions then become: How do you make that introduction?  Should it be by letter or phone? How do you discuss an ancient offence without bringing in the offender?  Because frankly it can seem a bit weird after years and years to contact a victim out of the blue!  However, contacting victims to guide them through the possibilities now available to them gives them an informed choice.

During my discussions with host agencies all agreed that there is no hard or fast rule but the following guidance appeared:

  • The approach entirely depends on the severity of the offence. If it is a serious crime then it is highly likely a Victim Liaison Officer (or other professional from victim services) will have been involved.  Contacting the Victim Liaison Officer or others involved with the case is the first port of call.  In Complex and Sensitive cases it is always advisable for the victim to be prepared for your call; ask the appropriate professional to get permission from the victim for you to call direct.  Your call may not be deemed inappropriate because of the long-term harm from a very serious crime. Indirect contact (through a secondary contact) is preferable to direct contact.  And as with all serious crimes do check that you are not contacting the victim around trigger dates.  It might be advisable to make the first visit with a professional who has been involved with the case but make sure that you are both agreed on the format of that meeting.
  • As with all cases finding out the full background history is essential to make an informed decision.
  • The Victims Code can be a good place to start. Explaining that when the crime happened the Victims Code was not in place but we now have a
  • range of services we are able to offer victims and, despite the length of time, would they be interested in finding out more.
  • Sometimes it is necessary to talk about the offender as an explanation for the call, because not mentioning them would appear strangely out of context.  If it is near to the offender’s release date from prison this can be a reason for making the call; to check in with the victim.  One agency explains in the call that the perpetrator has successfully undertaken rehabilitation courses and is enquiring about whether the victim has any needs.  It is important to emphasise that your phone call is only to discover whether they, the victim, has any unresolved needs and/or ask if they would like to discuss what needs they might have.
  • Sometimes agencies, which always choose a call as the preferred option, revert to letter. In most cases an opt-out letter is preferable to an opt-in letter. I also have chosen this approach, in a case that was roughly 5 years old, partly as I had no phone number but I also felt that a call was too heavy-handed.  I received a very positive email from the victim explaining that they appreciated the contact but had moved on.

The upshot is that whilst the guidance around contacting victims in recent offences is more clear-cut (although as always dependent on the individual case) it needs to be entirely flexible with a range of approaches for historic cases. It does not necessarily mean that we should rule contact out completely   As with all restorative approaches our role is to give the individual the right to make up their own mind.

Thank you so much to all the agencies that gave their time to discuss this – particularly Remedi, Thames Valley RJ Partnership, Restorative Gloucestershire, Calm and Restorative Solutions – it was great to share our learning.

 

Charlotte Calkin April 2015

Guidance Around Making Contact With Victims In Historic Cases

Recently we have had several calls into the Why me? office about additional complications regarding contacting victims when the referral is

a: historic and b: offender-led.

To build a better picture around guidance I contacted a number of agencies for advice to discover how they manage this area of their RJ practice.

The initial discussion centered on the difficulty of obtaining victim details in historic cases – the perennial problem! – but, assuming we have the victims details, what then is the best approach?

Why me? recommends that when an RJ referral is offender-led, the best practice is to contact the harmed person by phone and try to arrange a meeting to discuss the possibilities open to them; focusing on the harm the victim may have experienced and what their needs might be.  Many agencies also choose to send an opt-out or introductory letter prior to a call or visit.

Some agencies have a policy of not dealing with historic cases because of the potential risk of re-victimisation.  However, this approach also takes away the possibility of healing the harm for these victims by not giving them that choice.  So the question then becomes how can we make contact so as not to cause re-victimisation?

It is important to re-iterate the words of Heather Strang from “Repair Or Revenge: Victims and Restorative Justice” 2002:

The offer of restorative justice does not negatively impact victims; what’s important is that the information is made available to victims in an open, honest and non-threatening manner

 

Standard Contact

 

Why me? has dos and don’ts guidance around standard phone calls to victims, including:

 

DO:

  • Explain where you are from.
  • Check it is a good time to talk

 

DON’T:

  • get into a conversation on the phone; ‘I’d rather discuss this in person.’
  • talk about the offender!

 

 

(I remember one occasion when I made both of the above mistakes.  The upshot was the victim felt that my call was all for the benefit of the perpetrator and got upset; I haven’t made those mistakes since!)

 

It is also useful to mention the Victim’s Code; explaining that it now gives agencies more resources to offer to victims.  For more information on the Victim’s Code; please see here:

 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-code-of-practice-for-victims-of-crime

 

Historic Cases

 

However the above advice changes dramatically when the offence is over 4 (for example) years old.

 

So, the questions then become: How do you make that introduction?  Should it be by letter or phone? How do you discuss an ancient offence without bringing in the offender?  Because frankly it can seem a bit weird after years and years to contact a victim out of the blue!  However, contacting victims to guide them through the possibilities now available to them gives them an informed choice.

 

During my discussions with host agencies all agreed that there is no hard or fast rule but the following guidance appeared:

 

  • The approach entirely depends on the severity of the offence. If it is a serious crime then it is highly likely a Victim Liaison Officer (or other professional from victim services) will have been involved.  Contacting the Victim Liaison Officer or others involved with the case is the first port of call.  In Complex and Sensitive cases it is always advisable for the victim to be prepared for your call; ask the appropriate professional to get permission from the victim for you to call direct.  Your call may not be deemed inappropriate because of the long-term harm from a very serious crime. Indirect contact (through a secondary contact) is preferable to direct contact.  And as with all serious crimes do check that you are not contacting the victim around trigger dates.  It might be advisable to make the first visit with a professional who has been involved with the case but make sure that you are both agreed on the format of that meeting.

 

  • As with all cases finding out the full background history is essential to make an informed decision.

 

  • The Victims Code can be a good place to start. Explaining that when the crime happened the Victims Code was not in place but we now have a

 

 

 

  • range of services we are able to offer victims and, despite the length of time, would they be interested in finding out more.

 

  • Sometimes it is necessary to talk about the offender as an explanation for the call, because not mentioning them would appear strangely out of

context.  If it is near to the offender’s release date from prison this can be a reason for making the call; to check in with the victim.  One agency explains in the call that the perpetrator has successfully undertaken rehabilitation courses and is enquiring about whether the victim has any needs.  It is important to emphasise that your phone call is only to discover whether they, the victim, has any unresolved needs and/or ask if they would like to discuss what needs they might have.

 

  • Sometimes agencies, which always choose a call as the preferred option, revert to letter. In most cases an opt-out letter is preferable to an opt-in letter. I also have chosen this approach, in a case that was roughly 5 years old, partly as I had no phone number but I also felt that a call was too heavy-handed.  I received a very positive email from the victim explaining that they appreciated the contact but had moved on.

 

The upshot is that whilst the guidance around contacting victims in recent offences is more clear-cut (although as always dependent on the individual case) it needs to be entirely flexible with a range of approaches for historic cases. It does not necessarily mean that we should rule contact out completely   As with all restorative approaches our role is to give the individual the right to make up their own mind.

 

Thank you so much to all the agencies that gave their time to discuss this – particularly Remedi, Thames Valley RJ Partnership, Restorative Gloucestershire, Calm and Restorative Solutions – it was great to share our learning.

 

Charlotte Calkin April 2015

Guidance Around Making Contact With Victims In Historic Cases

 

Recently we have had several calls into the Why me? office about additional complications regarding contacting victims when the referral is

a: historic and b: offender-led.

 

To build a better picture around guidance I contacted a number of agencies for advice to discover how they manage this area of their RJ practice.

 

The initial discussion centered on the difficulty of obtaining victim details in historic cases – the perennial problem! – but, assuming we have the victims details, what then is the best approach?

 

Why me? recommends that when an RJ referral is offender-led, the best practice is to contact the harmed person by phone and try to arrange a meeting to discuss the possibilities open to them; focusing on the harm the victim may have experienced and what their needs might be.  Many agencies also choose to send an opt-out or introductory letter prior to a call or visit.

 

Some agencies have a policy of not dealing with historic cases because of the potential risk of re-victimisation.  However, this approach also takes away the possibility of healing the harm for these victims by not giving them that choice.  So the question then becomes how can we make contact so as not to cause re-victimisation?

 

It is important to re-iterate the words of Heather Strang from “Repair Or Revenge: Victims and Restorative Justice” 2002:

 

The offer of restorative justice does not negatively impact victims; what’s important is that the information is made available to victims in an open, honest and non-threatening manner

 

Standard Contact

 

Why me? has dos and don’ts guidance around standard phone calls to victims, including:

 

DO:

  • Explain where you are from.
  • Check it is a good time to talk

 

DON’T:

  • get into a conversation on the phone; ‘I’d rather discuss this in person.’
  • talk about the offender!

 

 

(I remember one occasion when I made both of the above mistakes.  The upshot was the victim felt that my call was all for the benefit of the perpetrator and got upset; I haven’t made those mistakes since!)

 

It is also useful to mention the Victim’s Code; explaining that it now gives agencies more resources to offer to victims.  For more information on the Victim’s Code; please see here:

 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-code-of-practice-for-victims-of-crime

 

Historic Cases

 

However the above advice changes dramatically when the offence is over 4 (for example) years old.

 

So, the questions then become: How do you make that introduction?  Should it be by letter or phone? How do you discuss an ancient offence without bringing in the offender?  Because frankly it can seem a bit weird after years and years to contact a victim out of the blue!  However, contacting victims to guide them through the possibilities now available to them gives them an informed choice.

 

During my discussions with host agencies all agreed that there is no hard or fast rule but the following guidance appeared:

 

  • The approach entirely depends on the severity of the offence. If it is a serious crime then it is highly likely a Victim Liaison Officer (or other professional from victim services) will have been involved.  Contacting the Victim Liaison Officer or others involved with the case is the first port of call.  In Complex and Sensitive cases it is always advisable for the victim to be prepared for your call; ask the appropriate professional to get permission from the victim for you to call direct.  Your call may not be deemed inappropriate because of the long-term harm from a very serious crime. Indirect contact (through a secondary contact) is preferable to direct contact.  And as with all serious crimes do check that you are not contacting the victim around trigger dates.  It might be advisable to make the first visit with a professional who has been involved with the case but make sure that you are both agreed on the format of that meeting.

 

  • As with all cases finding out the full background history is essential to make an informed decision.

 

  • The Victims Code can be a good place to start. Explaining that when the crime happened the Victims Code was not in place but we now have a

 

 

 

  • range of services we are able to offer victims and, despite the length of time, would they be interested in finding out more.

 

  • Sometimes it is necessary to talk about the offender as an explanation for the call, because not mentioning them would appear strangely out of

context.  If it is near to the offender’s release date from prison this can be a reason for making the call; to check in with the victim.  One agency explains in the call that the perpetrator has successfully undertaken rehabilitation courses and is enquiring about whether the victim has any needs.  It is important to emphasise that your phone call is only to discover whether they, the victim, has any unresolved needs and/or ask if they would like to discuss what needs they might have.

 

  • Sometimes agencies, which always choose a call as the preferred option, revert to letter. In most cases an opt-out letter is preferable to an opt-in letter. I also have chosen this approach, in a case that was roughly 5 years old, partly as I had no phone number but I also felt that a call was too heavy-handed.  I received a very positive email from the victim explaining that they appreciated the contact but had moved on.

 

The upshot is that whilst the guidance around contacting victims in recent offences is more clear-cut (although as always dependent on the individual case) it needs to be entirely flexible with a range of approaches for historic cases. It does not necessarily mean that we should rule contact out completely   As with all restorative approaches our role is to give the individual the right to make up their own mind.

 

Thank you so much to all the agencies that gave their time to discuss this – particularly Remedi, Thames Valley RJ Partnership, Restorative Gloucestershire, Calm and Restorative Solutions – it was great to share our learning.

 

Charlotte Calkin April 2015

Guidance Around Making Contact With Victims In Historic Cases

 

Recently we have had several calls into the Why me? office about additional complications regarding contacting victims when the referral is

a: historic and b: offender-led.

 

To build a better picture around guidance I contacted a number of agencies for advice to discover how they manage this area of their RJ practice.

 

The initial discussion centered on the difficulty of obtaining victim details in historic cases – the perennial problem! – but, assuming we have the victims details, what then is the best approach?

 

Why me? recommends that when an RJ referral is offender-led, the best practice is to contact the harmed person by phone and try to arrange a meeting to discuss the possibilities open to them; focusing on the harm the victim may have experienced and what their needs might be.  Many agencies also choose to send an opt-out or introductory letter prior to a call or visit.

 

Some agencies have a policy of not dealing with historic cases because of the potential risk of re-victimisation.  However, this approach also takes away the possibility of healing the harm for these victims by not giving them that choice.  So the question then becomes how can we make contact so as not to cause re-victimisation?

 

It is important to re-iterate the words of Heather Strang from “Repair Or Revenge: Victims and Restorative Justice” 2002:

 

The offer of restorative justice does not negatively impact victims; what’s important is that the information is made available to victims in an open, honest and non-threatening manner

 

Standard Contact

 

Why me? has dos and don’ts guidance around standard phone calls to victims, including:

 

DO:

  • Explain where you are from.
  • Check it is a good time to talk

 

DON’T:

  • get into a conversation on the phone; ‘I’d rather discuss this in person.’
  • talk about the offender!

 

 

(I remember one occasion when I made both of the above mistakes.  The upshot was the victim felt that my call was all for the benefit of the perpetrator and got upset; I haven’t made those mistakes since!)

 

It is also useful to mention the Victim’s Code; explaining that it now gives agencies more resources to offer to victims.  For more information on the Victim’s Code; please see here:

 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-code-of-practice-for-victims-of-crime

 

Historic Cases

 

However the above advice changes dramatically when the offence is over 4 (for example) years old.

 

So, the questions then become: How do you make that introduction?  Should it be by letter or phone? How do you discuss an ancient offence without bringing in the offender?  Because frankly it can seem a bit weird after years and years to contact a victim out of the blue!  However, contacting victims to guide them through the possibilities now available to them gives them an informed choice.

 

During my discussions with host agencies all agreed that there is no hard or fast rule but the following guidance appeared:

 

  • The approach entirely depends on the severity of the offence. If it is a serious crime then it is highly likely a Victim Liaison Officer (or other professional from victim services) will have been involved.  Contacting the Victim Liaison Officer or others involved with the case is the first port of call.  In Complex and Sensitive cases it is always advisable for the victim to be prepared for your call; ask the appropriate professional to get permission from the victim for you to call direct.  Your call may not be deemed inappropriate because of the long-term harm from a very serious crime. Indirect contact (through a secondary contact) is preferable to direct contact.  And as with all serious crimes do check that you are not contacting the victim around trigger dates.  It might be advisable to make the first visit with a professional who has been involved with the case but make sure that you are both agreed on the format of that meeting.

 

  • As with all cases finding out the full background history is essential to make an informed decision.

 

  • The Victims Code can be a good place to start. Explaining that when the crime happened the Victims Code was not in place but we now have a

 

 

 

  • range of services we are able to offer victims and, despite the length of time, would they be interested in finding out more.

 

  • Sometimes it is necessary to talk about the offender as an explanation for the call, because not mentioning them would appear strangely out of

context.  If it is near to the offender’s release date from prison this can be a reason for making the call; to check in with the victim.  One agency explains in the call that the perpetrator has successfully undertaken rehabilitation courses and is enquiring about whether the victim has any needs.  It is important to emphasise that your phone call is only to discover whether they, the victim, has any unresolved needs and/or ask if they would like to discuss what needs they might have.

 

  • Sometimes agencies, which always choose a call as the preferred option, revert to letter. In most cases an opt-out letter is preferable to an opt-in letter. I also have chosen this approach, in a case that was roughly 5 years old, partly as I had no phone number but I also felt that a call was too heavy-handed.  I received a very positive email from the victim explaining that they appreciated the contact but had moved on.

 

The upshot is that whilst the guidance around contacting victims in recent offences is more clear-cut (although as always dependent on the individual case) it needs to be entirely flexible with a range of approaches for historic cases. It does not necessarily mean that we should rule contact out completely   As with all restorative approaches our role is to give the individual the right to make up their own mind.

 

Thank you so much to all the agencies that gave their time to discuss this – particularly Remedi, Thames Valley RJ Partnership, Restorative Gloucestershire, Calm and Restorative Solutions – it was great to share our learning.

 

Charlotte Calkin April 2015

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2019 Why me? Charity no. 1137123. Company no. 6992709.