This article first appeared in Policing Insight.

There was a real gap in the provision of independent information to victims about where best they could find support, and also a lack of opportunity for victims to leave objective feedback that would help others choose the most appropriate services. Sam Maxwell Smith of Supporting Justice talks about the launch of Victims Choice to fill the gap.

The Victims Choice website provides information on victim services around the UK and identifies the victim services in a victim’s own local area. It allows victims or others affected by crime to both find information about available services and leave a review of the service they have used, helping others to make more informed choices about what is available.

Having launched the site on 26 April 2017, it has received a positive response from key stakeholders, including the Ministry of Justice, the Victims’ Commissioner England and Wales and Victims’ Commissioner Northern Ireland. Kathryn Stone, Legal Ombudsman, delivered an exceptional speech at the Victims Choice launch event. Kathryn spoke movingly and compellingly about the need for victims to have excellent support and to have choice in who provides that support. She spoke from the perspective of a victim of crime herself as well as her role as Legal Ombudsman. This made her speech more poignant and her views were well received by all present.

We have over 465 services listed on the site and this is continuing to grow – we are encouraging UK-based services to engage with Victims Choice to help those affected by crime find the most appropriate service. But as well as aiming to have all service providers in the UK on the website, it is important that the general public are aware of this website too, so that, if they fall victim to crime, they are able to find the most appropriate service to support them and help meet their needs.

So, why did we create Victims Choice? The primary reason is that we were aware of a real gap in provision of independent information to victims about where best they could find support, and also a lack of opportunity for victims to leave objective feedback that would help others choose what may be best for them.

 

Research and development of five standards

We took a two-fold approach to critically analyse what is good victim care and what is important to someone affected by crime. We undertook desk-based research and deconstructed the key elements threading through the Victims’ Code, the EU Victims’ Directive, and prolific research carried out by the Ministry of JusticeVictims’ Commissioner England and Wales/University of Portsmouth and Police and Crime Commissioners’ (PCC) commissioning frameworks. Key data was extracted from these studies and documents to build a strong backbone to our project – it was paramount to draw the strengths from each piece of research to frame a credible core for Victims Choice.

This initial research assisted us in developing our five standards – AccessNeedsValuedSupport and Safety. These standards are the core of Victims Choice and underpin what we believe to be necessary measures of quality. It was intrinsic to our work to ensure that the general public considered these standards to be relevant to them when choosing a support service and receiving the service. To measure this, we conducted a public survey online to ask people: if you were a victim of crime, how would you know where to get support? The survey was disseminated across social media and of the respondents almost half identified as victims. Overwhelmingly, and not surprisingly in this age of social media, when asked how you would find help, the majority of respondents said they would use Google. Moreover, when asked about how important these standards were when looking for a service and receiving a service, respondents felt that these standards would, if delivered, help meet their needs. Notably, knowing where to get help was ranked as the most important factor with over 76% categorising this as vital.

Search engines are a great tool to acquire information and certainly you are able to find a number of support organisations if you search a general question such as: ‘I’m a victim of burglary, where can I get help?’. However, you may not be able to ascertain what is the quality of those services or which one may be best able to meet your specific needs. We wanted to make it simple and have all organisations in one place. This is what Victims Choice offers.

 

Giving victims a voice

As well as being able to find a support service, we felt that it was critically important to give those affected by crime a voice. Victims Choice allows service users to give feedback on the organisation they have used and this, in turn, will help others when they are looking to find a quality support service. It will also provide Police and Crime Commissioners and other service commissioners with independent feedback on services they fund and will help providers to continuously improve their service. This independence is one of the factors that makes the website unique.

Service users, when leaving feedback, do so by giving a rating out of five against each of the five standards we believe are the hallmarks of quality services. They can then also leave commentary about the service they received. The feedback already being posted on the Victims Choice site has been overwhelmingly positive and portrays the quality services that exist in the UK. However, we know that things can go wrong, but it’s only through open and honest feedback that there is the opportunity to make changes that will make things better and improve quality.

We want as many people as possible to be involved because Victims Choice will work best if all those affected by crime know about it and are prepared to share their experiences of the service they accessed. We know that there are excellent services being provided and we want them to be able to be recognised by victims and others. Please help us spread the word by engaging with us on Twitter and Facebook, putting a link on your website, and by simply talking about it with your colleagues  and friends. If you would like more information please contact us on info@victimschoice.org.uk