Victim sustain UK: Supporting Victims of Crime – A Personal Guide

Victim sustain UK: Supporting Victims of Crime – A Personal Guide




Victim sustain is a UK voluntary organisation which provides much-needed sustain for victims of crime wherein volunteers are trained to listen and help victims move forward psychologically from the after-effects of crime. Speaking from personal experience as a ‘visitor’, this is a short guide about what to expect when you join Victim sustain.

Firstly, the personal skills required for this voluntary position need that you are a good listener, sympathetic, clearly comfortable confront to confront with strangers, have an ability to empower others and above all be able to keep a high level of confidentiality.

Training takes place over two weekends where you include in fun interactive improvisations of scenarios presumably between ‘visitors’ (as we are known and as I will continue to call the ‘volunteers’ from now on) and victims to get you into the mindset of what you would ask victims and how you would respond to what victims may ask you. You are also familiarised with rules of etiquette and how to keep yourself safe in a stranger’s home.

You are given talks by professionals, like a court procurator fiscal for example, brought in to discuss how a case progresses by the court system or perhaps a legal specialized to show you how to fill up a criminal injuries form with a victim. The training is very relaxed and good fun while all the serious issues are instilled mentally at the same time. At the end of it all, you are issued with a photo identity card that must be shown to victims you visit and you must have a complete Disclosure certificate which method you are certified to work with unprotected people. Further specific training in the future is also obtainable so that you may deal with more serious situations like murder and sexual abuse but, for now, it only encompasses general referral work like theft, domestic violence, assault and character abuse.

Once a crime has been committed, the police refer the victim of the crime to the Victim sustain office and each case is individually number coded. A letter is then issued to the victim from the VS office informing them to expect a visitor to either phone or visit their home to discuss the crime and offer sustain. Victims can opt out of anyone contacting them by contacting the office and requesting such. The victim can also choose whether to be visited in their own home, met with at the VS office or somewhere neutral like a café depending on the circumstances and emotional complexities of the case. However, if the victim does not respond to the opt-out clause then the VS Co-ordinator then issues the case to one of the visitors. This is done by calling a visitor up and asking if she/he would like to take this case on – you can have preferences for your own reasons and save the right to refuse certain areas or genders and the case will be referred to another visitor.

When it comes to truly contacting victims of crime, personally I have always preferred confront to confront contact. Many people feel more comfortable simply phoning victims either because it is what they are better suited at doing or because of time constraints. This is perfectly permissible, however, I feel you always get a better conversation and emotional release of what has happened in the victim’s life by confront to confront contact. I visited in the afternoons, which suited me and, again, visitors can choose when and where to visit. I tended to knock on the door perchance and I have to say, 8 times out of 10 you will probably get the crime victim in. We are taught that, already although someone else may answer the door, we must not disclose who we are to anyone other than the victim, as sometimes other people in the house may not already know that the victim has had a crime perpetrated against them (this is quite doubtful but it could nevertheless happen). If there is no answer at the door then the visitor will post a letter by the door informing the victim that they have been contacted and the visitor will phone and position a mutually advantageous time for another visit or conversation.

It must be remembered that victims of crime can truly be those who perpetrate crimes on other people and have just suffered at the wrong end of violence this time. The police have a duty to highlight these situations to the VS co-ordinator as special situations. typically, the co-ordinator deals with these – personally, I never had such a referral. It is always stressed, however, that as much as you may be a lone visitor, you can truly bring another visitor with you to a visit if you feel that this should be the way to approach it and your co-ordinator will certainly discuss this with you. I remember one case where, as I approached the address, I realised that it was a totally boarded-up house in a neighbourhood and, of course, there was no way I would have gone in there alone. It is very important to rely on your instincts as much as possible – my co-ordinator would not have known what the house looked like until I told her and she agreed that I was not to go in there alone.

I have not had any unpleasant situations I am pleased to say but a information nonetheless about how to keep yourself safe. Always keep yourself to the nearest seat next to a door if you go into a room in the house and sit down – never let the victim get between you and the door. If you would rather not drink anything if offered – and you can honestly estimate this depending on the character and behaviour of the person in question and, again, your instincts – then pretend you have just had a coffee before you came in. Have a religious pamphlet or Avon make-up booklet or such, in hand, in situations of domestic violence, so that you can pretend you are there for another reason if visiting a female victim’s house in case the husband should unexpectedly come back, then you have a ready excuse as to why you are there and clearly make your excuses and leave as soon as you can. This is all ‘just in case’ as the victim would more than likely be meeting you in other places for a chat if she felt at risk in the home.

You truly get better at making divided decisions as to whether to go into a house – if someone looks a bit the ‘war-o’-use’ of drugs or drink then do not go into. I get a VS letter ready in my hand (prepared earlier) to pass to them which states that the VS office will be contacting them shortly as they did not tick the opt out clause. I just act as if I have been instructed to hand deliver it to them personally. If someone other than the victim demands that they know who you are keep stalwartly strong and apologise to them and say that you apologise but it is secret and would they be so kind as to pass this letter to their spouse/partner (again, letter pre-prepared in case)? Do follow this up with a phone call, however, to make sure that the letter was indeed passed on. Most people I have come across seem to accept that – sometimes I already say that if they think they know who I am then they are probably correct but I can’t possibly confirm it to them! I find it defuses most situations.

Another thing I found – and just simply because I also worked for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau which helps people by life’s problems from guiding them by the maze of welfare benefits to crises of debt and homelessness – is that if I found out by way of chatting to the victim that they were not on a assistance that they should be claiming for, then I was able to advise them of this in passing. It was quite good to be in a position to offer a double service sometimes. Make sure that, in the case of assault, the victim has completed a Criminal Injuries form to claim for monetary compensation if they have consistent physical and psychological injuries.

Finally, it must be said that I found this line of voluntary work most fulfilling, educational and an ideal job wherein you can augment your training with your own life experience. There is always someone you can help that bit more because of the wealth of knowledge that you have gleaned over the years. I would say that being a visitor is most ideal for someone aged 30+ years because you will have accumulated a greater life skills ‘toolkit’ by then to draw from to be of better service to others. It gives me great job satisfaction to think that I am making people feel better about themselves in the aftermath of the shattering situation they have found themselves in. It is a great honour to help victims talk about and address their current situation and then empower them to move on and look positively without self-blame to the future.




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