Impact of crime increased in ‘severity’ during pandemic
24 November 2020
A new report by Victim Support finds that the impact of crime increased in ‘severity’ during pandemic and warns that figures of child victims are much higher than reported.
With ongoing restrictions exacerbating the impact of crime and abuse, victim services are expecting further demands for help as current lockdown eases and more victims seek support, new report by Victim Support warns.
In a report published today, Victim Support (VS) finds that demand for support increased for almost all crime types during the pandemic.
In its report, ‘Crime and Covid-19: how victims and survivors have been impacted by the pandemic,’ VS says that crime experienced by victims and survivors has increased in severity and intensity since the initial lockdown, leading to higher levels of anxiety and mental health problems amongst victims.
The charity is calling for long-term, sustainable funding for victim services to meet rising demand as the pandemic has exacerbated crime and impeded recovery for many victims and survivors.
Key points from the report include:
Criminal Justice System
The pandemic has created additional barriers to victims’ engagement with the criminal justice system, with many victims and survivors facing considerable waits for trial. Some cases have been delayed up until 2022, leaving many victims feeling like they cannot move on.
The report reveals that support workers have found that victims are being told to pursue the civil routes, for example applying for non-molestation orders, rather than the criminal justice process.
Court delays have had a wider effect on victims’ confidence in the criminal justice system, with long delays potentially leading to victims no longer wanting to support the prosecution. 77% of VS staff that took part in the research reported that court delays have a wider impact on victims’ confidence in the justice process.
Support workers who took part in the report survey, said: “I have clients who were scheduled for trial June this year and now have been postponed until 2021. The timescales from report to court will be nearing four years.”
VS warns that delays to trials causes significant disruption to victims recovery process, leaving them in limbo for longer, feeling distressed and potentially having an impact on their willingness to take part in the justice process. For some, justice delayed could be justice denied.
Children and young people services
Alarmingly, there has been a significant decline in the number of children and young people being referred into Victim Support services during the pandemic.
The charity estimates that up to 6,000 fewer children and young people accessed VS services between 23 March and 1 November compared with average levels, and warns that they risk going unnoticed and unsupported.
Despite a steady increase in referrals since schools re-opened, the rise is as a result of cases identified recently, rather than of incidences that had happened during the initial lockdown period.
Victim Support’s Assistant Director and author of the report, Rachel Almeida, said: “We estimate that thousands of children and young people may have fallen through the cracks and ‘hidden’ from essential support services, especially if they were in lockdown in homes where violence and abuse were taking place. Lockdown had reduced their opportunities to talk about their concerns with safe adults, leaving them more vulnerable.
“It’s likely that many of these children and young people are now suffering in silence because they’ve gone unseen during this crisis. It’s crucial that they are identified and schools remain alert to the vulnerabilities of young victims so that they’re given the essential support they need and their risk of harm is reduced.”
Over 11,500 more victims accessed VS services as a result of domestic abuse between 23 March and 1 November than if levels had remained average.
The charity says that domestic abuse cases have been more intense, and increased in frequency, with perpetrators using the fact that people could be penalised for breaching lockdown restrictions as a way of controlling victims and survivors.
Domestic abuse staff also reported that perpetrators would lie about being in self-isolation and having covid-19 so they would not leave the house of the victim.
VS Support workers, said: “People were stuck in homes with their abusers. There was no reason to be out of the house – for example, pick up children, go to the doctor. It was harder to get through to the clients.”
The report finds that staff have raised concerns about police action, with 999 incidents not being attended to for several hours or non-responsive to incidents such as breaches of non-molestation orders.
Another VS support worker, added: “There have also been difficulty in getting police to take action where there has been a breach of bail or breach of restraining orders. There have been instances where perpetrators have been given a suspended sentence and then committed further crimes, yet the suspended sentence has not been enacted allowing them to go on abusing clients.”
The demographics of victims accessing VS services during lockdown also changed, with front line staff noting an increase of those aged over-55 requesting support.
VS saw a 43% increase of fraud victims between 23 March and 1 November, amounting to over 19,000 more cases during this period than if levels had remained average.
The rise in fraud cases have been driven by a few categories that had increased since March including online shopping fraud, social media and email hacking as well as romance fraud.
The majority who accessed VS services for fraud are 25-44 years (41%), with many victims feeling isolated or alone, having financial difficulty and feeling unsafe online.
Victim Support’s Assistant Director, Rachel Almeida, said: “Lockdown restrictions meant that people could not meet in person for a number of months, and as a result, many people started to seek new connections or spend more time online. Whilst using the Internet is great for entertainment and meeting new people, there’s also a greater risk of falling victim to fraud.
“Fraudsters are incredibly skilled at luring victims and we’ve seen that in fact, the circumstances caused by coronavirus were used as a hook to extort money. From inventing lies about needing urgent medical treatment to creating bogus online deals, it’s important to be aware that not everyone is who they say they are.”
During the initial stages of lockdown there was a decline in the number of people affected by sexual violence coming into VS services. The number of referrals increased from May onwards, and peaked in July where there was a 47% increase.
Anti-social behaviour and harassment
The report finds that there has been an increase in people accessing VS services due to anti-social behaviour (ASB) and harassment between 23 March and 1 November as a result of people staying in their homes more.
The charity says that cases had increased in intensity and that some victims faced relentless ASB and harassment from their neighbours in particular. Lockdown restrictions meant that victims struggled more because they could not get away from their home to escape abuse and persecution. The pandemic also meant that some victims struggled to obtain the injunctions they needed to protect them.
VS Support workers, said: “Councils could not move cases forward as County Courts were shut. Cases were left hanging with victims waiting for injunction orders or evictions. Victims found it very hard to live next door to people when they had come so close to obtaining an order to protect them, having to cope with waiting while the perpetrators continue to harass or worse, while everything is at a standstill.”
More needs to be done to support victims of crime
VS is urging the Government to take significant action address the backlog of cases awaiting trial to prevent victims and survivors waiting years for justice and losing confidence in the criminal justice system.
The charity also calls for sustainable funding for services that support victims, to increase frontline staffing and resilience to meet ongoing demand. While Government increases in funding for services since March have been very welcome, funding must be sustainable and long-term to provide services with the security and stability they need to support victims in their recovery, particularly as crimes have increased in severity and intensity.
Future restrictions and lockdowns must take into account the challenges that victims and survivors face and recognise the negative effect of isolation and reduced opportunities for accessing help.
About Victim Support
Victim Support is an independent charity that provides specialist practical help and emotional support to victims of all crime and major incidents across England and Wales.
We provide support and information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whether or not the incident has been reported to the police.
Anyone seeking help can contact our free 24/7 Supportline number on 0808 16 89 111 or get in touch via the website – www.victimsupport.org.uk