Victims and witnesses of terror attacks falling through gaps in support system, Victim Support report reveals

9 November 2016

The lack of a widely recognised definition of a ‘victim’ of terrorism is putting at risk survivors receiving the emotional and practical help they need after being caught up in an attack, new research conducted by Victim Support (VS) reveals.

While families bereaved by terrorism have automatic access to high quality care through the government funded Homicide Service – which is delivered by Victim Support – British citizens who survive an attack abroad and suffer psychological or less serious physical injuries are often falling through gaps in the system. Many are left struggling and only receive help after referring themselves.

The new VS report, ‘Meeting the needs of survivors and families bereaved through terrorism’, published on Thursday 10 November, also finds that survivors can struggle to know where to turn to for information and support in the days and weeks following a terrorist incident.

A survivor of the Paris attack, the first anniversary of which falls this Sunday 13 November, told VS: “…they class me as a ‘witness’ to the murder of one individual (a British citizen). But I am not just a witness – I am also a victim. Extremists tried to kill me and I am still struggling with the impact of it on my life. Victims should not be fighting for support and recognition. We need to focus on our recovery and deserve to be supported.”

A survey of VS caseworkers who have supported (or continue to support) people directly affected by terrorism, as well as interviews and questionnaires with survivors and bereaved families, reveals the significant emotional and psychological effects of terrorism and the shortfalls in provision of care. 93.5% of survivors suffered effects including difficulties sleeping, intense distress when reminded of the incident, anger, flashbacks and anxiety. 78.8% required emotional and psychological support, including from specialist services, but the waiting times for counselling or therapy services on the NHS can feel too long, and deter some from accessing that support. And while post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is relatively common among those who have experienced a traumatic event, treatment is not offered by all NHS mental health trusts in England.

Other apparent shortcomings of the current system include financial hardships exacerbated by challenges in claiming compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) and a lack of assistance in dealing with excessive media attention.

A survivor of the attack in Sousse, Tunisia on 26 June 2015 said: “I was injured and, as a result, hospitalised. There is still a long recovery period ahead of me. My life has changed beyond recognition… I don’t know when I will be able to come back to work… I still don’t socialise as I used to… being able to go to the cinema with a friend, or walk in the park, or sit in a restaurant. It is really hard and a lot to take in.”

In the report, VS makes a series of recommendations based on the findings of its research with VS caseworkers, survivors and bereaved families. These also draw on the experiences of individuals and organisations that have a role in providing services to survivors and international examples of what VS believes to be good practices. The recommendations include:

  • Those who are ordinarily classified as direct witnesses should be considered and treated as survivors by all agencies, enabling them to access suitable support services
  • A pathway of support should be mapped out and agreed by all agencies involved in assisting survivors and a working group should be convened immediately to co-design this
  • A seamless referral mechanism to victim services should be established for survivors who have been physically and/or psychologically injured by an act of terrorism abroad
  • Survivors, their families and those bereaved by terrorism should have access to a single online information and support portal – and the Government should put plans in place to enable such a portal to be set up and accessible in the immediate days after an attack and for as long as those affected require it
  • NHS England should ensure that those who have been directly affected by an act of terrorism are not adversely affected by long waiting times to receive psychological therapies. They should also ensure consistent and equal access to treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • A taskforce, led by the Ministry of Justice, should be convened to look at the length of time it takes for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) to make a final award to victims of terrorism
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff should, as part of consular assistance, advocate on behalf of UK casualties with hospital management to make sure their wishes are known regarding media access at the earliest opportunity. These wishes should also be passed on to victim services in the UK

Cathy Owen, National Homicide Services Manager for independent charity Victim Support, says: “Sadly, the frequency of international terrorist attacks continues to rise and we know, from supporting survivors and the bereaved, just how devastating and long lasting the psychological, physical, social and financial effects can be.

“While there are positive aspects to the current system, such as the support provided by Humanitarian and Survivor Assistance Centres, improvements clearly need to be made. We hope this report will encourage all the agencies involved to work together to ensure that everyone caught up in such harrowing events receives the support and assistance they deserve.”



Interviews: VS spokesperson Cathy Owen (Homicide Service Manager) is available for interview by appointment.

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact the press office by phone on 020 7268 0202 or email

About the report: The full report is published on the VS website at 09.00 GMT, Thursday 10 November 2016.

About Victim Support: Victim Support (VS) is the independent charity for victims and witnesses of crime in England and Wales. Last year we offered support to just under 1 million victims of crime. VS also runs the national Homicide Service supporting people bereaved through murder and manslaughter and local projects, which tackle domestic abuse, antisocial behaviour and hate crime, and help children and young people. VS is a member of the Home Office’s Joint Fraud Taskforce, addressing fraud and cybercrime. The charity has around 1,100 staff and 1,600 volunteers.


Victim Support | Hallam House, 56–60 Hallam Street, London W1W 6JL

Registered charity no. 298028 | Company no. 2158780


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