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Male Victimisation

Most of the research examining the experiences of victims of violence, particularly when they participate in the trials of perpetrators, has focused on female victims of sexual and domestic violence (McCart, Smith & Sawyer 2010). This trend is reflected in the wider victimology literature, which for the most part focuses on the needs and experiences of female victims of crime, often to the exclusion of men. As a consequence, very little is known about the support needs and experiences of male victims, particularly when they are involved in court processes as victims/witnesses.

This section presents the findings from a review of the small body of literature that has explored the experiences and support needs of male victims of violence. However, considering the dearth of male-specific victim research, this review has also drawn on the findings of non-gender specific research where relevant and appropriate.

Victim rights in New South Wales

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, NSW legislation has recognised the concept of a ‘victim of crime’. However, legal definitions of ‘victim of crime’ have evolved over the last decade, as have the kinds of support and compensation victims may be eligible to receive. Currently in New South Wales, ‘victim of crime’ is defined under s 5 of the Victims Rights Act 1996 as a person who ‘suffers harm as a direct result of an act committed, or apparently committed, by another person in the course of a criminal offence’. The families of persons who are fatally wounded as a result of a criminal offence also fall within this definition. The Act’s definition of harm is sufficiently broad to include physical, psychological and/or psychiatric harm, and the harm resulting from a person’s property being deliberately taken, destroyed or damaged.

All persons who satisfy the Act’s definition of a victim of crime are protected by the Charter of Victims Rights (see Table 1). The Charter stipulates that victims of crime have a number of rights, which all NSW government and non-government agencies funded by the state to provide support and assistance to victims, are expected to act in accordance with. Of particular relevance to the current research are the rights numbered two, three and six, which state that victims of crime should be:

  • provided with information about the services and remedies available to them;
  • provided with access to services that are responsive to the victim’s needs; and
  • provided with information about the trial process and their role as witnesses in the court process.

As such, when interacting with government agencies such as the police, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and government-funded victim support agencies, it is expected that victims of crime will be provided with information about the types of support services available to them and assisted in engaging with support services and that these support services will be responsive to the needs of victims. Also, victims of crime who report the offence to the police and choose to participate in the subsequent trial of the perpetrator should be provided with information about their role in the proceedings and the court process more generally.

Table 1 NSW Charter of Victims Rights
1. Courtesy, compassion and respect A victim will be treated with courtesy, compassion, cultural sensitivity and respect for the victim’s rights and dignity
2. Information about services and remedies A victim will be informed at the earliest practical opportunity, by relevant agencies and officials, of the services and remedies available to the victim
3. Access to services A victim will have access where necessary to available welfare, health, counselling and legal assistance responsive to the victim’s needs
4. Information about investigation of the crime A victim will, on request, be informed of the progress of the investigation of the crime, unless the disclosure might jeopardise the investigation. In that case, the victim will be informed accordingly
5. Information about prosecution of accused 1. A victim will be informed in a timely manner of the following:
  • the charges laid against the accused or the reasons for not laying charges;
  • any decision of the prosecution to modify or not to proceed with charges laid against the accused, including any decision for the accused to accept a plea of guilty to a less serious charge in return for a full discharge with respect to the other charges;
  • the date and place of hearing of any charge laid against the accused;
  • the outcome of the criminal proceedings against the accused (including proceedings on appeal) and the sentence (if any) imposed.
2. A victim will be consulted before a decision referred to in paragraph (1)(b) is taken if the accused has been charged with a serious crime that involves sexual violence or that results in actual bodily harm or psychological or psychiatric harm to the victim, unless:
  • the victim has indicated that he or she does not wish to be so consulted; or
  • the whereabouts of the victim cannot be ascertained after reasonable inquiry
6. Information about trial process and role as witness A victim who is a witness in the trial for the crime will be informed about the trial process and the role of the victim as a witness in the prosecution of the accused
7. Protection from contact with accused A victim will be protected from unnecessary contact with the accused and the defence witnesses during the course of court proceedings
8. Protection of identity of victim A victim’s residential address and telephone number will not be disclosed unless a court otherwise directs
9. Attendance at preliminary hearings A victim will be relieved from appearing at preliminary hearings or committal hearings unless the court otherwise directs
10. Return of property of victim held by the state If any property of a victim is held by the state for the purpose of investigation or evidence, the inconvenience to the victim will be minimised and the property returned promptly
11. Protection from accused A victim’s need or perceived need for protection will be put before a bail authority by the prosecutor in any bail application by the accused
12. Information about special bail conditions A victim will be informed about any special bail conditions imposed on the accused that are designed to protect the victim or the victim’s family
13. Information about outcome of bail application A victim will be informed of the outcome of a bail application if the accused has been charged with sexual assault or other serious personal violence
14. Victim impact statement A relevant victim will have access to information and assistance for the preparation of any victim impact statement authorised by law to ensure that the full effect of the crime on the victim is placed before the court
15. Information about impending release, escape or eligibility for absence from custody A victim will, on request, be kept informed of the offender’s impending release, or escape from custody, or of any change in security classification that results in the offender being eligible for unescorted absence from custody
16. Submissions on parole and eligibility for absence from custody of serious offenders A victim will, on request, be provided with the opportunity to make submissions concerning the granting of parole to a serious offender or any change in security classification that would result in a serious offender being eligible for unescorted absence from custody
17. Compensation for victims of personal violence A victim of a crime involving sexual or other serious personal violence is entitled to make a claim under a statutory scheme for victims compensation
18. Information about complaint procedure where Charter is breached A victim may make a complaint about a breach of the Charter and will, on request, be provided with information on the procedure for making such a complaint

Source: Victims Services 2003

Male victimisation: Prevalence and trends in Australia

With the exception of sexual assault and kidnapping/abduction, Australian crime statistics suggest that men are more likely to be victims of violent crime than women (ABS 2013a). More specifically, recorded crime data collated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) indicates that when compared with women, men were approximately three times more likely to be the victim of an armed robbery (51% cf 16%) and were nearly twice as likely to be the victim of homicide and related offences (70% cf 30%; ABS 2013a). The same recorded crime statistics also indicate that rates of victimisation for physical assault were greater for men in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, although not in the Northern Territory or Western Australia (ABS 2013a).

Research also suggests that not only are men more likely to be victims of violent crime than women, but that they also have different victimisation profiles (Kaukinen 2002; Riggs, Rothbaum & Foa 1995; Sundaram et al. 2004). For example, ABS Crime Victimisation Survey data from the 2010–11 period found that:

  • men were twice as likely as women to report being physically assaulted by a stranger (47% cf 23%);
  • men were more likely than women to report that alcohol or other substances was a contributing factor in a physical assault (63% cf 54%); and
  • men were more likely than women to report being physically assaulted in the street or open land (21% cf 8%), or place of entertainment/recreation space (13% cf 7%; ABS 2013b).

Key differences between the victimisation profile of men and women are described in Table 2.

Table 2 Key differences between male and female victimisation profiles
Male victims Female victims
More likely to be victimised by a male non-intimate partner or stranger More likely to be victimised by a male intimate partner
Victimisation more likely to occur in a public place Victimisation more likely to occur in the home
Isolated incidents rather than ongoing Victimisation often ongoing
Often normalised and socially accepted Violence used as a means of control
More likely that alcohol is a contributing factor to the offence

Source: ABS 2013b; Kaukinen 2002; Riggs, Rothbaum & Foa 1995; Sundaram et al. 2004

The impact of victimisation

It is well established that violent crime can have a significant impact on victims, witnesses and their family and friends (Mayhew & Reilly 2008; McCart, Smith & Sawyer 2010; Shapland & Hall 2007). Although it appears that men are more likely than women to be victims of violence, little is known about their reactions to and the impact of this violence.

Physical impact

Unsurprisingly, many male victims of violence experience physical injuries as a result of the offence, which can range from the minor (eg scratches and bruising) to the severe (eg broken bones, head injuries and open wounds). Analysis of data collected as part of the British Crime Survey found that 16 percent of violent crime victims (male and female) required some form of medical attention as a result of the offence (Shapland & Hall 2007). Further, Stanko and Hobdell’s (1993) interviews with a sample of male assault victims found that a small proportion had been in intensive care as a result of their injuries, with a few stating their injuries had long-term consequences, such as muscle wastage and partial paralysis.

There is also evidence that some men who were victims of violent offences that did not actually involve physical contact between the perpetrator and victim (eg stalking and intimidation) still experienced symptoms of poor physical health during and after the event. For example, one study found that male stalking victims who said they were very afraid of the perpetrator were almost four times more likely to report experiencing symptoms of poor health than men who had not been stalked (Davis, Coker & Sanderson 2002). The same research also found that stalking victims (male and female) were more likely to report the development of a chronic disorder and injury.

Psychological impact

A growing body of literature suggests that criminal offences can have a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of victims (New & Berliner 2000; Shapland & Hall 2007; Tontodonato & Erez 1994). However, generally speaking, when compared with victims of non-confrontational crimes (eg theft), it appears that victims of violent offences are more likely to experience a range of mental health issues (eg depression and social isolation; Shapland & Hall 2007; Tontodonato & Erez 1994).

It has been found that a significant proportion of male victims of violence experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the months and years following the offence (Jaycox, Marshall & Schnell 2004; Riggs, Rothbaum & Foa 1995; Stanko & Hobdell 1993; Willis 2008). For example, Riggs, Rothbaum and Foa (1995) found that 50 percent of a sample (n=31) of male victims of non-sexual/non-domestic assault who participated in a psychiatric assessment within one month of the offence had diagnosable PTSD. Although at the end of the three month evaluation period none of the men met the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD, many were still experiencing symptoms of the disorder—41 percent were experiencing emotional reactions to reminders of the event and approximately 23 percent were experiencing concentration and/or memory difficulties (Riggs, Rothbaum & Foa 1995).

A similar study conducted by Jaycox, Marshall and Schnell (2004) found that 27 percent of a sample (n=231) of male victims of community violence had diagnosable PTSD three months after the offence. However, this figure decreased to approximately 13 percent nine months later. The majority of male victims of assault who were interviewed as part of Stanko and Hobdell’s (1993) study experienced symptoms of PTSD (eg fear, phobias, disruptions to sleep patterns, hyper-vigilance and start responses), while a small proportion self-reported experiencing severe psychological disturbances for which a few were admitted to a mental health facility.

Other research that did not look specifically at the issue of PTSD also found evidence that violent crime victimisation can have a significant impact on the mental health of victims. For example, a study focusing on the experiences of a sample of stalking victims (male and female) found that being stalked was associated with subsequent feelings of depression and recreational drug use among male victims (Davis, Coker & Sanderson 2002). Further, Elkit (2002) found that 63 percent of a sample (n=65) of men and women who had experienced or witnessed a violent crime at their workplace (eg robbery) had acute stress disorder, while 87 percent exhibited symptoms of the condition. Similarly, Shapland and Hall (2007) found that of British Crime Survey respondents who self-reported being the victim of violence during the 2001–02 period, 23 percent reported difficulty sleeping and 15 percent reported having anxiety problems.

Although the literature suggests that a significant proportion of male victims of crime are affected by experiencing a violent offence, a recurring theme is that their victimisation has a less significant or more short-lived impact than women. Women, it appears, take longer to recover from their experiences and are more likely to self-report feelings of fear, stress, anxiety, depression and hyper-vigilance as a result of the offence. However, it is important to note that many of the studies reviewed here were based on self-report data; specifically, victims of crime self-reporting the financial, social, physical and psychological impact of the offence. Some commentators have suggested that male victims may have difficulty admitting to experiencing ‘un-masculine’ feelings like fear and vulnerability (Davis, Coker & Sanderson 2002; Stanko & Hobdell 1993). Many male victims who were interviewed as part of a number of studies reviewed here responded to questions about their victimisation with a denial of harm and a denial that they were affected by it (Burcar & Akerstrom 2009; Stanko & Hobdell 1993). While this is not to suggest that men and women respond in similar ways to their victimisation, it does highlight that an understanding of male experiences of crime is complicated by traditional notions of masculinity, which may in turn influence decisions to engage in the criminal justice system and support services.

Social impact

Some research suggests that violent crime victimisation can have a detrimental impact on victims’ social and intimate relationships (Shapland & Hall 2007; Stanko & Hobdell 1993; Willis 2008). Willis (2008) interviewed seven homosexual men who had been the victim of a hate crime and found that a very small number were unable to engage in intimate relationships as a result of the assault. The participants attributed this to the trauma they had experienced and their subsequent unwillingness to trust other people and to appear vulnerable in front of other men (Willis 2008). The same study (and other research) also found that some men, particularly those who had been assaulted in a place they had previously felt safe, were reluctant to leave their house, were fearful of certain venues and areas and isolated themselves socially (Stanko & Hobdell 1993; Willis 2008).

Financial impact

Finally, there can be a range of immediate and long-term financial costs associated with violent crime victimisation (Tontodonato & Erez 1994). Crimes involving the removal of someone’s property (eg mugging) have an immediate and obvious financial impact on the victim, as they have been deprived of their property and unless they have insurance, usually have to cover the costs associated with replacing the item. Other short-term costs include having to take time off work to make a report to the police, or to recover from the immediate physical and/or mental harm incurred as a result of the offence. Longer term costs associated with victimisation include the costs associated with attending court to give evidence (eg transport and child care) and taking time off work over an extended period of time to attend physical rehabilitation or counselling sessions, as well as the cost of treatment itself (Stanko & Hobdell 1993).

Impact of participating in the court process

Victims who participate in the trials of perpetrators report a range of experiences when they attend court. On the one hand, some victims find the process beneficial and have said that the proceedings:

  • enhanced their feelings of power and control;
  • provided them with a public acknowledgement of their pain and that they were victimised;
  • provided them with an opportunity for restitution and for a few, an apology;
  • addressed their fear of repeated victimisation; and
  • restored their faith in the community (Herman 2003; Orth & Maercker 2004).

However, there is a strong body of evidence that participating in the trial of perpetrators can have a negative impact on victims and witnesses (Fielding 2013; Herman 2003; NISRA 2004; Orth 2002; Stanko & Hobdell 1993; Tontodonato & Erez 1994). Eighty-five percent of a sample of victims who participated in research conducted by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (2004; n=26) said they were concerned and/or worried prior to their attendance, with another two-thirds admitting they felt very anxious about giving evidence in court. Similarly, 60 percent of the male assault victims that were interviewed as part of Stanko and Hobdell’s (1993) research and who participated in the trial of the perpetrator said that the experience had been stressful, disturbing and disappointing.

That victims and witnesses find the court process confronting and distressing is not unexpected, particularly in light of the suggestion that at their core, adversarial legal processes (such as those embodied in the Australian criminal justice system) are inherently unsupportive of victims and witnesses:

Victims need social acknowledgement and support; the court requires them to endure a public challenge to their credibility. Victims need to establish a sense of power and control over their lives; the court requires them to submit to a complex set of rules and procedures they may not understand, and over which they have no control. Victims need an opportunity to tell their stories in their own way, in a setting of their choice; the court requires them to respond to a set of yes–no questions that break down any personal attempt to construct a coherent and meaningful narrative. Victims often need to control or limit their exposure to specific reminders of the trauma; the court requires them to relive the experience by directly confronting the perpetrator (Herman 2003: 159–160).

As such, it is not unsurprising that there is evidence that some victims who participate in the trials of perpetrators experience symptoms of re-traumatisation and emotional distress (Herman 2003; Orth & Maercker 2004).

Stressor factors associated with appearing in court

There are a range of factors associated with attending court that may contribute to victims and witnesses (male and female) feelings of anxiety, fear and stress. The main stressors include:

  • Intimidation—Victims and witnesses often report being nervous about attending court because they are afraid of being seen by the perpetrator (MORI 2003; NISRA 2004). For example, research conducted in Northern Ireland found that approximately three-quarters of victim/witnesses had felt some form of intimidation during the court proceedings, which many said had had a profound impact on their mental and physical health, and social relationships (NISRA 2004).
  • Delays—Victims and witnesses attending court consistently reported that the delays associated with the court proceedings was a source of stress and anxiety (Fielding 2013; MORI 2003; Orth 2002; Orth & Maerckler 2004). In particular, multiple adjournments can be emotionally distressing for victims and witnesses, especially when they are not provided with an explanation for the delay (MORI 2003; Orth & Maerckler 2004).
  • Cross-examination—Some victims and witnesses find the process of cross-examination stressful, humiliating and intimidating, particularly when there is some level of ‘victim-blaming’ involved (MORI 2003; NISRA 2004; Orth 2002; Orth & Maerckler 2004). Similarly, victims and witnesses have expressed frustration with, and become emotionally distressed as a result of, encountering specific legal conventions while giving evidence. For example, Fielding (2013) observed 65 trials conducted in the United Kingdom and found that a number of victims and witnesses became confused when they were informed that certain parts of their testimony were inadmissible due to hearsay conventions.
  • Guilty pleas—Although it might appear that a plea of guilty would be beneficial for victims and witnesses as it means they are not required to give evidence, some victims and witnesses experience distress, deflation and disappointment, while others report feeling that they have been denied ‘closure’ (MORI 2003).
  • Sidelining victims—Some research indicates that victims attending court may experience feelings of powerlessness because many adversarial court processes do not recognise their status as the ‘victim’. Rather, in court proceedings, victims are defined as a witness to a crime perpetrated against the state (Erez & Tontodonato 1992; Fielding 2013). One study that looked at the experiences of victims and non-expert witnesses that participated in Northern Ireland court proceedings found that some victims and witnesses

felt powerless over the management of their case. This feeling, which some interviewees reported was accentuated by the overall court environment, perpetuated the overall sense of intimidation felt by some witnesses (NISRA 2004: 76).

  • Unsatisfactory outcomes—Victims attending court often have expectations of what the court process will give them—revenge against the offender, security in the knowledge that the offender cannot harm them again and recognition of their status as a victim (Erez & Tontodanato 1992; Herman 2003; Orth 2002; Orth & Maerckler 2004). If these expectations are not met because the defendant is found not guilty or receives a sentence that the victim thinks is lenient, this can also be a source of distress and potential re-traumatisation. For example, Orth and Maerckler’s (2004) study found that satisfaction with the outcome of the perpetrator’s trial predicted reduced anxiety and anxiety-related symptoms among victims that attended court.
Table 3 Victims and witness typologies and their support needs
Victim group Description Support needs
Vulnerable Significant levels of emotional distress and physical health problems. Usually victims of serious crime and may be experiencing intimidation outside of court High-needs group. Require significant support and guidance prior to and during court proceedings
Nervous Concerned, anxious or worried about attending court. Unlikely to have had any prior experience with the court process, so do not know what to expect. Can be emotionally affected by their victimisation experience, but not as much as very vulnerable group Require some support and guidance prior to and during court proceedings
Unconcerned More likely to have been involved in a minor incident that did not cause them personal harm Minimal support requirements
Confident More likely to be involved in a minor incident and have prior experience in the criminal justice system as a juror, victim, offender etc. Have a good understanding of what to expect from the court process Least likely group to ask for support from police or victim support agencies

Source: Adapted from MORI 2003

Support needs of victims

The research presented thus far suggests that violent crime victimisation and participation in the subsequent trial of perpetrators, are significant events that can have a range of financial, health (mental and physical) and social consequences for victims. Further, many victims of violence may subsequently require support (eg financial, social and emotional) during the period following the offence. However, research exploring victim post-offence behaviour has primarily focused on their reporting habits rather than their help-seeking patterns (Kaukinen 2002). Very little is known about the support needs of victims of violence, particularly those of men.

The limited research that is available suggests that some victims of violence (including men) would have benefitted from receiving additional support (Mayhew & Reilly 2008; Ringham & Salisbury 2004). More specifically, victims of crime (male and female) who participated in the New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey said they would have benefited from:

  • more information/feedback from police (32%);
  • emotional support (31%);
  • someone to talk to (28%);
  • counselling (22%);
  • legal advice (17%); and
  • financial assistance (11%; Mayhew & Reilly 2008).

Similarly, a small proportion of mugging victims and persons assaulted by a stranger or acquaintance who participated in the British Crime Survey reported that they would have benefitted from additional support and assistance during the period following the offence. In particular, eight to 19 percent wanted more information from the police, nine to 14 percent wanted someone to talk to and five to 12 percent wanted information about how they could avoid future victimisation (Ringham & Salisbury 2004).

The literature also indicated that many male victims of violence participating in the trials of perpetrators may require emotional and legal support throughout the proceedings, to not only ensure they have an understanding of the legal process and their place within them, but also to help them emotionally prepare for the proceedings (Orth 2002; Tontodonato & Erez 1994). Research conducted by the MORI Social Research Institute (2003) on behalf of the Audit Commission of England suggests that victims and witnesses participating in court processes can be categorised into four groups—vulnerable, nervous, unconcerned and confident. As shown in Table 3, the allocation of a victim to any of these four groups is helpful in identifying the kinds of support they may require while attending court. However, victims and witnesses can move between these groups before and during court proceedings. For example, an unconcerned victim whose case is adjourned on multiple occasions may become a nervous victim.

Sources of victim support

During the period following the offence, victims of crime may access support from a range of people and agencies. These sources of support can be categorised into three main groups—the police, informal support networks (eg family and friends) and formal support networks (eg mental health services).

The police

If a victim chooses to report the offence, the police are typically their first point of contact with the criminal justice system and potentially, the first source of support (Kaukinen 2002). As a result of a number of legislative changes, many Australian police departments, including the NSW Police Force, have become more victim focused. In particular, as previously mentioned, NSW police officers are expected to respond in accordance with the Charter of Victims Rights.

Research examining victim satisfaction with the police suggests that overall, victims are positive about their experiences, although rates of satisfaction among victims appear to be lower than non-victims (Mayhew & Reilly 2008; OESR 2012; Skogan 2005). For example, approximately four out of five victims of crime (male and female) who participated in research conducted for the Audit Commission of England (MORI 2003; n=1,759) said they had been satisfied with the support they had received from the police. However, male assault victims who were interviewed as part of Stanko and Hobdell’s (1993) study appeared to have mixed feelings about their interactions with the police, with some saying they had been dissatisfied and disappointed by the police response. The authors suggested that some police officers (particularly men), may have brought their own perceptions of male-to-male violence into their work and this influenced how they responded to male victims. Findings from the Queensland Crime Victimisation Survey indicated that when compared with women, a lower proportion of male victims said they were satisfied with the service provided by the police (71.8% cf 76.3%; OESR 2012). Finally, the New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey found that, when compared with women, a lower proportion of male victim respondents said the police had provided them with information about support services (24% cf 34%; Mayhew & Reilly 2008).

Informal sources of victim support

The most common sources of support accessed by victims during the period following the offence are often informal (eg family, friends, spouses, neighbours, colleagues and religious representatives; Mayhew & Reilly 2008; Norris, Kaniasty & Scheer 1990; Sims, Yost & Abbott 2005). As Kaukinen (2002: 451) notes:

Although help from family and friends does not necessarily bring about justice-based solutions to criminal victimisation, help from informal networks provides social support, comfort and other tangible resources to crime victims.

For example, many of the men who were interviewed as part of Stanko and Hobdell’s (1993) study indicated that emotional support from friends and families, particularly their mothers and spouses, had been very important in their recovery.

However, there is evidence that male victims often experience more difficulty engaging with informal support networks than women (Kaukinen 2002; Norris, Kaniasty & Scheer 1990). Norris, Kaniasty and Scheer (1990) suggest that generally, women have larger social networks than men and spend more time developing and maintaining their relationships. Men may not have or may not believe they have strong social networks to draw upon for support. Further, it has been suggested that some male victims are more reluctant than women to talk about their feelings with their family and friends because they are worried about losing their status as a protector and having their masculinity challenged (Norris, Kaniasty & Scheer 1990; Stanko & Hobdell 1993). A reluctance to talk about the offence may also relate to concerns about making family and friends uncomfortable or upset (Shapland & Hall 2007).

Formal sources of victim support

Research consistently demonstrates that victims of crime rarely access formal support services that are offered to them and this is particularly the case for men (Jaycox, Marshall & Schnell 2004; McCart, Smith & Sawyer 2010; New & Berliner 2000; Sims, Yost & Abbott 2005). For example, although 34 percent of a sample of male victims of community violence who participated in Jaycox, Marshall and Schnell’s (2004) study were diagnosed with PTSD in the 12 months following their victimisation, only 15 percent of the sample made contact with formal support services after the offence. Further, Sims, Yost and Abbott’s (2005) analysis of the experiences of 654 randomly selected victims of crime found that only three percent had accessed formal support services.

It is also found that rates of satisfaction among victims who choose to access formal support services are mixed. For example, Norris, Kaniasty and Scheer (1990) found that only 27 percent of violent crime victims who utilised the services of a mental health professional shortly after the offence reported the encounter as being helpful. By contrast, other research has found that victims and witnesses attending court who engaged with a victim support agency were overwhelmingly positive about the assistance they received (MORI 2003, NISRA 2004). This support included transport to and from the court, information about the court process and advice on compensation.

Factors associated with formal help-seeking behaviours

The literature that has attempted to understand the impact of gender on formal help-seeking behaviours is inconsistent. While some research suggests that women are more likely than men to seek formal support following an offence (Kaukinen 2002, New & Berliner 2000), other research, after controlling for a range of socio-demographic factors (including gender and age), found women are no more likely than men to seek formal support after they are victimised (Norris, Kaniasty & Scheer 1990).

The research suggests there are a range of factors (other than gender) that influence formal help-seeking patterns. These include:

  • race/ethnicity;
  • culture;
  • age;
  • knowledge about treatment;
  • relationship between the offender and victim;
  • level of distress;
  • type of crime;
  • prior victimisation where they coped with their victimisation poorly; and
  • whether or not the victim is eligible for compensation and state support (Kaukinen 2002; McCart, Smith & Sawyer 2010; New & Berliner 2000; Norris, Kaniasty & Scheer 1990; Sims, Yost & Abbott 2005; Winkel & Vrji 1998).

The perceived criminality of the offence is another factor that is thought to influence help-seeking behaviours and the initial decision to report the offence to the police. It has been suggested that if the offence does not align with the victim’s own definition of a criminal act, they are less likely to report the crime in the first instance and in turn, may be less likely to engage with formal support services (Clare & Morgan 2009). Analysis of data collected as part of the 2005 Personal Safety Survey administered by the ABS found that:

  • men under the age of 25 years were less likely to say that assault was a criminal offence;
  • men who reported getting drunk regularly were less likely to say that assault was a criminal offence;
  • victims who knew the perpetrator were less likely to say that their assault was a criminal offence;
  • an assault committed within licensed premises was less likely to be seen as a criminal offence by males than females; and
  • men were less likely than women to believe threats of violence to be criminal offences (Clare & Morgan 2009).

The authors interpreted the results as indicating an:

unwillingness of male victims to criminalise incidents in these settings [licensed premises, alcohol involvement or the perpetrator was known to them] unless victimization involves multiple offenders, or if there are other serious incident characteristics…it points to the acceptance of some violent incidents as fights and as things to be left outside of the criminal justice system (Clare & Morgan 2009: 23).

Barriers to engaging with formal support services

As mentioned previously in this review, research has consistently demonstrated that only a small proportion of victims of crime (male and female) engage with formal victim support services after the offence (Jaycox, Marshall & Schnell 2004; McCart, Smith & Sawyer 2010; New & Berliner 2000; Sims, Yost & Abbott 2005). However, some commentators suggest that this finding is not necessarily cause for overt concern. Winkel and Vrij (1998: 23) argue that ‘not all victims are in need of support’ and suggest that support services should only be offered and provided to victims of violence who genuinely require such assistance.

However, despite the fact that many victims may not require the assistance of formal support agencies, it is also the case that some victims that may benefit from this support are not engaging with support services (Jaycox, Marshall & Schnell 2004; Mayhew & Reilly 2008, MORI 2003; NISRA 2004). There is only limited research on why these victims of violence do not engage with formal support services. Jaycox, Marshall and Schnell (2004) asked a sample of male victims of community violence who did not access mental health support following the offence why they had made this decision. The main reasons provided by respondents included:

  • I thought I could deal with it by myself (55%);
  • I didn’t know where to go for help (52%);
  • It wasn’t convenient (49%);
  • I didn’t think they would help (42%);
  • I was worried about costs (42%);
  • I was afraid of what others would think (33%); and
  • I was embarrassed (30%;Jaycox, Marshall & Schnell 2004).

Some of these identified issues are explored in more depth below.

Knowledge of services

A lack of victim knowledge around the nature and availability of victim support services can also act as a significant barrier to accessing services (NISRA 2004). Research conducted by Sims, Yost and Abbott (2005) found that 43 percent of a sample of crime victims (male and female) who did not access support services (n=822), did not because they were unaware of the services. The same study also found that surveyed victims had a limited understanding of the kinds of support they could access. Importantly, approximately three-quarters of respondents said that formal victim support services only provided assistance to people with mental health issues and had discounted the availability of other services, such as legal advocacy or information about compensation (Sims, Yost & Abbott 2005).

A victim’s decision not to report the offence to police may also have an impact on the level of knowledge the victim will have of the types of support services available to them. Police are one of the primary (and earliest) sources of information about victim support services and if victims choose not to report the crime, then their knowledge about these services may be limited. This hypothesis is supported by findings from research conducted by Sims, Yost and Abbott (2005) and Langton (2011), which found that victims of crime that reported the incident to the police were more likely to be aware of victim support services.

However, although being aware of the nature and availability of formal victim support services is an important factor for engaging victims with these services, some research indicates that even when people are provided with the necessary information, engagement rates remain low. While this may indicate that some victims do not require the services of a formal support agency, it may also be because of how the information was communicated in the first instance. For example, a study from Northern Ireland found that a significant proportion of surveyed victims and witnesses who attended court and acknowledged receiving a leaflet that provided them with information about giving evidence in court subsequently indicated in the same survey that they had not been provided with the information included in the leaflet. The researchers attempted to explain this finding by suggesting that the information included in the leaflet may have been ‘unengaging’ and/or victims had not actually read it (NISRA 2004).

Availability and accessibility

Occasionally, the demand for formal support services can be greater than the available supply. For example, an audit of the Victorian Victims Assistance and Counselling Program (VACP) found that four of the VACP providers had a client waiting list, with one reportedly requiring clients to wait between six weeks and five months before being seen (VAGO 2011). Further, a quarter of respondents who completed the VACP client satisfaction survey said they had been placed on a waiting list, with a small proportion reporting they had waited longer than a month before receiving support.

Further, whether a victim chooses to report the offence to the police or not may have implications for the accessibility of formal support services. Some support services may have eligibility criteria that require clients to report the crime to the police before assistance can be provided. Although this does not appear to be the case in New South Wales where the definition of ‘victim’ is purposefully broad, if victims are unaware of this fact, they may believe that because they choose not to report the crime, they are not eligible for assistance and in turn will not make contact with formal support services (New & Berliner 2000).


Very few victim support services are targeted specifically at men. While this issue will be explored from a NSW context later in this report, this trend appears to be consistent both in Australia and internationally (Burcar & Akerstrom 2009; Sims, Yost & Abbott 2005; Stanko & Hobdell 1993). For example, a Swedish study involving in-depth interviews with 10 male victims of physical assault found that most of the participants, while denying they needed support in the first place, were disappointed by the lack of appropriate support services that were offered to them by the police and other agencies. One participant specifically recalled being provided with a brochure that listed a number of victim services, the majority of which were specifically targeted at female victims of sexual assault (Burcar & Akerstrom 2009). The authors of this study and others have argued that the perceived and actual lack of services that are specifically targeted at male victims of violence may influence a victim’s decision to engage with services following the offence—’If victims do not believe that victim service programs offer services they need, they will not use them’ (Sims, Yost & Abbott 2005: 364).

Masculine identities

While acknowledging that some male victims of violence choose not to engage with formal support services because of the issues described above, some commentators suggest that the decision not to engage with services may also be sociological. It has been argued that social definitions of ‘victim’ are described in terms that are generally perceived as feminine (eg vulnerability, physical and emotional weakness), which contrast with traits associated with culturally defined notions of masculinity, such as strength, ‘holding your own’ and control (Burcar & Akerstrom 2009; Sundaram et al. 2004). As such, it has been argued that

if men are expected to be masculine and thereby powerful, dominant, and in control, they cannot be discursively produced as victims—the antithesis of masculinity (Sundaram et al. 2004: 66).

To some extent, this theory appears to be supported by the literature. For example, some male victims of assault that participated in Stanko and Hobdell’s (1993) study openly acknowledged that their reluctance to talk about the impact of their victimisation was in part caused by their unwillingness to reject stereotypical masculine identities. Further, a Swedish narrative study found that many male victims of physical assault were reluctant to self-identify as being a victim of violence. In the event they acknowledged that they had been victimised, they also emphasised the insignificance of the event and said it had not affected them (Burcar & Akerstrom 2009). Finally, there is some research that suggests that men who ascribe to traditional notions of masculinity have more negative attitudes towards mental health services (Good, Thomson & Brathwaite 2005).

Last updated
3 November 2017