It is not about the money!

Column by Jan Van Dijk
Tilburg University

As we all know, State Compensation is boring, boring, boring. So why did José Mulder of INTERVICT pick this as her PhD topic?  Why not one of the many sexy topics on our program like EMDR, victim impact statements or restorative justice?  Because she is an economist, of course. Someone who thinks that money is what makes the world go round. According to Norwegian criminologist Nils Christie state compensation is not just boring. It is a vulgar, materialistic attempt of the State to buy off human pain and suffering. It is nothing but a disgrace. So let’s just throw a quick glance at José’s findings. And then move on to greener pastures, more worthy of our victimological engagement.

José interviewed a sample of claimants of the Dutch Compensation Fund about their experiences and views. First remarkable finding: almost all claimants were quite satisfied with the awards given. Most claimants had experienced the awards as a form of recognition and as an act of justice. They said it had helped them to cope with the aftermath of the crime. Even more remarkable, there was no correlation between the amounts received and the level of satisfaction. Victims who had received just hundreds of euros were as satisfied as those who received larger sums. Satisfaction appeared to be more dependent on the perceived quality of the procedure than on the amounts. Clearly, for the victims involved receiving compensation from the state appears to have great symbolic significance. It is not about the money, Nils! It is about healing!

This study has important policy implications and forces us to rethink our preconceived ideas about state compensation (and perhaps about economists too). The Board of the Dutch Fund has duly taken José’s results to heart. It has shifted its attention from mere financial and legal matters – such as the tariff – to the quality of its procedures (expediency and content of communications). The implementation of state compensation could and should be made more victim-centered.

But the results also throw up fundamental policy questions. If state compensation is so well received by victims, and costs so little, why is its scope still so limited? Fortunately, the Victims Fund of the International Criminal Court is growing. And in the Netherlands the government has recently decided to make state compensation available for victims of traffic offenses too. It is also ready to launch a special compensation scheme for victims of sexual abuse in child care institutions. Indeed, there seems to be great potential for state compensation, especially for victims whose cases are never solved. It should be made available for larger categories of victims of all kinds of crimes including burglaries and cases of serious fraud. And it should become an integral part of comprehensive victim services. On reflection, not state compensation is a disgrace but the fact that this effective victim service is not utilized more widely.

Dr. José Mulder, Compensation. The Victim’s Perspective, Oisterwijk: Wolf Legal Publishers

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime offers support, research and education to survivors and stakeholders.

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