Learning from victim support services in the Netherlands

12 November, 2019

Tirion Seymour, Service User Engagement Officer at Victim Support Scotland, recently visited the Utrecht National Office of our Dutch counterpart organisation as part of a Victim Support Europe project.

Victim Support Scotland is a member of Victim Support Europe, which brings together victim support organisations all across the continent to share best practice, develop ideas and work together. I was lucky enough this week to go on a short learning trip to The Netherlands with the support of Victim Support Europe.

I was warmly welcomed to the beautiful Dutch city of Utrecht by Victor Jammers and Angela Kooijman, Member and Secretary of the Board of Directors at Victim Support Netherlands (Slachtofferhulp Nederland). As well as myself from Victim Support Scotland, also attending the visit was Tim Herrscher from the German victim support organisation Weisser Ring. Over the two days, we exchanged useful insights about how the criminal justice systems worked in the Netherlands, Germany and Scotland. These countries differ in size, geography, legal systems and criminal justice processes. I was quite surprised to learn, for instance, that a jury system in courts is not used in either the Netherlands or Germany. Court cases in the Netherlands and Germany also involve the input of victim’s lawyers and third sector legal advisors that support people in the court process in addition to the public prosecutor.

Despite some of the structural differences of national criminal justice systems, it was clear from chatting to Dutch and Germany colleagues that there were many commonalities in experience shared by victims and witnesses of crime across nations. Most importantly, there was a need for compassionate support and high quality information in the aftermath of a crime. As victim support organisations, we all offer confidential, free, person-centred support through a combination of services that are face-to face, on the telephone and online. All three organisations seek to improve life for victims and witnesses of crime, and to help people navigate complicated criminal justice systems. There is a code of victim rights in each country (see Scotland’s code). A key role for all the victim support organisations was making sure that people know these rights and that they are fulfilled by all the criminal justice agencies that a person encounters.

It was evident from the trip that victim support organisations in the Netherlands, Germany and Scotland all hugely valued the crucial input of highly trained volunteers to provide direct support to victims and witnesses. There has also been an increase across all three organisations in volunteers getting involved to offer other skills throughout the organisation such as administrative support, research support or fundraising help.

Across the two-day programme, colleagues from Victim Support Netherlands National Office presented interesting recent developments in their own areas of work. This included projects to do with creating new online services, formulating new ways of getting feedback from their service users including online methods, and discovering new ways of using ‘big’ data to constantly improve as an organisation. I could see lots of ways we at Victim Support Scotland might learn from these tried and tested developments. There are some similar exciting initiatives that we have recently started at Victim Support Scotland such as our new web chat service. It was good to hear about how successful web chat and online options have been from the Dutch perspective. Many new people have accessed support from Victim Support Netherlands since 2018 using these new digital options.

I had embarked on the trip expecting to learn about how service users give feedback in the Dutch system. However, I ended up learning about a wide range of topics beyond this that extended into the areas of new, innovative ways of delivering support and strengthening victim rights. As Service User Engagement Officer, I will be enthusiastically sharing my learning – as well as some tasty stroopwafels – with my colleagues back in Victim Support Scotland.