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The UOC contributes to a European project to promote a fair and effective compensation model for victims of sexual violence

  Foto: Kat Jayne de Pexels

Foto: Kat Jayne de Pexels

Experts confirm that economic compensation is essential for victims to be able to obtain the necessary medical and psychological treatment

The initiative aims to train professionals that work with victims to be able to help them heal effectively

Since October 2019, the UOC has formed part of a project coordinated by the University Carlos III of Madrid: FAIRCOM (Towards a fair and effective compensation scheme for victims of sexual violence). Other prominent participants include Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), the University of Sassari (UNISS), the MARTA Centre in Latvia and the Union of Women Associations of Prefecture in Heraklion (UWAH).

The project aims to produce resources and provide training for professionals that work with victims of sexual violence, with a view to increasing awareness of compensation options while promoting good practices that make it easier for victims to access effective reparations.

Over the course of the past few decades, more attention has been paid to the victims of crime and to protecting their rights – both by the European Union and individual Member States – by adopting and implementing a series of policies. A victim's right to economic compensation is key to fulfilling a due requirement, as it can provide them with the financial means to, at least, access adequate medical and psychological treatment, as well as symbolizing recognition of the trauma they have suffered.

The Council Directive 2004/80/EC, of 29 April 2004, relating to compensation to crime victims and Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 25 October 2012, establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime declare that Member States must guarantee victims "fair and adequate compensation".

Although almost all Member States of the European Union have put these directives into place, their implementation methods are sporadic and often considerably lacking, so much so that today it is impossible to confirm the existence of minimum standards across the board. It is also important to remember that the European Convention on the Compensation of Victims of Violent Crimes from 1983 only articulates that the States are obliged to compensate victims of violent crimes that have suffered physical harm or death. This Convention has only been ratified by 26 of the 47 member countries of the European Council (Spain, for example, has ratified the Convention, but Greece and Italy have not).

The FAIRCOM project, which in theory is set to last two years, aims to help set more consistent and effective standards across the European Union by analysing current national legal frameworks, identifying their weaknesses and good practices, formulating recommendations and improving knowledge among organizations and professionals. In general, the objective is to raise awareness of the highly vulnerable situation of victims of sexual crimes, and identify the deficiencies in current national systems, in order to bring them justice.

In this vein, between the end of February and the beginning of March, a series of workshops was organized – one in the Netherlands, one in Latvia and two in Italy­­ – which were attended by members of the legal, police and welfare communities. One workshop of this kind was also held in Madrid, but the workshops scheduled to take place in Greece and Barcelona were suspended due to the restrictions on movement put in place during the COVID-19 healthcare crisis. While in Greece the workshop was replaced by individual consultations with legal professionals, the UOC called for collaboration from the attendees who were expected to attend the Barcelona event by means of an online questionnaire.

Once the project has finished, the aim is to hold a transnational seminar to share the results.

In general, crime victims can receive economic compensation from the following two sources:

- From the aggressor, by way of civil liability. This kind of compensation is seldom delivered, generally because the aggressor does not possess the financial means necessary.

- From the State, as declared in Spain by Law 35/1995, of 11 December, on aid and assistance to victims of violent crimes and crimes against sexual freedom. In practice, these cases are few and far between. The Law only covers cases of serious harm (both physical and psychological) to the victim and offers private psychological treatment to help alleviate it.

In the first exchanges to take place as part of FAIRCOM, victims of sexual crimes have identified differences from one country to the next. In the Netherlands, for example, the government makes a symbolic payment in recognition of the victim's suffering, regardless of the court's decision. The compensation is managed by an organization called the Violent Offences Compensation Fund, which is linked to the country's Ministry of Justice. As regards the compensation due from the offender, the Central Judicial Collection Agency (CJIB) ensures that the amount sentenced is what is actually paid, and police have the right to seize the offender's assets for the benefit of the victim.

In Spain, the Ministry of Finance is responsible for paying victims on behalf of the State. Very little compensation is requested, and even less is actually paid. In fact, as mentioned above, sentenced compensation often goes completely uncompensated as the offender cannot be located or is declared bankrupt. Only a very small percentage of compensation is received by victims, although in Spain it is very difficult to collate specific data on the subject as the judicial system is reluctant to provide information on court rulings. In short, treatment received by victims varies hugely depending on where the crime takes place.

As of today, a website has been designed for the FAIRCOM project, where the public can also access their resources, giving them structured and straightforward information on compensation schemes, workshops and training that has taken place or that is scheduled in the future.

It is important to understand that effective mechanisms for obtaining compensation do not only help compensate the victim for monetary and non-monetary damages. It also represents symbol of recognition and empowerment. "Fair and adequate" compensation is essential as a way for victims of sexual violence in the European Union to be able to exercise their fundamental rights.

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#UOCexperts

Photograph of Josep Maria Tamarit Sumalla

Josep Maria Tamarit Sumalla

Professor of Criminal Law
Director of the Criminology programme

Expert in: Victimology; restorative justice; criminal sanctions; transitional justice.

Knowledge area: Criminal law and criminology.

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