This year, one in four Canadians will be victimized by crime in some way.

Every year in Canada, one in four Canadians will be victimized by crime in some way. Most of the victimization is not violent, but non-violent and “less serious” crimes can have an impact too.

Rates of multiple victimization are extremely high, and one of the risk factors of being victimized is previous victimization. Also, we can’t ignore the reality that many offenders have been victimized at some point in their lives and some victims are or have been offenders. Two percent of Canadians experience 60% of all violent crime—often repeated sexual and physical violence.

Most victims do not report the crime because, they say, it was “not important enough”. But only one in ten victims of sexual offences report to the police. Many women abused by intimate partners do not call the police. In 2009, only 31% of Canadians who had been victimized reported their victimization to police.[1] The statistics are clear: most victims of crime, for one reason or another, do not turn to the justice system for help.

Instead, they go to their communities—to domestic violence shelters, sexual assault centres and community agencies—to meet their needs.

One of the reasons may be because of the way the criminal justice system treats them. In 1983, the Federal–Provincial Task Force on Justice for Victims of Crime said, “It is often the case that the victim is twice victimized—once by the crime and once by the process.”  Not much has changed since then. Too often, in our overburdened system, victims are largely ignored, and complex decisions are made without explanation to or any input from those most impacted by the crime. It is no wonder so many victims look to the sentence for justice—the process has failed them. It’s a problem that’s likely to worsen as delays in the justice system worsen too.

For many victims, it’s the way they are treated by police and Crown that matters most, not how the offender is treated. One study found that, “…Being treated with dignity and respect is more important than seeing that the offender is punished as severely as legally possible.”[2] In a similar vein, a Montreal criminologist found that victims were more critical of police for not keeping them notified than failing to catch the offender.[3]

It would be easy to pretend that justice means the same thing to all victims or that they all want the same thing. Victims’ needs are far more personal than that. Society needs to respond to the needs of these victims where they are, not where we think they should be.

If we continue to focus on punishing offenders and ignoring the real needs of victims, victims may be forced to live in a violent relationship or live in poverty so as not to risk a family member being sent to prison, or to face the prospect of losing their job or their home because they took too many sick days.

Smart Justice recognizes that victims of crime have an important place in the criminal justice system if they want it, but it understands that much of what victims of crime need will not be found there and will not be resolved by a sentence. Courtrooms and prisons, after all, are not victims’ services.

Instead, Smart Justice seeks to provide more satisfactory processes and programs, like restorative justice, that emphasize the needs of victims. By re-investing scarce resources into things that will actually benefit victims, we will have less re-victimization and safer communities.

Steve Sullivan


Image credit: bowie15 / 123RF Stock Photo

[1] Note that these numbers exclude reports of spousal physical and sexual assault:

[2] Alan N. Young, “The Role of the Victim in the Criminal Process: A Literature Review 1989-1999.” Policy Centre for Victims Issues, Department of Justice Canada, 2001.

[3] Victim Notification and Public Support for the Criminal Justice System. Jo-anne Wemmers. International Review of Victimology. 1999. Volume 6. p.169.