In 2020, Victim Support Europe marks its 30th anniversary as a European network dedicated to ensuring that all victims of crime — including child-victims, no matter what crime, no matter where in Europe it took place, can access the rights they are entitled to and get the support they need.

From humble beginnings as group of like-minded professionals and organisations wanting to change the victims’ field for the better, VSE has grown into a large non-profit organisation with a membership of 58 organisations around the world, supporting over 2 million victims of crime per year.

On the occasion of  1st of  June — The International Day for Protection of Children, some of veteran victim support organisations from Sweden, Scotland and England, professionals who have spent years helping child victims, reflect on their experience in supporting young people cope with the impact and effects of crime, and tell what they do to assist children — victims of COVID-19 lockdown.

* Cover photo is courtesy of Victim Support Sweden.

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 (Part 1)

Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have saved lives, but the most vulnerable children may pay a heavy price

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted more than 30 years ago, and Sweden was one of the first countries to ratify it and to incorporate child rights into existing legislation. A special Ombudsman for Children was appointed in 1993.

The principles in the Convention serve as a foundation for many NGOs working with children, including Victim Support Sweden. We offer support to all children and young people who have been a victim of crime, or who have witnessed domestic violence. In a support context, we regard the child as a sovereign individual and as an expert on their own life. They are to be respected and listened to. Children have a right to participate, even own and control processes which concerns them. Our job in providing support to children and young people is to always listen diligently and calmly, to be present, warm and kind and to provide a safe environment for the child to tell their story and make sure they know they are being heard. But at the same time, the child’s safety is paramount — our primary responsibility is to always take safety considerations into account and if necessary, make arrangements on the child’s behalf.

Children and young people who have been victimized or continually exposed to a violent or hostile home environment often have difficulty expressing exactly what happened. They have often seen or heard more than we think, but there’s a sense of loyalty toward the parents that make them choose to stay silent. The safest place in every child’s life ought to be at home with their family, and when that foundation crumbles the consequences can be devastating for a child’s long-term mental health. Anxiety, depression, self-harm or outward aggression are common among children who have been exposed to violence at home, as are low self-esteem and a lack of trust in adults in general. This, in turn, will have an impact on the child’s life outside the home — at school, with friends and in other social situations.

In the current situation, as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps families isolated at home, children who were already vulnerable are now even more exposed and at risk of further victimization. Access to safe forums where these children can come into contact with and spend time with adults from outside their own home environment dwindles as everyone is forced to stay at home. Opportunities have been fewer and farther between for children who are not attending school or socialising outside the home to reach out to someone and get help and support. Right now, there is no outside the home or away from the family for children in these circumstances. As our communities open up and get back to normal, we expect to see an increase in reported domestic violence cases, and an escalation in demand for help and support for children who have been victimized during their time in at-home isolation. It’s on all of us — governments, NGOs, schools, health care providers and adults in general — to step up and make sure we do our part to mitigate the damage.

By Elena Luckey from Victim Support Sweden

Victim Support Sweden (Brottsofferjouren) is the only NGO in Sweden providing support services to crime victims of all categories. Volunteers at 72 local support centres across Sweden as well as professionals at our national helpline 116 006 provide support to around 40 000 victims of crime annually.