Building a Case for a New Victim Support System in Turkey: What Role for Indicators? By Selen Siringil Perker

Since 2009, the Harvard Kennedy School Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management has been drawing attention to the potential of indicators as catalysts for justice reform that can inspire and protect local innovation within government agencies. A new opportunity emerged in Turkey to test this versatile role for indicators in late 2013, when the Ministry of Justice in Turkey established a new Victim Rights Division.

The new division is tasked with developing a new system of support services for victims of crime across the country, monitoring its implementation, and drafting new legislation and guidelines on the rights and services to which victims are entitled. One challenge the division grapples with is choosing the organizational scheme of support services that is best suited to the needs of victims. Should the support services be concentrated in the police, the prosecution, the courts, or contracted out to the private sector, as is the case in many countries today? Should victims of some crimes receive more support than others? Do some stages of the judicial process require more attention than others?

The challenge is not an easy one. The decision about organization of victim support services has implications on the operation of the justice system as a whole, and would require managing tensions between competing goals in criminal justice. For example, placement of victim support inside or outside government might alleviate or exacerbate a potential conflict between the state’s interest in holding the offender accountable through victim cooperation and victim’s right not to participate in criminal process to prevent further injury. Besides, as a young initiative, the Victim Rights Division in Turkey has to undertake this intricate task with limited resources. How, then, can the new division make rational choices for organization of a new victim support system that is adequate, effective, and ethically and financially sound?

I raised this question with Todd Foglesong and Christine Cole, both members of the Indicators in Justice and Safety Affinity Group, when we attended an international conference that the Ministry of Justice held in Ankara in October 2014. At this inaugural event, the challenges awaiting the new division were uncovered and foreign experiences alongside successful local initiatives were shared. I made a presentation about how existing local administrative data, despite its limitations, can be used to develop indicators to aid the new division to make decisions about how to deploy scarce resources optimally while programming new victim support services. I focused on three questions that the new division may find beneficial to consider:

    • Is the demand for victim support in courts increasing or decreasing?
    • For what types of crime and at what stage of the criminal procedure is support for victims most needed?
    • For what kinds of services is the need more acute?

I invite you to review with me the first sample indicator, change in demand for victim support in courts. You can download the complete presentation to learn about the other two examples here.

Is the demand for victim support in courts increasing or decreasing in Turkey?

Turkey does not collect data on victims of crime through regular and systemic victimization surveys, so we did not have the direct experience of victims as a starting point for indicators. The Ministry of Justice’s Judicial Statistics, the most comprehensive administrative data set for the justice sector in Turkey, has been reporting some limited information about victims of crime, such as number and gender of victims by offense type, routinely only since 2012. The data was too recent to evaluate the change in victims’ demand for support in courts via direct measures, so we looked to the available administrative data with a view to creating a new measure in local context.

An indirect way to measure victims’ demand for support services in courts is to understand the change in the volume of cases involving crimes that require instigation of a complaint by the victim to prosecute. In the figure below, the columns relate to the left axis and show the total number of new files received by Prosecutor’s Office (green column) and the total number of offenses indicted by prosecutors (blue column) in Turkey for all crimes from 2009 through 2013. The lines refer to the right axis, and show the number of new files received by courts for prosecution of sexual assault (Criminal Code, CC hereinafter, article 102 §1), sexual harassment (CC 105 §1), and threat to property (CC 106 §1 sentence 2) - all of which require a victim’s complaint to initiate an investigation and the victim’s continued cooperation to prosecute.

Prosecution Volume of Offenses Indictable upon a Complaint, Turkey, 2009 - 2013

Source: Judicial Statistics, Ministry of Justice

The figures indicate that, between 2009 and 2013, the number of decisions to prosecute for all crimes increased 12% in parallel with the total number of files received by public prosecutors, which increased about 11%. On the other hand, the number of prosecutions for offenses indictable upon a complaint, in other words, prosecutions in which victims of crime are involved actively and willingly, increased at a greater rate during the same period. In fact, the number of files received by courts for sexual assault and sexual harassment, both of which are indictable upon a victim complaint, increased 63% and 49% respectively. The number of prosecutions for threat to property, another offense that require victim complaint to be prosecuted, doubled in the same period.

In short, offenses that require victim activation of and participation in the judicial process seem to occupy an increasing proportion of the workload of the judiciary each year. The analysis can be deepened to see whether a similar trend exists for other types of offenses that are indictable upon victim complaint, and how these trends would change in coming years. However, the available data already suggest that victim cooperation is needed for an increasing slice of the judicial process in Turkey. Victim support services could be focused on these types of crimes to facilitate and strengthen sustained engagement and cooperation of victims.

This is only one illustration of how available local data, despite its limitations, can enable justice institutions diagnose and balance their emerging needs with those of the targeted beneficiaries of a new initiative, like in the case of the new Victim Rights Division in Turkey, and tailor most adequate response to these needs with scarce resources. Since these early discussions, the Division has started two projects to inform the design of a new victim support system. First, the division is piloting an organizational model for social support services in a local court in Ankara. Second, the division is analyzing existing support services for female victims of violence in select cities in cooperation with practitioners at various stages of the judicial process. In a baseline report, the division highlighted the potential of existing online case management system (“UYAP”) to collect more information on victims and the need to improve the capacity to analyze the collected data for evaluation of existing services. As the pilots unfold, the Division may have an opportunity to develop and test new measures that would shape its future programs.

Have you experienced the power of available local data and locally-designed indicators to inspire and inform innovation in your own institution? Please do comment and share your experience.