It is a well documented fact that South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world. The effects of crime have significant impacts and effects for the victim, offender, and society at large. According to the South African Law Commission South Africa is at present experiencing a crime wave that may have far reaching consequences for our citizens, economy, social services and our judicial system" (1997:82). In The United States of America, Victim Impact Statements were introduced in the 1970's and at present, 49 American states have legislation allowing input by victims at sentencing (Howard, 1997).
It is important to discuss Victim Impact Statements according to a 1st world country as a third world country such as South Africa could greatly benefit from what works in more developed Judicial Systems. Although it should be noted that each country is different and what works for one country may not be as effective in such a multi-cultural society as ours. Anyone who has been a victim of crime experiences the effects of the crime in a number of ways.
The effects can be physical, as in the case of domestic violence, rape assault, or mugging, they can also be psychological, inducing such disorders as depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and feelings of vulnerability and violation of ones rights. In crimes such as high jackings and robbery a person suffers economic or financial loss and these losses can also include the inability to work or provide for ones family. The emotional effects of crime can also be far reaching as an individual may lose trust in others, feel violated and unsafe, and lose the ability to function in everyday life.
1 2. OVERVIEW: VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT 2. 1 Definition of Victim Impact Statement, South Africa The Definition of a Victim Impact Statement according to the South African Law Commission (2002:68) "'Victim impact statement' means a written statement by the victim or someone authorized by the Act to make a statement on behalf of the victim which reflects the impact of the offence, including physical, psychological, social and financial consequences of the offence for the victim".
This means that an individual is eligible to submit a Victim Impact Statement if he or she is personally effected by a crime committed by an offender who is on trial for that specific crime. Should the victim not be able to speak for themselves such as in the case of the victim dying, the victim's next of kin is able to submit a Victim Impact Statement. 2. 2 Definition of a Victim Impact Statement, America
The definition of victim impact statement in the USA according to the Women's Justice Network "A written statement that the victim can prepare after the accused has been found guilty" (www. owjn. org/info/glossar4. htm). In both South Africa and The United States of America the statement may be written by a third party such as a victims representative or a person who is qualified, by the court to submit one on the victims behalf. These include social workers, psychologists, counselors, criminologists and medical professionals. 2
A victim impact statement in South Africa and in the USA is submitted to the court after the offender has been convicted, but before the sentence is decided by the court. This allows the victim to express in a factual manner how the crime has affected them and allows the court to take into consideration the personal affect of the offender's crime. This also means that an offender cannot be convicted on the emotional pleas of the victim, but that once convicted the court will take into consideration the effect of the crime in sentencing the offender.
In South African courts the victim may give recommendations for an appropriate sentence, but the judge is under no obligation to adhere to the recommended sentence by the Victim Impact Statement "Sometimes this statement may include the victim's statement of opinion on his feelings about the crime, the offender and the sentence that he feels is appropriate. " (South African Law Commission, 82: 1997). Although in the USA the victim is not permitted to suggest sentencing some States offer more creative ways to deliver ones Victim Impact statement such as making a video tape, submitting drawings and photographs.
In South Africa it seems a Victim Impact Statement is preferred to be factual and not sensational. This seems to make more sense as sensationalizing the crime may sway sentencing either way and be a less objective way of submitting the facts of the crime. 3 3. COMPILING A VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT As mentioned above a Victim Impact Statement (VIS) may be prepared by the victim or on behalf of the victim by certain people. However it is important to note that the words expressed in the VIS should reflect those feeling and emotions of the individual affected by the crime and not the interpretation of a third party.
The VIS should also not sensationalize the crime, it should remain factual and to the point. As it is the victims chance to let the court know how the crime affected them personally, it should reflect the individual's view of the crime. It can be written and in some cases presented verbally, the South African Law Commission notes that the VIS "usually takes the form of a written statement that is presented to the court as part of the pretence report. It can however also take the form of an oral statement by the victim when decisions are made by the court on sentencing.
This last format of the Victim Impact Statement is only used in some states of the United States of America" (82:1997). The main objective of a Victim Impact Statement in both America and South Africa is to inform the courts of any economic, psychological or physical effects as well as changes in lifestyle as a direct result of the crime committed against the victim. The compiler should stick to the truth and once again remain factual as submitting a VIS means that the victim could be "subjected to cross-examination by the defense attorney or advocate in court" (HCRFOR-8 501/2006).
Cross-examination by a defense attorney can be emotionally draining and hurtful, so it is in ones best interest to remain honest at all times and to not embellish the truth whatsoever. 4 3. 1 Compiling a Victim Impact Statement, South Africa The Format for compiling a Victim Impact Statement (VIS) in South Africa should adhere to the following guidelines: It is of importance to identify the victim and include the name of the person writing the statement whether it be a third party or victim him/herself.
Also the VIS need to be signed and dated by the person who wrote it and a statement needs to be included stating that the victim agrees to the VIS being presented in court. The next section should deal, in detail, with the effects of the crime including any physical harm suffered. These physical injuries may need to be conferred by a medical Doctor and the Defence Attorney as well as the Judge may wish to see evidence of any physical harm reported such as medical reports.
After the physical injuries have been detailed it is important to mention any psychological effects the crime may have had on the victim. Such as new found fear, a sense of guilt (often in cases of rape and domestic violence) about the crime, any Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (often experienced after violent or fearful situations, manifesting in nightmares, fear, flashbacks and an inability to carry on everyday functioning). Also it is common for victims to feel a sense of violation after a crime has occurred and this may manifest in violence or anger.
5 Changes in lifestyle are also a factor that should be detailed within the Victim Impact Statement. Such as an inability, due to fear, to drive at night or leave the house. Family relations may too become strained as a result of stress and financial loss caused by the crime, these factors should all be submitted with the Victim Impact Statement. Any economic loss as a result of the crime should be included in the Victim Impact Statement. The loss may be a direct result such as having ones car stolen, money taken or irreplaceable family jewelry.
The financial losses may also be secondary but more severe such as the inability to work after the crime due to physical or psychological harm. These four factors that are detailed in a Victim Impact Statement are designed to inform the perpetrator of the consequences of their actions, also it allows the Judge a more personal view of the crime committed against a human being. It is a good idea for all victims to write a rough draft first and have a third party read it over before being typed up.
The Victim Impact Statement should be no longer than 20 A4 typed pages and the statement should be signed by the victim. Six copies need to be made and submitted to the court "one for the victim, one for the offender or interpreter, the original statement plus another copy for the State Prosecutor (who must submit the original document to the judge or Magistrate (Presiding Officer), one copy for the lawyer or advocate for the defence, and one copy for the compiler" (HCRFOR-8, 501/2006). 6 3. 2 Compiling a Victim Impact Statement, America
In America the actual format differs from state to state. Most of the states ask for a written or typed document but there is no restriction on page numbers. The Victims name as well as address and telephone numbers appear on the document. The victim is asked to provide the offenders name too. The format follows much the same as the South African procedure with regards to statement of losses and the American Code Of Criminal Procedures also makes provisions for the victim to state whether they would like to be informed of any further hearings.
The victim may include a "statement as to whether or not the victim, guardian or relative wishes to be notified in the future of any parole hearings for the defendant and an explanation as to the procedures by which the victim, guardian or relative may obtain information concerning the release of the defendant from the department of corrections" (Article 56. 04(a)). The Victim Impact Statement is given to the police or the victim services agency involved.
A copy is also given to the offender and the offender is allowed to question the victim about the statement at the sentencing hearing (www. legal-info-legale. com). It is clear that both in South Africa and America a Victim Impact statement is optional but not confidential and anyone wishing to submit one should be made aware of their rights concerning a Victim Impact statement.