Responding to Harm: The Challenge of Children’s Perspectives

Date01 April 2019
Published date01 April 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Responding to Harm:
The Challenge of
Children’s Perspectives
Kevin Haines1
Anthony Charles2
This article draws upon research undertaken in South Wales to understand
children’s views concerning what it means to be a ‘victim’ of crime and their
experiences, in that context, of engaging with the criminal justice system.
Significantly, and moving beyond traditional policy and service provision concerns,
child participants argued passionately that not only did adults fail to provide
them with appropriate advice and support, but that their understandings of
victimhood were inaccurate. Rather, children articulated an almost zemiological
understanding of ‘harm’ which was the basis for an alternative way of understanding
what it was to be a ‘victim’. Furthermore, children suggested that they were not
taken seriously by an adult-led criminal justice system and that the operation of
that system did not address their needs. Reflections are offered in this article
concerning children’s views, and the profound implications that their alternative
discourse pose for criminal justice policymakers and practitioners.
Children, participation, victim policy, service provision, consultation
All that we want is to be listened to and helped... It’s been awful ‘coz no-one believed
me, or wanted to even to listen to me. Things had happened and it was like no-one cared
and I felt like I was on my own with this... (Nerys,1 Child Research Participant)
1 Pseudonyms have been used throughout this report to protect the identity of the children who
participated in the research. Such pseudonyms respect gender.
Journal of Victimology
and Victim Justice
2(1) 90–108, 2019
2019 National Law
University Delhi
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2516606918819282
University of Trinidad and Tobago, Wallerfield, Trinidad and Tobago.
Swansea University, Swansea, Wales, UK.
Corresponding author:
Anthony Charles, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, Wales, UK.
Haines and Charles 91
The aforementioned statement made by Nerys, a Looked After Child who had
suffered domestic abuse, summarizes the core message articulated in this article.
This message is that children who have been harmed by others want be heard,
understood and helped by those who have the resources and power to support
them. In Nerys’ case, while she believed that the state should have acted to help
her, in reality, the experience she gained from engagement in the criminal justice
system was one where officials did not believe her. Rather, they rejected her
account, despite the courage and strength that was required by her to report what
had happened. In doing so, the criminal justice system itself, in Nerys’ view,
harmed her. Thus, as a pre-existing victim, she was victimized again.
Through this article, the challenges that the views of children who might tradi-
tionally be considered to be ‘victims’ pose to criminal justice decision makers and
the providers of services are explored. Drawing upon what children themselves
have said, following their engagement with ‘the system’, it quickly becomes clear
that there is, from their perspective, an understanding that the political rhetoric
underpinning recent policy and the ‘victims (of crime) movement’ are primarily
informed by and intended to meet the needs of adults. As the literature suggests,2
children’s voices3 largely are not sought or nor often heard in framing the debate
or responses to those who have been harmed. This article, reporting what children
said during research undertaken in South Wales, seeks to address this imbalance.
Flowing from the views of a purposive sample of children who had engaged with
a variety of victim support agencies, this article demonstrates that there are pro-
found differences between what children understand by the term ‘victim’ and how
those who have been ‘harmed’ (their preferred term) should be treated. This seem-
ingly simple difference creates serious challenges for the criminal justice system,
impacting upon understandings of victimhood, service planning, delivery and
appropriateness. Without doubt, the perspectives shared by children do not sit
well with more orthodox criminal justice discourse.
Crucially, the research presented in this article suggests strongly that a re-
visitation of the definition of ‘victim’ is required, as well as the types and delivery
of services that are provided for those ‘harmed’. Importantly, what is stated
derives not from reflections on the extant victim’s policy environment, but from
the real life and often harsh experiences which children faced after being harmed
by someone else. Such reporting gives vitality to the findings and, to emphasize
the power and importance of children’s views, what they said has been included
verbatim in the text of this article. In seeking to enable the hearing of the voices
of children who had been hurt by others (suffering a variety of harms from bullying
to domestic abuse), it is noteworthy that their views regarding ‘the system’, while
often negative, were deeply passionate (in their desire for ‘fair treatment’—not
necessarily revenge). After having engaged with traditional criminal justice and
related public sector agencies including the police, social services and the courts,
few children had experienced either positive or constructive interactions.
2 S. AnderSon, r. KinSey & C. Smith, CAutionAry tAleS: young PeoPle, Crime And PoliCing in
edinburgh (Taylor and Francis, 2017).
3 Following the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a child is a young
person up to the age of 18 years.

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