Dr Roberta Lepre is the Director of Victim Support Malta, an independent non-profit organisation that had been founded a decade ago. Its mission is to assist victims of crime in the hope of helping them get through the criminal justice system. As a lawyer, she had been very much attracted to the idea of working for NGOs, which tend to be much less bureaucratic and therefore more effective in many ways. She finds the field of victim’s rights challenging and intriguing.
At Victim Support Malta, you’re aided by a professional team of coordinators. What would you say have so far been the biggest challenges that you’ve faced in your efforts to help your clients?
At VSM, we’re lucky to have a small but very dedicated group of staff members and volunteers. Our biggest challenge is that of ensuring that we’ve enough resources to cover staff costs, in order to continue providing services for our clients.
Image source: Independent
With regards to cyberbullying, there’s always the blurred crux of freedom of expression. How does Victim Support Malta work around this?
Bullying is subjective and therefore, irrespective of whether a particular action constitutes a criminal offence or otherwise, we adopt a victim-centred approach and will support a victim if that person feels aggrieved or hurt by someone’s comments. As with all other rights, freedom of expression is not absolute; the right to express yourself freely needs to be balanced against the other person’s right to live free from fear or violence.
We’re often told that several victims hold back from coming forward and speaking up. What do you think is the main cause behind this within the Maltese context?
Many victims fail to report a crime, and there are various reasons for this. There’s the general lack of trust in the criminal justice system, the fear of not being believed or of being ridiculed, the fear of retribution from the offender and the perceived costs of getting involved in lengthy court proceedings. From our end, our service is confidential and we’ll not report a case to the police or any other authority unless there’s fear of harm to self or others. Therefore, we provide a safe space for victims to talk about their experience without having to officially report it.
Aside from raising awareness, what kind of direct action can a citizen take to help victims?
In Malta we’re very lucky to have a variety of free services offered by both the State and the NGO sector. However, many people are not aware of where to go to get what kind of support. Therefore, besides generally raising awareness about victims’ rights, something simple that citizens can do is simply refer them to us or to any other relevant service.
Visit Victim Support Malta for more information.