(The spoken version shall take precedence)
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very touched and proud to open this conference with a theme that is so important and close to my heart- Reaching out to victims. The title emphasizes that it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to remove the barriers for victims of crime to seek help and to get justice and support.
And yet, so many victims never get the help they are entitled to. Often because they do not reach out for help. I was therefore very glad to see that you have decided to dedicate this conference to them.
Some victims may fear that they will not be believed or treated well when they seek help. Some do not even understand that what happened to them is a crime. Some are ashamed, blaming themselves or their actions that preceded the crime. Some are threatened and afraid.
These are all things that we can do something about; with professionals who are better trained, more information about your rights as a victim and with services specifically targeting groups that otherwise would not seek help. We can also ensure that we all speak about victims in a way that does not in any way contribute to shame and discrimination or to stereotypical ideas of how a “real” victim should act or look like. We also need to stress that being a victim of crime does not constitute who you are. Being a victim is not an identity.
One of the crimes which is still too often surrounded by taboos, victim-blaming and silence is sexual abuse. Child victims of violence and sexual abuse are especially vulnerable and among the most invisible victims. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse often target children who lack a protective environment and are least likely to speak out; such as small children, children in institutions, children that run away from home, children with disabilities and children in families with substance abuse and violence.
The reason I founded World Childhood Foundation was to give these children protection – and to give them voice. Because they deserve to be heard! Childhood has now worked for almost twenty years to prevent and address violence and sexual abuse against children. One example of the work of Childhood, is the establishment of Barnahus for child victims of crime in a number of countries. In a Barnahus, all relevant professions work together with the best interest of the child as their primary consideration. The model is based on lessons learned from children that had been through a system that actually did more harm than good. This way of cooperating in child-centered multidisciplinary teams, helps to ensure that young victims of abuse are not retraumatized in the legal process.
The guiding principle of Barnahus is simple, brilliant, and difficult: Every child who leaves Barnahus should be better off than when they arrived. No child should ever regret they told.
The same principle is applicable to all the work with victim support. No victim of crime should ever regret they told.
The Barnahus model is one of many examples of how we constantly move forward. I must say that I do feel hopeful. When we look back, we can see a rapid development in the way we speak about and recognize violence against children, women, LGBT people and victims of hate crimes. We do no longer see violence against women and children as a domestic affair. We have more knowledge about the impact of witnessing violence as a child. We recognize hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender expression and race. We start to understand that boys can also be victimized. Things are improving!
Victim support centers and other actors represented here today have played an extremely important role in this development. And the fact that you have all gathered today in order to learn from, inspire and support each other is an important step to further strengthen the rights of victims.
As a patron for Victim support, Sweden I cannot stress enough how crucial your work is. When we treat a victim with respect and trust it can make an enormous difference for their recovery, for their access to justice and for their trust in the system in case they are victimized again.
Conferences like these are important because they provide a platform for all of you who work tirelessly for a cause that sometimes may feel overwhelming or emotionally draining. I hope that this conference will be an opportunity to learn about new research, to share good practices and to be reminded why you chose this field of work.
I wish you all a most successful and inspiring conference.