The bill for a new Victim Support Act aimed at improving access to assistance for victims of violence, crime or crisis passed its first reading in the Riigikogu on Monday, the Ministry of Social Affairs said.
The new legislation would improve victims' access to support starting March 31, 2023, as well as help simplify the benefits application system for crime victims, the ministry said in a press release.
"Victim support is so much more than a monetary benefit or service," said Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform). "The right treatment of a traumatized person contributes both to their faster recovery and return to normal life as well as to the effective prosecution of the crime. That is why it's crucial that victims aren't left to deal with their worries alone and that the necessary help reaches people more easily and quickly."
Going forward, victims of domestic and sexual violence will receive mental healthcare supporting their recovery from trauma regardless of criminal proceedings.
In the case of high-risk adult victims of domestic violence, the Social Insurance Board (SKA) will also be granted the right to exchange information with other institutions and specialists helping the victim in order to improve assistance to them.
Under the new legislation, state support will also no longer be deducted when calculating benefits for victims of crime.
Domestic violence underreported in Estonia
Nearly 16,000 cases of domestic violence are registered in Estonia this year, but in light of the real total number of victims as indicated by surveys and statistics, only a fraction are accessing victim support services, the ministry said.
"Sexual violence is an underreported problem," Riisalo stressed. "Population surveys indicate a much higher number of victims than [indicated by] official statistics. Domestic violence is likewise still too hidden. That is why we have decided to guarantee mental healthcare supporting recovery from trauma to victims of domestic and sexual violence regardless of criminal proceedings."
The new legislation will expand on services offered by women's support centers, restorative justice services and services provided to victims of human trafficking as well as the content and conditions of mental healthcare supporting recovery from trauma.
For the first time, the new Victims Support Act will also explicitly define crisis aid for sexual violence, non-violence support services, psychosocial crisis aid as well as essential victim support services.
Editor: Aili Vahtla