Published on Eurasian Perspectives

Reforming victim support services: Lessons from Serbia

Victims of crime are among the most vulnerable groups in need of government services - from basic information to shelters, hotlines, health and psychological services, legal assistance, and more. Yet, support services are often inadequate or even unavailable, leaving victims feeling helpless and abandoned by the justice system. This brings a range of economic and social welfare costs that should be avoided.

But how do we prevent these negative, spillover effects?

First, it requires giving victims everywhere the support system they need — support that is accessible, efficient, and well-informed.

This is why the World Bank has developed new tools to support countries interested in pursuing reforms in this area.

Starting with Serbia, the Bank has provided a range of targeted activities aimed at assisting in developing that country’s reform strategy and ensuring full compliance with international standards.

Serbia, like all aspiring and current European Union (EU) members, must comply with the binding EU Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support, and protection of victims of crimes. Non-EU members, on the other hand, must comply with a range of other international instruments (also here and here) on the subject.

The analyses conducted and tools developed have wider application for others and can be adapted to differing country contexts with relative ease. For Serbia, the Bank partnered with Victim Support Europe (VSE), local justice stakeholders, and local, civil society organizations to provide the following package of technical assistance:

How to determine areas in need of reform: First, the team looked at the current state of play in Serbia and determined to what extent current laws and practices complied with the EU Directive’s main requirements. The report (described in our earlier post) unveiled a range of problems and gaps which require attention, and issued recommendations for change based on best practices of five EU Member States (Croatia, England, Finland, France, and the Netherlands). The comparative overview of these EU jurisdictions can provide useful lessons for other states as well.

How to improve police handling of victims: The team also looked at the role of police in cases involving victims of crime, and how police deal with those victims. The report identified opportunities for improvement in legislative or practice guidelines so as to better respond to victims’ needs.

How to expand access to services: Next, the team gathered information on victim support organizations (VSOs) that currently exist in Serbia - including what services are provided, to whom, where, at what level of capacity, and with what funding.

The survey of VSOs revealed that services in Serbia are often limited in their geographical scope, with most available only in the State’s capital or other urban centers. The team also found that services are often focused on specific victim profiles, like victims with disabilities or victims of specific types of crimes (e.g., human trafficking).

Once these issues were identified, it was possible to make recommendations on what needs to be done so that victims of crime of all sorts have access to support services.

How to raise awareness about available services: The national survey of VSOs served as the basis for an interactive online map of all available support services in Serbia. Providing this information online allows victims to easily obtain accurate information so they can know the options available to them and get the help they need.

How to finance a victim support system: Next, the team determined how Serbia could fund its support system by looking at how Finland, France, and the United Kingdom successfully funded theirs. The report outlined several approaches Serbia could take to finance support services in Serbia without creating an additional burden on the State’s budget. Other states can use this study as well to determine what funding methods are available to them.

How to create a national network of victim support services: Finally, the team determined how Serbia could organize victim support services at the national level by looking at how Finland and France successfully did it. The report concluded that the French model was likely the best option for Serbia—where all service providers are brought together under a single umbrella body that can develop and oversee national standards, ultimately ensuring better coordination and higher quality of services.

This comparative overview can be useful to other states as well to determine what could work in their country. 

The program developed by the Bank can inform reform strategies which can change lives and promote social and community stability by helping victims recover and trust the justice system again.

Noting the high relevance and replicability of this work (again here, here, here, and here), justice stakeholders across the region have already expressed interest in similar support from the Bank for establishing comprehensive victim support services in their countries. Based on good practices identified above, the Bank could easily assess country context and environment for other countries as well and be a constructive partner to policymakers around the world as they think through the key elements of effective service delivery for victims of crime, from strategy to implementation.

This project was made possible thanks to the continued help and support of the MDTF and VSE.


Georgia Harley

Senior Strategy Officer, International Development Association (IDA)

Marina Matic

Justice Reform Expert

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