The Emergence of the Crime Victim in the Swedish Social Services Act
Abstract: This study sought to explain how crime victims emerged as a target group in the Swedish Social Services Act in 2001. The findings, derived from legislative documents, a literature review, and focus group interviews with social workers, showed that the 2001 provisions both duplicated and undermined pre-existing provisions of the Social Services Act. The explicit aim of the reform was to improve services to crime victims. The provisions did not, however, change the legal responsibility of the social services, nor did they strengthen the social rights of crime victims. The social services already assumed responsibility for crime victims according to other provisions of the act. To some degree, the reform can be explained symbolically. Support for crime victims was a complicated issue for the social democratic government. The economic crisis of the early 1990s ruled out reforms that might bring high increased costs. Yet expanding crime victims’ rights at the expense of the offender (e.g. toughening penal law and promoting victim impact statements) was not in line with social democratic ideology. By enacting the 2001 provisions, the government showed its commitment to providing support to crime victims. At the same time, the provisions did not increase costs or strengthen crime victims’ rights. In this way, the provisions solved a political dilemma for the government. Incorporating the 2001 provisions in the Social Services Act may seem to have been a modest reform. Symbolic politics, however, are not empty; rather, they reflect attitudes and beliefs. This study proposed that the reform revealed the state’s increasing concern with violence against women and individual responsibility. Furthermore, the provisions may have constituted a normative reorientation of the Social Services Act, in which individual responsibility increasingly replaced solidarity, the holistic view, and a right to assistance according to need.
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