In order to protect society, the main emphasis of legal systems traditionally has been upon the detection of crime and the punishment of the offender. More enlightened programmes aim to support the offender in an effort to prevent recidivism. Very little attention, however, has been paid, either by voluntary or by statutory bodies, to assess and supply the needs of the victim of crime. The main role of the victim at law has been as a source of evidence to secure a conviction against the offender, yet he or she may deserve restitution or recompense, and may also require legal, medical, psychiatric or social welfare assistance as a result of the crime. While the problems of victims, or likely victims, may be referred to incidentally, there has as yet been no concerted attempt to bring together and elaborate the measures needed on their behalf and to develop further approaches and techniques designed to improve their plight. International conventions do not presently articulate explicit rights to protection, reparation or justice for victims of crime.
The concern for victims of crime is not new. The Hammarabi Code provided for reparation centuries ago. Further, many of the customary practices that were not changed by colonization promote reconciliation and reparation. However, the rights of victims were curtailed in the 19th century in many industrialized countries for such reasons as controlling unofficial retaliation and guaranteeing fine revenues for the state. Few countries afford victims comprehensive participation in the judicial process.