People who experience ‘problematic’ substance use or ‘addiction’ feature prominently in the criminal justice system, typically as offenders. Importantly, however, ‘addicts’ and other ‘problematic’ consumers of alcohol and other drugs also appear in criminal justice systems in other guises, including as the victims of crime. All Australian states and territories operate legislative schemes designed to compensate victims; schemes with explicitly remedial goals, aiming to provide care and support and to aid victims’ recovery from the effects of crime. So what happens when people categorised as ‘addicts’ become victims of crime and seek access to compensation?
SSAC research fellow Dr Kate Seear explored these issues in a presentation at the 11th Dangerous Consumptions Colloquium, held at the University of Western Sydney’s Parramatta campus on 12-13 December 2013. The paper was called ‘Making sense of the ‘addict-as-victim’: How crime compensation case law performs the ontology of addiction’, and emerges out of a major new SSAC pilot study on addiction and the law. That study is being undertaken with Associate Professor Suzanne Fraser.
Through an analysis of case law, Seear explored how courts understand drug consumption and ‘addiction’ and its apparent relevance to crimes compensation applications. She argued that although the express focus of crimes compensation schemes is remedial, ‘addicts’ must work hard to satisfy courts that compensation is deserved and to achieve the legal rights and benefits afforded to other Australian citizens who experience acts of violence. She concluded with a consideration of the implications of this.