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Can money symbolize the acknowledgment? How victims’ relatives perceive monetary awards for their emotional harm

Hulst, Liesbeth
June 4, 2015

Source: (2011) Psychol. Inj. and Law 4:4245-262

Legal systems differ markedly on how they treat
the emotional harm suffered by close family members of
crime or accident victims. This paper reports the results of
two empirical studies examining how citizens whose child,
partner, or parent was killed or seriously injured as a result
of violent crime or tort (secondary victims) perceive a
monetary award for their own non-economic harm relating
to the death or injury of their loved one. The objective of
our research was to test the Dutch legislator’s assumption
that a (modest) monetary award for secondary victims’
emotional harm can have a meaningful symbolic value by
providing recognition and satisfaction. Until then, no
compensation was available for such harm under Dutch
law. In addition, we examined whether victims’ relatives
preferred standardization or individuation in determining
the amount of the award, how they evaluated the amount,
and the manner in which such awards might be offered. In a
first quantitative survey study conducted in the Netherlands,
726 secondary victims were asked for their evaluations
of such awards for the emotional harm they suffered
as a result of the death or injury of their family member. We
also asked our representative sample about their actual
experience of the legal process in order to put their
evaluations of such awards into context. In a second
qualitative study, conducted in Belgium, interviews were
held with 14 secondary victims who had actually received
an award for their own emotional harm under Belgian law
(study 2). Results suggest that secondary victims regard an
award for emotional harm as a positive gesture and may
interpret it as helping to satisfy relatives’ psychological
concerns by seeing it, for example, as an acknowledgment
of loss and responsibility. Overall findings suggest that
victims’ relatives may be seeking acknowledgement of their
emotional losses and the norm violation.


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