This week is designated to recognize and support all those who have been victims of crime.
It’s a time to recognize the impact on victims and to look at how we as a community take care of our most vulnerable citizens.
On April 2, the government introduced new legislation to support the needs of victims in the form of a Victims Bill of Rights. This new legislation aims to strengthen the rights of victims and although there are elements of the legislation that may meet with mixed reviews it does put forward the needs of victims which are so often diminished within our criminal justice system.
In Canada’s current system, there are a few provisions that apply for victims of crime but they are generally not enforceable and increasingly there has been a need to provide victims with similar rights to information and participation in the process.
When a crime occurs, it can be one of the most frightening and devastating times of a person’s life. Crime and tragedy can strike any person at any time and it is often unexpected, unpredictable and sudden. Crime does not discriminate based on age, sex, race or economic status. Although the crimes may be vastly different the trauma suffered by victims is often very similar. The loss of a sense of security, fear of new places and strangers, injustice, isolation and indignity are all common feelings experienced by victims. How an individual copes depends largely on the nature of the violation and the meaning to the victim, the victim’s previous life experiences and circumstances and finally the type of help they receive after the event.
If you are the victim of a crime or a traumatic event (such as a suicide, accidental death, fatal motor vehicle accident etc) you are not alone. The Hope/Boston Bar RCMP Victim Services is available to assist you in this community. Each year, the program assists hundreds of people who have been victimized, have witnessed an offence or have suffered through a loss of their own. In 2013, they had 167 full service case files and over hundreds of general inquiries and short term service contacts. Anyone in the community can contact the office at 604-869-7770 if they or someone they know may need some information and support.
A victim’s voice
Hope/Boston Bar RCMP Victim Services has provided an opportunity for some of the people they have assisted to share their experience and offer some insight into how the crime and the subsequent events have affected their life. The two stories profiled here are both related to sexual assaults involving children.
Victim No. 1:
I sat in the small lobby of the RCMP detachment, surrounded by officers. My legs shook violently. I held them, trying to gain some semblance of physical composure.
I listened as the police described what came next: taking my daughter to a clinic with special doctors. Doctors who would examine my two-year-old baby’s body. Examine her to see how bad the internal damage was.
Over the following days and weeks the emptiness in my life started to make sense. The frustrations in my marriage, the loneliness, became clear. I had been living with a monster – a devil in disguise.
I will never forget the words of truth as they came out of my innocent child’s mouth. I will never forget the death I felt; like a miscarriage of life. I hadn’t kept my baby safe.
It began like a dream. The kind you don’t ever want to end. He was handsome, charming and treated me like a queen. He wanted to join me in my adventures. He encouraged me.
But the good times dissipated as quickly as they had begun. Marriage wasn’t what I thought or hoped it would be. The encouragement turned into passive aggressive remarks: don’t wear make-up; don’t dress too nice; your friends have issues; homeschool the kids.
He worked diligently to push everyone away, making me think it was my idea. Eventually I believed him.
What does a victim of violence look like? The victim looks like me. Normal. No bruises. A nice family. House. Dog. Cat. A victim of violence looks like an innocent child, unable to express their torment.
Did you know “one in three females and one in six males in Canada experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18 (University of Victoria Sexual Assault Centre)?” Did you know most children who experience sexual abuse do not show obvious indicators such as physical injuries, pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections? In contrast, many children never experience these. Did you know common symptoms of sexual abuse are signs of stress? Although most children show no signs of sexual abuse (Children and Family Services, CFS, 2010). Did you know “80 per cent of all child abusers are the father, foster father, stepfather or another relative or close family friend of the victim [and] 75 per cent of mothers are not aware of the incest in their family (Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse)?”
So what can you do about it?
Be aware. Trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to uncover the truth. Truth will bring you and other victims freedom. I can tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are people and supports to help you get through the trauma and create a healthy, beautiful life for yourself.
If you know someone who is a victim, don’t make assumptions and never ask “How did you not know?” Don’t gossip. They will tell you when they are ready. Don’t ask them what they need because they may not know. Observe and you will see what they need. Encourage them. Be patient. Bring them dinner. Do their laundry. Be silent with them. Educate yourself, so you can help: www.safekidsbc.ca/statistics.htm, www.calgarycasa.com, www.victimsofcrime.org, www.littlewarriors.ca
Victim No. 2:
My story begins when I was 10 and my stepfather chose to take advantage of my childhood innocence and vulnerability and sexually abuse me. At the time of the abuse I did not understand what was happening nor could I imagine the enormous consequences I would later face because someone I trusted and looked to for protection took advantage of me. As I was only a child, I was too scared to tell anyone what had happened and it wasn’t until 15 years later, two weeks after my wedding, that the crushing weight of my stepfather’s actions became too much for me to bear alone. It was finally time for me to tell someone and thus I unleashed a two-year long ordeal that would affect every aspect of mine and my family’s lives.
If I could go back to that fateful day that I disclosed my deepest darkest secret to my loved ones I would tell myself several things that I’ve learned through the last two years; some are positive and encouraging and others are the unfortunate cold hard reality of being a victim in the criminal justice system.
I would tell myself it will be scary to utter those words for the first time, even the second, third and fourth time, but it does eventually become easier to say “I was sexually abused.”
I would tell myself not to worry about what your husband, mom, sister, grandparents and even closest friends will think – they love you and will be there to support you.
I would tell myself it won’t be easy giving a statement to the police, that you have to give very graphic details of what exactly occurred and you won’t be able to remember every little detail –you’re only human. I would say do your best and be as articulate and detailed as you can, take deep breaths and tell your story as you know it.
I would give myself a pep talk before the preliminary hearing, telling myself you are an honest person and you have done nothing wrong; you are just telling the truth. You are going to go in there and the defence counsel is going to try to make you feel like you are wrong, but you know better, you know this did happen to you. I would tell myself that I would have an “angel” in that courtroom; the victim services worker who was assigned to my case. She would be the friendly face that I could turn to for a quick smile of encouragement while facing some very difficult questions and ultimately she would make all the difference for me in my court experience and in supporting me before, during and after the preliminary hearing.
Lastly, I would tell myself that it will be exhausting, and to be strong because unfortunately in the criminal justice system the victim is, for lack of a better term, “re-victimized” over and over again. First, you give a statement to the police, then months later you may have to testify at a preliminary hearing where you will answer (in graphic detail) questions based on your statement. Finally, after another great length of time you may have to proceed to trial where you will do it all over again. No, it is not fun and yes, you will want to quit and tell them you just cannot go over this again. You will likely yell and scream, you will definitely cry, but you will get through it. You will be ok. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and this cannot last forever.
Luckily for me my case did not go all the way to trial and in November 2013 it was finally over and we had a conviction. Would I do it over again? Definitely. It wasn’t easy, I often wished I hadn’t come forward. I needed a lot of support and there were enough tears to float noah’s ark but in the end the criminal justice system did serve its purpose.
It is not a perfect system by any means but in today’s twisted world it has the difficult task of sifting through the truths, the lies and the good the bad and the ugly. I am so thankful that there are such hard-working and dedicated individuals, from the police who took my statement to the crown counsel who represented me in court and to the invaluable victim services staff who offered their support and kind words. Without these people and the countless others who work within the system and are there each day fighting for the victim, I know I would not have found the justice and closure I needed to finally find peace.