Honouring those affected by crime
Survivors, police, volunteers and counsellors all have a vital role and work as a team to help victims of crime
A long time ago, I was a victim services volunteer with the OPP.
It was about 1992. I had just finished graduate journalism school and was working at the Peterborough Examiner. Eager to give back after intense years at university, I looked around for volunteer opportunities.
The Peterborough OPP (I think it’s the Peterborough County OPP now) was gearing up to launch its new Victim Crisis Services (VICARS) and called out for volunteers.
I was among that inaugural group.
I was thinking of this Monday as I stood, as I do every year, outside of Hamilton Police headquarters to mark Victims and Survivors of Crime Week. It is a ceremony to honour those who have been personally touched by crime.
Like two survivors of domestic violence who spoke at the event.
“I stand here as one woman, but I represent thousands,” said Cathy Watts, who has founded 1 in Four, a peer support group for victims of domestic violence.
And Krystal Nagel, a hedge fund analyst who admits her long ago idea of a domestic violence victim was so wrong. “I was educated and successful, and I didn’t fit the stereotype I had in my head.”
The ceremony also recognizes all those with a responsibility to help victims and survivors, understand them and ensure they get the care and consideration they deserve.
There are police officers in the crowd, of course. And police board members. Crown attorneys and media. Shelter staff.
And victim services workers and volunteers. Susan Double, administrator of the Hamilton Police victim services branch, leads her staff and 100 volunteers in taking care of the practical and emotional needs of those who have experienced anything from domestic violence, to sexual assault to robbery to homicide.
I have often thought, as many in my business do these days, that should I ever find myself out of a journalism job, I might learn to do the work of victims counsellors. They are a compassionate yet tough lot and I have seen, countless times, the impact they have — in ways small and large — on the lives of victims and survivors.
While I listened to the speeches at this year’s ceremony, I considered how much things have changed since my short time as a volunteer.
Back then, we were mostly, if not entirely, women.
These days, I meet an increasing number of men who volunteer in this area. Being caring and compassionate isn’t just for women any more.
In my group, the majority of volunteers were older than I was, with far more life experience and common sense.
Now victim services volunteering is a common step for young people working toward a career as a police officer. That’s something Chief Eric Girt acknowledged when he spoke Monday.
The beauty of that is officers who have been victim service volunteers themselves have a deep appreciation for the value of caring for victims and survivors. They believe in it.
Indeed, police officers in general have huge respect for the victims they work with and the victim services branch. That was not always the way. I remember some officers at the OPP detachment in Peterborough being outraged over the idea of civilian volunteers getting involved in police business. And scoffing at the idea of victims needing someone to “hold their hands and dry their tears,” as I recall one officer putting it so derisively.
We were not made to feel welcome.
I did the VICARS training and volunteered for a short while. But as my journalism career launched, I soon realized that I wanted to write about victims of crime and so, concerned about any conflict of interest, I left my volunteer position.
But the training I had back then is the basis for much of what I do now.
And it is especially sweet to be able to write about the dedication of victim service volunteers and wonder how we ever managed without them.