Hundreds of Prince Edward Islanders turn to Victim Services each year for guidance and support
© Guardian photo by Jim Day
Susan Maynard, provincial manager of Victim Services in P.E.I., says providing key information is the most valuable service of the criminal justice system-based service to victims of crime that has been in place province-wide since 1989.
Linda will never forget the brutal harm that was burned into her elderly mother-in-law’s eyes.
“I didn’t see her until a couple days after it happened...and the fear in her eyes was intense,’’ says Linda, who The Guardian has agreed to not identify by her real name.
She found it utterly disturbing hearing a woman in her 80s wonder aloud if she was going to be haunted for the rest of her life by a violent crime that left her body bruised and her peace of mind shattered.
The woman was robbed at knifepoint in her home, facing the very real prospect of being murdered. The intruder said as much, telling the elderly lady who lived alone that he was there to kill her, ready to slit her throat.
The woman managed to dodge death by throwing up her arm as the attacker violently lashed out with a knife.
She could not, however, escape a punishing blow to her sense of wellbeing.
“The incident has changed every aspect of her life,’’ says Linda. “It truly has.’’
Many, of course, have offered their help.
Of those, Victim Services, which has provided a criminal justice system-based service to victims of crime province-wide since 1989, notably played a large role in helping this victim cope with a traumatic incident.
“I think it made the difference or a big difference,’’ says Linda.
“I knew my mother-in-law trusted this lady: the Victim Services lady, and that’s huge - that’s just huge.’’
The Victim Services worker started aiding the woman “fairly quickly’’, maintaining regular contact. Most helpful, notes Linda, was the listening piece with the worker serving as a sounding board.
Safety concerns were also addressed, like improving security in the woman’s home.
A couple years after the crime, the Victim Services worker still keeps in intermittent contact with the elderly woman.
Linda strongly encourages people to contact Victim Services when they or a loved one is the victim of a crime.
Victim Services provincial manager Susan Maynard notes the service is very accessible.
Any person who has been victimized by a crime in P.E.I., even if no charges are laid or no suspect is found, can be referred. Services are offered to victims of personal injury crimes like assault and impaired driving as well as to victims of property related offences such as theft and damage to property.
There were 1,006 new cases referred to Victim Services in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, in addition to approximately 825 cases carried forward from the previous year.
The most frequent types of crime for Victim Services cases during that year were assaults (40 per cent), thefts (12 per cent), uttering threats (seven per cent), sexual assaults (seven per cent) and break and enter (six per cent).
Maynard says seven Victim Services workers handle the heavy workload with two in Prince County and five working out of the Charlottetown office dealing with the rest of the province.
“It’s a very busy service, for sure,’’ she says.
“If somebody has to be in two places at once, we’re helping to cover off and help each other. It seems to be manageable. Certainly if we had more resources probably we could be doing more of the longer-term counseling and things like that ourselves.’’
As it stands today, though, the free and confidential services typically are delivered in the aftermath of a crime and throughout a victim’s involvement in the criminal justice system. Victim Services operates within the criminal justice system, but independently from the police, Crown attorneys, or the courts.
Information, stresses Maynard, is the most valuable service accessed through Victim Services.
“It’s information about what is happening with their case, what is going on in the court process,’’ she says.
“Information about court procedures and what different terminology means as the case goes through the court. And it’s about preparation for court if they have to be a witness in court and helping them through that process.’’
Maria (not her real name) absolutely gushes over the helpful information that was heaped on her by a Victim Services worker after she was a victim of domestic violence.
She received a wealth of useful information and a list of helpful services that she could access.
The Victim Services worker told Maria, a recent immigrant to Canada, about all her rights and what actions could be taken to enhance her safety. An Emergency Protection order was quickly put in place to keep her attacker away.
Victim Services also walked her through all the stages of the trial in detailed, compassionate fashion.
Maynard says Victim Services for the most part provides short-term counseling where needed. If a victim expresses the need for more intense or longer-term assistance, they are helped in accessing services in the community like mental health services.
Victims of any number of different crimes, from personal injury to theft, often experience a loss of their sense of safety and security as well as a reduced trust in people.
“It does affect people long-term,’’ says Maynard.
“I would say our system is strained in terms of trying to respond to every need on a long-term basis,’’ she adds. “The concerns about access to mental health services and counseling and support services is kind of always an ongoing discussion. I’m not sure when we would ever have enough.’’
Maynard also notes people sometimes don’t receive the financial compensation to the extent that they experience loss.
During the fiscal year 2012-2013, 40 new applications for criminal injuries compensation were filed, and 113 applications were carried over from the previous year. Thirty-three final decisions and nine interim decisions were made. A total of $129,252 was awarded in criminal injuries compensation.
Victim Services also helps in preparing victim impact statements. In 2012-2013, there were 211 victim impact statements prepared and filed with the court.
Maynard says judges in P.E.I. “are very good’’ in acknowledging impact of a crime on victims.
Wendy (not her real named) has experienced and witnessed a wide-ranging impact from the crime against her two young girls: both the victims of sexual interference by a man they knew well.
Her girls were left feeling confused and isolated over all the uproar and fallout from the crime.
The incident has had a lingering impact in how Wendy interacts with people around her girls.
And the crime impacted Wendy’s community with people wondering in horror “did he touch my girls?’’
Victim Services, though, offered both comfort and ongoing assistance. Wendy found she could reach out for help at any time.
“I think it is a fairly well known service,’’ notes Maynard.
“The police are the first point of contact and they are aware of our service so one of their jobs is to make a referral to Victim Services.’’