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An annual report on the Hamilton Police Victim Services Branch will be presented Thursday at the Police Services Board meeting.

Victim Services was established in 1992 and has four full-time civilian employees and over 80 volunteers. The branch responds to the immediate needs of people victimized by crime and/or trauma, such as homicides, suicides, sudden death, assaults, sexual assaults, motor vehicle and fire fatalities, robberies and harassment.

What does victim services do?

We respond to victims of crime and trauma, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and provide crisis intervention. That is practical assistance, emotional support, information and referrals and resources. We have four full-time staff and 86 volunteers. The staff respond to all homicides and child deaths under five and volunteers respond to anything and everything else.

The staff may respond "on scene" such as to the scene of a homicide, allowing detectives to focus on their investigation. Staff at a homicide may work on transporting people away from the scene, finding them a place to stay, arranging crime scene cleanup, funeral planning, preparing compensation applications.

For other crimes or accidents, staff and volunteers may accompany victims to the hospital for treatment or a sexual assault kit. In a domestic violence incident, it may be a matter of replacing a door that has been broken in or getting them a new cellphone.

Victim Services can also help answer questions or break bad news to children.

It's not about doing counselling or therapy on scene.

The branch is funded by the Hamilton Police Service. In 2017 it assisted 2,192 new victims and had a total of 5,911 contacts with victims.

What qualities should a victim services volunteer have?

Ideally, the branch will have 100 volunteers. New volunteers are recruited each January.

A volunteer needs to be at least 21 and have access to a car. They must be an active listener, compassionate, empathetic, professional and able to adhere to the confidentiality of the program.

What are some of the changes you have seen in care for victims over the years?

I remember being in cases where we'd have a 14-year-old sexual assault victim being cross-examined by the accused who represented themselves. In 1999, that changed. The accused, if they are self-represented, can't cross-examine anyone under 18.

I worked in the old courthouse where there wasn't a proper waiting room for the victims. The victims and the accused were all in the same hallway.

Now there is financial help for the immediate needs of victims, through the Victim Quick Response Program for things like crime scene cleanup. Last year, 213 claims were processed. As well, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund is a lot more accessible and quicker in the process. And there is funding for families of homicide victims.

Courts now have their own victim and witness support programs and screens can be used to shield a young victim from the accused. And in some jurisdictions support dogs are allowed in the courtroom. That hasn't happened in Hamilton yet.

What are the challenges that victims still face when it comes to their rights?

There are still lots of areas of financial losses that are not being covered for victims. There are still some gaps. If you have had psychological injuries and are unable to work, you may not be able to pay your bills while you're waiting for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board decision.

I think there's still frustration at the length of time going through court. And victims having to testify is still revictimizing to victims.

The Domestic Violence Mandatory Charge Policy takes the control out of the victims' hands, which can be a problem. That an area where the case can be proceeding without the victims' desire for it to do that.

What are your organization's goals for 2018?

Continue to meet every victim who needs our help and respond to their needs and they will learn more about responding to the victims of human trafficking.

Susan Clairmont's commentary appears regularly in The Spectator.

905-526-3539 | @susanclairmont


Who: Susan Double

What: Administrator, Victim Services Branch, Hamilton Police Service

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