This week is Victim’s of Crime Awareness Week in Canada and the week is typically spent attending or hosting a series of events. Monday was the National Symposium in Ottawa and later this week will be some provincial events at Queen’s Park in Toronto. Locally we’re doing a mix of workshops for service providers to help them understand the experiences of victims of crime, in particular around accessing services. We’re also hosting a series of public education workshops where various organizations or holding open (free) presentations at the mall for the general public.
For the service provider’s workshop, I was asked to speak and I have to say, I don’t do this very often. It’s not that I don’t like telling people stuff because I do, but most of my speaking is in various classrooms to students where I get to teach them stuff. Still, there was an interest in the challenges many victims can face and information on local victim services. The reality is that many people have a very tough time getting connected to services but it is not always obvious why that is. I don’t know that our agency has all the answers but here is how I explained it to my colleagues.
I think something that it is important to keep in mind is that a community based victim service organization is sometimes only as successful as the community it serves. This is particularly relevant to rural sites. In a city, there is just so much volume that it is less noticeable but out in the rural locations, it is a key factor in how easily a victim might get service. Victim Service organizations are very much like a barometer in many ways. If the organization is in a community that has a lot of collaboration and cooperation and people talk to each other and can work together, then the victim services site is more likely to be successful. That means that victims themselves are more likely to have access to timely and appropriate services in a manner that is respectful. In fact, our organization can tell when something is off the rails with most other organizations. Here’s where I’m going to make my police partners a little nervous. For instance, if a police service is going through a rough time for any reason, referrals drop like a rock. That means, services are not being offered by our number one referral source. It’s not personal and there is very little you can do to influence that sometimes because the referral drop is a reflection of what is going on within the service itself. By the same token, if referring to a community agency is unsuccessful time and time again or if it is starting to feel like we’re trying to force a round peg into a square hole, then that is a good indication, that things are not well in that organization. Organizations seem to have a ‘circle the wagon’ mentality when things become rough. That means victims are going to have a very tough time accessing services they may need. How organizations are doing directly impacts the referrals we get and the referrals we can give out so in many ways it becomes a mirror reflection of the challenges within our community.
I question why community partners tolerate when organizations do this (circle the wagons) because the ripple effect on everyone, service providers and especially victims, is not acceptable.
I’ve been working in my community for (now) 28 years which of course means I graduated from school when I was 10 and started working here very, very young. Just saying. But over that many years, you see patterns happening and you see missed opportunities and things that you thought would be fantastic maybe not always hit the mark as much as you see new and innovative and creative ideas making a difference. So here’s how I see things now;
Our agencies are kind of like little shops on top of hills. Some of the trails to get up those hills are fairly decent, well laid out, well-worn, well-lit up; but some are dark, hard to see, slippery, the stones are loose. Nevertheless, if you want to visit the shop, you’re climbing a hill. We don’t mean to be there, most of us don’t know how we got there, just that we’ve always been there. Besides, climbing hills are good for you. If you climb the hill that means you really want to see us. In fact we call that empowerment but sometimes, it’s not empowerment, it’s the exact opposite.
So we’re sitting in our shops, on these hills and we’ve come to realize that it seems awfully harsh to make someone go back down a hill only to climb another one if they get the wrong shop by accident. Or, maybe we can only help them with one thing and they need the next shop over for the next two things. So we’ve done some good things. We’ve decided it really isn’t fair to make people keep climbing hills over and over again, so we’re going to build bridges from one hill to the next. You know, make it easier. No more hills for you, you can walk across the bridge. This is fantastic idea by the way but it only works if the bridge is open or if you don’t get to the other side and find the shop closed. Those bridges are our protocols and memorandums of understanding and any other kind of service agreement. We’re making connections and we are truly making it easier. So bridges are good things.
But the question I want you to think about is what about the folks that don’t make it up the hill? It’s one thing to start the climb and then say, “I could do this, but I’m choosing not to” – that is quite okay. That is choice and this is the cornerstone of empowerment. But what if you can’t climb the hill. What if you’re too anxious or too scared or too overwhelmed? What if you start to climb and you lose your way. What if you start to climb and fall back down the hill – remember, the stones are pretty loose in some spots. What if you don’t have the energy or the stamina? What happens to those people who never make it up the first hill? The bridges don’t work then. You have to still climb a hill to use a bridge; Those are the people who we call, falling through the cracks and it is where many of our gaps are. Those are often our victims of crime who have multiple hills to try to navigate but the paths are not always clear nor do they have the energy or stamina to keep climbing them.
And the ones that get mad at us because they found the climb up the hill to be tough and they got frustrated after getting lost three times, sometimes they are called difficult clients because we have no idea why they’re mad and taking it out on us.
Wouldn’t it be nice, if we weren’t on hills in the first place? If someone could walk along their path and when it got dark or cold or scary, just stop in somewhere, somewhere easy to get to, somewhere that they didn’t get lost along the way, and they could choose what they needed so that they weren’t cold or weren’t scared. Maybe they need a light to find their way, maybe they need something to help them stay warm, dry, fed. Maybe they want someone to walk with them for a while so that they’re not lonely or scared anymore. Only for a little while until they feel better able to keep going again on their own.
We’re all funded by different ministries and for different purposes and this does create challenges but challenges are not impossibilities. Sometimes challenges just mean you have to be creative and that you have to be willing to take some risks. Collaboration is the name of the game these days but in our quest to build bridges we have to be very careful that we haven’t forgotten that many folks never make it up the first hill in the first place.