Victims and Survivors of Crime Week: Part Three
Have you wondered what VSAC’s services are like? In this 4 part blog series for Victims and Survivors of Crime Week we explore services that VSAC provides to survivors of sexual assault.
A ‘Q&A’ Interview with our very own Victim Services Support Worker, Shannon Weinkauf
Q: What brought you to this work?
A: Prior to relocating to Victoria from Saskatchewan I worked as a Probation Officer so I’ve had direct experience working within the criminal justice system. When the position as victim services worker became available at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, I thought it was a great opportunity to use my past experience with the criminal justice system in a different way. I really enjoy working with survivors and believe I am able to help navigate them through a system that can be unknown and stressful. What keeps me in this work is the strength and resilience I see in clients every day.
Q: What is the role of a support worker?
A: My role is essentially to provide information and help facilitate survivors’ involvement in the justice process. I will assist the survivor in navigating the criminal justice process starting from providing information about making a police report all the way to attending court as a support person for them. I am available to explain the justice process with each step and we encourage questions. I believe there is no such thing as a stupid question especially since so much misinformation can come from pop culture.
I often explain to others that my role is taking two different mindsets – the one of the Police and Crown Prosecutors whose role it is to find evidence and prove a crime has been committed to the mind of a survivor who is coming from a very personal and vulnerable place – and trying to merge them together or at least help them communicate better and in ways that feel more comfortable. I am able to provide context as to why Police may be asking certain questions and I am able to provide Police some insight into what barriers they may come up against when talking with survivors.
Q: How can survivors access Victim Services?
A: A survivor can call our Access Line, and from there, they would get referred to either myself or Catherine. We will then call them back and invite them in to the office for an appointment.
Q: What can a survivor expect in the initial appointment with a Victim Service worker?
A: In this appointment, I will explain my role as a Victim Services Worker and let them know about the services we provide at VSAC. I will ask them what has brought them to us and what kind of support they were looking for. I like to get a better understanding of why clients are looking for information about the justice system and then provide them with information they ask for. I do explain to clients that as a Victim Services Worker, we do not take disclosure or get into details of the sexual assault because it can compromise our ability to be a support person to them throughout the process.
Q: What would you like to tell survivors going through the justice process?
A: Firstly, I would want to tell survivors that VSAC is here to support them throughout the process. We strive to be client-led and support decisions made by survivors. Secondly, I would want survivors to know that any feeling they are having is okay. There is no wrong feeling to have and there is no “right” way to act. And thirdly, I like to be realistic with clients and talk about how the criminal justice system can be a difficult place for survivors of sexual assault. I like to have clients tell me the reasons they want to go through the justice process that aren’t tied to the outcome of an investigation or trial. These reasons could be they want to stand up for themselves, use their voice, have these crimes on record, to help move them through their healing etc. Unfortunately, the conviction rate is very low in sexual assault offences so I want to assist survivors in establishing feelings of empowerment as opposed to defeat.
Q: Why might a survivor decide to report a sexual assault?
A: Everyone has their own reasons, and each situation and survivor’s feelings can be different. Sometimes it is because they feel like they need to do something about the assault, but they may not be sure exactly what to do. It may be one way to hold the person who has caused harm, accountable. For others, it’s the first or last step in their healing process, or perhaps a survivor wants what happened to them on record. Working with victim service workers and engaging in the criminal justice process is one way for survivors to use their voice and name their power in a situation where their power and voice was taken.
Q: What do you want survivors to know about Victim Services at VSAC?
A: We are here for you. We believe you and we support your decisions. We can be involved in as much or as little as you want. I want survivors to know about their options when it comes to reporting to Police and help them play out what each option would look like for them so they can make informed decisions. We won’t pressure survivors to do anything they do not want to do.
I would like survivors to know that VSAC is equipped for Police to complete audio/video statements at our center therefore survivors can be in a more comfortable environment when giving their statement. If a survivor is uncomfortable getting updates about their case from Police, we can get those updates from Police on their behalf. We can help clients who have experienced sexual assault in other provinces or countries – we will provide services to any survivor that lives in Victoria and area. We can help survivors become more oriented with the court process and attend court proceedings with survivors if they wish to have that support. We also help survivors with filling out Crime Victim Assistance Program applications.
It is also important to note that survivors have access to crisis counselling throughout the time they are engaged in the criminal justice process.
Q: How can folks support survivors considering reporting?
A: Supporters, like family, friends and community members are important to a survivor’s healing process. I think it is important for supporters to let go of any expectations of what a survivor’s process within the justice system should look like as it is different for each individual. The best way to support survivors is to acknowledge the survivor, validate their feelings, tell them you believe them, and most importantly let them know that you will support them in their decision to report or not report. It can be difficult for supporters to not try to sway a survivor one way or another in reporting but a survivor needs to do what is best for them and their healing. There is no statute of limitations on reporting so survivors can report any time they feel ready, whether that be the day after the assault has occurred or 25 years later. In addition, VSAC offers crisis counselling sessions to supporters of survivors if they want care themselves.
Q: How do you see your work contributing to culture change?
A: I see my bringing together of the two different mindsets (the Crown, Police, and Prosecutors, and the survivor) as being a part of that culture change. My partner, Catherine and I, work closely with Police and Crown and are able to speak directly to the impacts the justice process has on survivors of sexualized violence. We go out to the police detachments to talk with officers; we have officers come tour our center as a part of their recruit training and we speak with them about how to best work with survivors so we can work together. We speak with Police and Crown about barriers they might encounter with marginalized survivors and we talk about ways that can make the encounter more comfortable such as speaking to the importance of respecting a survivor’s chosen name and pronouns (they/them, she/her, he/him) or using simple language with a client with an intellectual disability or allowing clients with anxiety to have a fidget spinner or tool with them to help calm them. By acting as the middle person, we can ease the process for survivors and hopefully make them feel as comfortable as possible in an uncomfortable situation.
This blog is part of our 4 blog series for Victims and Survivors of Crime Week 2018. Please look out for our advertorial wrap on the Victoria News and Saanich News coming out on June 1st. Funding generously provided by The Department of Justice Canada.