By Bernie Forestell
If you’ve ever been a victim of crime, there’s one basic truth; in an instant, your life changes forever.
Victims of violent crime including homicide, sexual assault, intimate partner violence assault and cyber-crime are unwillingly and unexpectedly thrown into a legal system that tends to lean in favour of the offender and not the people whose lives they’ve changed forever.
Crimes range in severity, so does the aftermath. Your stolen bike, break-ins at your home, your office, your car. The theft of your identity, your credit card. It doesn’t matter how “large” or “small” the crime may be. Any crime has an everlasting effect on victims.
And, although the system may quickly forget about crime victims, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime (CRCVC) never does.
Donna and her husband Sedrick decided to move from Ottawa back to Sedrick’s birthplace in Jamaica, where they planned on starting a new business.
This didn’t sit well with some people. Two men came to their home one day to challenge Sedrick. Donna grabbed her phone, running upstairs, hiding in the bathroom off their bedroom while her husband fought with one of the intruders downstairs.
From her hiding place Donna heard the gunshot that killed her beloved husband. “I called 9-1-1, hoping that the police would respond urgently and save our lives,” says Donna. “I heard the shot while I was on the phone talking with the dispatcher and while the second man was kicking in the bedroom door.”
Sedrick’s life was taken on Nov. 17, 2013, the day Donna’s life changed forever. Sedrick’s killers are at large to this day.
“When Donna reached out to us for support, we were there with all of our resources, experience, empathy, and heart to help her,” says Aline Vlasceanu, executive director of the CRCVC. “Our clients are people like you and me who are thrust into a system that is clinical, dry and matter-of-fact. That’s how the legal system works. But that’s not how people work. We provide a humanistic approach by listening, learning and leveraging our expertise to help them navigate their way to a place where they can be in control. We empower our clients.”
“One in five Canadians will be victimized by crime every year,” adds Vlasceanu. “We were founded to provide free, unlimited, unbiased and hands-on support to any crime victim, whether or not the crime is ever reported to police. Thanks to our donors we continue to build on the support we offer.”
The CRCVC team takes a hands-on approach by helping with victim impact statements, advocating for victim compensation, attending parole hearings and ensuring victims rights are upheld.
“We are proud of our work and even more proud of the people we help,” says Vlasceanu. “One of our most innovative programs is our Monthly Loss to Violence group.”
On the last Thursday of every month, anyone who has lost a loved one to homicide can meet to share stories of their loved ones, hear from professionals, and offer support to newcomers who are suffering the greatest loss of their lives.
“They are such amazing and inspiring people,” says Vlasceanu. “Even though they struggle with their loss, they open their arms and hearts to everyone who joins the group.”
The recently formed Victims Advisory Committee (VAC) is another example of the proactive work at CRCVC. The committee is a diverse group of victims from across Canada who give a trauma-informed viewpoint of issues affecting Canadian crime victims.
“We know that every victim, every survivor, has a personal story. I am so proud of this group who all have lived experience of crime, including their journey through Canada’s legal system. They are giving their time and compassion to help others, and their voices carry strength,” says Vlasceanu.
For Donna and the hundreds of victims who turn to the CRCVC for help every year, nothing can reverse their pain and the path their lives have taken.
“It takes time to find a new normal,” says Vlasceanu. “For some, it’s a lifetime. But, no matter how long it takes, no matter how much support they need, the CRCVC is there to ease their struggle.”
The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime is a registered Canadian charity. To find out how you can support people like Donna, please visit www.crcvc.ca