Saturday, November 05, 2005

Enhancing the Victim Voice

A couple of weeks ago I had the honour of attending a community forum focusing on the rights and roles of victims of crime. The forum was co-sponsored by the National Parole Board (NPB) and Correctional Services Canada (CSC) and brought together representatives from the NPB, CSC, Victim Services Workers, Restorative Justice advocates and several victims of crime.

And then there was me. I work with offenders. I work to help them reintegrate. I help them get parole, to move back into the community. My role is to support them. Ok, so the CSC people work with offenders also, but they have a different role than me. The full effect of this hit me when I realized that I was sharing a table with the a victim of a horrific crime perpetrated by an offender that I am currently working with.

The woman that I was sharing a table with had lost both her children, her husband and almost her own life at the hands of one of my clients. Strange how a change in context can have such an effect. I was forced to, for a moment anyways, see things through her eyes, from her perspective.

Now you might think that we would be light years away when it came to our views on crime and punishment and reintegration. I thought that we would be. I have to admit that when I realized that I was in room full of people who were for the most part either victims of crime or who had dedicated their lives to working with or on the behalf of victims of crime, I was kinda nervous. Turns out that I had made some pretty wacked assumptions.

Later in the day we switched tables to complete a vision exercise and I ended up sitting beside another incredible survivor. Katy Hutchison's husband was murdered by a young man at a party in Squamish. Since that time Katy has become active in Restorative Justice and maintains contact with the person she refers to as "her offender". Katy said that one of the things that she wanted to say every time she went in to visit her offender was that "the V is for visitor, not victim".

The label "victim" became one of the first things we talked about at our table during our vision exercise. We also talked about the barriers victims of crime are faced with when they want to exercize their rights and maintain their involvement with the person that caused them so much pain and loss.

Eventually I worked up the nerve to speak to Katy and some of the other "Persons Affected by Crime"(the label we thought was most respectful) about the vicimization most offenders go through on their journey to becoming offenders. I had actually vowed to not to express my views, my opinions, about how people get to the point in their life where taking another life becomes a possibility. But, I got the sense that these inspiring people knew exactly what I was talking about. And of course, they did.

Anyway, it was an incredible day and I left with wth a feeling of hope for the survivors and for the rest of us.

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