Opinion: Navigating the system can be a challenge

Donna Watson-Elliott
Manager Ottawa Police Victim Crisis Unit

When you become a victim of crime, connecting with the best services can be a challenge.

The needs of a victim may differ, depending on the type of crime committed against them or a family member. A person could be a victim of homicide, the mother of a young woman killed by her boyfriend, sexually assaulted at a party or had their home invaded by a group of young men who demanded their possessions.

Regardless of the type of crime a victim has experienced, they often wonder where to go for help. Many people turn to the police for help, but even then there are barriers to reporting a crime.

What resources exist within the criminal justice system and within the community to help you?  Let’s pretend an arrest is made in a case and the victim is notified that the accused is going to trial.  Would a victim know what role they play in the criminal justice system or who to turn to for information?  Many don’t. But there are services to help you navigate the justice system.

Everyday victims from all socioeconomic backgrounds, from all cultures and from all geographic locations are thrown into this complex system called the criminal justice system.  There are still many barriers today for people to access supports and resources to help them emotionally, psychologically, financially and physically.

The coordinator of a local program for abused women created a wonderful document that identifies over 70 resources available to victims of domestic violence.  These resources or “points of entry” could possibly play a role in assisting a victim leaving an abusive relationship.  It is an intricate web of organizations both within the justice system and within the community to serve victims of domestic violence.

Victims residing in more isolated parts of the country may not be so lucky to have such a menu to choose from.  For some victims, regardless of the number of services readily available, their needs still don’t get met.

 So how do we as community and justice partners better make these resources and services accessible for everyone?  How do we ensure victims have the supports they need when they need them?  How do we really help them navigate this complex system they have been thrown into? 

Many communities have developed models of service delivery that are considered a “one stop shop,” which means community agencies and criminal justice partners situated at one location and could even include medical services.

While many models of this exist in many urban centers, both within Canada and internationally, there are critics that say barriers still exist for victims and issues of confidentiality and protection of victim’s privacy far outweigh the benefits.  I believe cookie cutter approaches to service delivery do not always meet the needs of individual communities. 

Watson-Elliott is the manager of the Ottawa Police Service Victim Crisis Unit