Police-based Victim Support Worker, Surrey RCMP
Community-based Victim Support Worker, Surrey Women's Centre
Domestic violence is different from other crimes. The majority of victims are women. The majority of offenders are men. And the victim always knows the offender. As a result, women are less likely to report the crime to the police than victims of other crimes.
The Surrey Domestic Violence Unit (DVU) co-locates police, victim services, and a child protection worker. Together, they respond to highest risk cases of domestic violence, in which women are at highest risk for seriously bodily injury or even death.
In the days, weeks and often months following an assault, victim support workers intervene during a critical window of opportunity.
Amber Currie, police based victim services worker since seven years, supports women at the hospital, in court or even at the scene of crime. She does an immediate safety-plan, which often includes finding emergency food, clothing, shelter and financial assistance. “You can’t expect a woman to stay out of a relationship, or even participate with the criminal justice system when her life is in falling apart,” says Amber. After an assault, “victims have to rebuild their entire lives—move, find finances, possibly change daycare—often the offender has to change nothing—half the time they’re allowed to stay in the house.”
Research shows that up to one-third of domestic violence offenders re-offend—many within six months of the first assault.
Amber talks about the need to take preventative steps, whenever possible, to de-escalate offenders and the use of violence to threaten, harass or abuse their partners. “Repeat offenders don’t have a normal, healthy respect for their loved one,” says Amber. Offenders are often consumed by jealousy and fear of abandonment, and they manipulate their partners. “I will actually deal with offenders from time to time. I’ll talk with them on the phone or meet them at the detachment with a police officer present to figure out what their barriers are and connect them to community resources.”
Neha works alongside Amber at Surrey RCMP’s main detachment. Because she is a community-based worker employed by Surrey Women’s Centre, Neha is in a unique position to support women who may be reluctant to work with the police or participate in the criminal justice system. She builds trust by telling women, “I work for you. I don’t work for the police. I don’t work for crown. I work for you. So what can I be doing for you? And I think that connection keeps them engaged and open to the conversation about how we can help.”
Often women feel re-victimized when the police become involved because the power to decide what happens next is taken out of their hands. “Seizing that window of opportunity, deescalating a crisis situation and giving them confidence and knowledge,” says Neha “helps them understand the criminal justice system.” She says “I take the time to truly understand my clients and the best way I can support them during a very difficult time in their lives. Part of my work involves doing an in-depth risk assessment to better understand their situation and together we create a safety-plan that best works for them. My role is not to tell women what I think they need to be doing. Instead we weigh out the different options that are available to them, which allows my client - and my client only - to decide what is best for her. Women are the experts in their own lives and my role is to offer non- judgmental support so that they can determine their next step.”
Both Neha and Amber talk about the critical role of victim support workers in Surrey’s Domestic Violence Unit—they bridge the gap between women fleeing violence and the police and child protective services—the very services that are designed to support them.