Reprinted from "Trauma and Victimization" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 3 (3), pp. 32-33
A VictimLINK staffer was interviewed for this article. She is a Certified Information and Referral Specialist and a Registered Clinical Counsellor, who has volunteered as a victim services worker with the Vancouver Police Department
VictimLINK is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week free telephone helpline for victims of family and sexual violence, and all other crimes. Certified information and referral (I&R) specialists refer VictimLINK callers—more than 11,000 in 2005–2006—to a network of social, health, justice and government resources.
Operated by Information Services Vancouver (ISV) and funded by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, VictimLINK can provide service in 130 languages, courtesy of multilingual staff and a professional interpretation service.
Serving British Columbians since 2003—and Yukoners since 2004—VictimLINK replaced the former weekday Victims Information Line, which ISV had operated since 1987. “This revamped service also serves victims of all types of crimes, but places more emphasis on the help we can give to victims of family and sexual violence. It’s also available around the clock now,” explains the ISV staffer. Since the enhanced service was launched, call volume has increased by 30%.
What do people call about?
The majority of inquiries involve specific criminal offences. Spousal assaults, sexual and non-sexual assaults, child abuse, elder abuse and criminal harassment are most common. Less frequently mentioned offences include abduction, arson, fraud and homicide.
Since VictimLINK started, however, staff have seen an increase in the number of calls relating to non-Criminal Code issues. “Prior to VictimLINK, most of the calls were related to crimes like assault, abuse, theft and so on. Now we also get more calls about human rights violations, and from people who feel they’ve been discriminated against or treated unfairly. So, victimization is seen much more broadly.” This is believed to be largely due to effective promotion.
People of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life contact VictimLINK.
Usually, the person who has been victimized makes the call, but there is a small percentage of calls—16% in 2005–2006—from ‘third party’ callers, frequently a family member or friend. This is common in spousal assault cases. In this type of situation, staff might encourage the concerned individual to maintain contact with the woman who is being abused. “This is very important and useful to the woman, because her situation becomes more dangerous the more isolated she becomes.”
Some people seek help immediately following an incident, while others wait. “We might get a call from a parent who’s concerned about an incident that happened to their child some time back; it’s taken six months for the parent to start putting the pieces together. On the other hand, with sexual abuse, we’re talking both historical and current. A recent incident can trigger the caller to request counselling as a result of past or ongoing sexual abuse.”
People with mental illness or addiction issues are more often victims of crime. And, victimization can result in mental health problems due to the trauma of the injury, violation or abuse. As a result, VictimLINK staff often respond to people who are psychologically and emotionally fragile. They also receive calls from people with diagnosed mental health disorders, who are suffering symptoms like paranoia, psychosis or dissociation. Often, these individuals already have a mental health worker assisting them. Although VictimLINK staff don’t deal directly with the caller’s mental health and/or addiction issues, they do identify the services best able to meet the individual’s particular needs and encourage them to seek help. People who feel victimized by the system because of their disorder are referred to advocacy groups and legal resources.
Crisis calls represent only a very small percentage (2%) of VictimLINK’s annual total inquiries.
Who answers the calls?
VictimLINK staff come mostly from social work and psychology backgrounds, and have worked in a variety of social service settings. They are trained in-house through a comprehensive program that includes specialized training in such areas as sexual offenders, youth gangs, and gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender (GBLT) issues.
Because staff are trained to respond to calls on all ISV helplines, which includes the Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Line, they are very comfortable dealing with cross-over issues that arise. For example, a VictimLINK caller who has been assaulted might also have a drug addiction.
Every call is different, but generally the staff’s objectives when responding are to listen, to diffuse any crisis feelings, to have the caller identify resources (perhaps a family member or friend) they can call upon for support, and to have the caller prioritize their concerns so they can focus on one issue at a time. Staff may discuss the option, and possible outcomes, of reporting a crime incident to the police. If necessary, callers who are in a crisis situation can be directly transferred to immediate outside help.
And, the I&R specialists detail the resources that are available to a caller. “We have a very comprehensive database of resources to draw on, so wherever the caller lives, and whatever their concerns, we can refer them to a variety of resources.”
Some of the most frequent referrals are to community-based victim services, police-based victim services, counselling agencies, the Crime Victim Assistance Program and transition houses. Other referrals include mental health teams or units, addiction counselling, specialized counselling, support groups, advocacy groups, the Ombudsman and women’s centres. I&R specialists also provide information on the justice system, relevant laws and programs, crime prevention, safety planning, protection orders and other resources as needed.
“Most important, though,” says the ISV staffer, “is to listen and to let the person know that one-on-one help is available.”
About the author
Shanti is an undergraduate student in communication studies at Simon Fraser University. She is currently on a co-op term at Canadian Mental Health Association BC Division.
Hazel is Coordinator of Communications and Marketing at Information Services Vancouver.