Visible, Compassionate, Proactive: Victim Assistance in Hay River, NT
When I woke up on October 6th, 2007, the day started out like any other Saturday. The dog needed to go out, I needed to buy groceries, and suddenly all the things I had put off doing throughout the week seemed urgent. But what has etched this day permanently in my mind is how I was challenged, personally and professionally, by a crisis I could not have imagined.
Just hours earlier, Constable Chris Worden had been murdered in this town. As I walked outside, on streets that were "safe" just hours ago, I could see clearly that a crisis was upon us. It was here. It was real. People were crying, scared and afraid, confused, shocked, angry and trying to make sense of something that was, well, senseless.
I work as the Victim Assistance Coordinator in Hay River, NT. Hay River is a small town on Great Slave Lake, about an hour and a half drive north of the Alberta border. People here are aware that although we have the beauty and nature of the far North, we are close enough to the border to have almost all of the amenities and luxuries of 'the South'.
In the midst of the confusion and mass grief, I decided that the Victim Assistance Program had a unique role in assisting the community in this time of tragedy. My program has a mandate to assist victims of crime and trauma, through referral, information and support. It was clear that the number of victims of this crime were the same as the number of residents; just shy of 4000. I went to my office to plan a crisis response.
I immediately contacted the RCMP to offer condolences to the regular members of the Hay River detachment as well as the out of town officers that were arriving. Next, I wrote a press release to appear in our community paper, encouraging residents who needed support to use the services available in their community. For those residents who have been victims of crime in the past, traumatic events can reopen the old wounds and cause panic, anxiety and depression.
As I was working, I too was trying to make some sense of this tragedy, having known and respected Constable Worden. I was filled with the same emotions as everyone else. I tried to imagine what the other officers, who I knew from work, must be feeling. I wanted to do something, anything, to ease some of the pain. And as the crisis plan was taking shape on my computer, my role became clear:
Be visible. Be compassionate. Be proactive.
The next month of my life unfolded as I put my crisis response plan into action. I began to feel empowered. I had the position, the authority, the trust and the knowledge to make a difference! Before the weekend was over, I had met school officials, public officers, and the manager of Social Programs. I had talked with hundreds of citizens, supporting and normalizing healthy grief responses and encouraging those who needed service assistance to reach out. In the following days I attended community meetings, remained highly accessible, attended a vigil, continued to talk to residents of all ages and began to witness a community in healing.
People were talking. People were supporting each other. Residents that did not have good support were reaching out, some through my program, and others through the many community resources available in Hay River. It was clear to me that the Victim Assistance Program, and the crisis response plan I had drafted, was helping. This is, after all, the real aim of any social service program and the ultimate goal of any social service professional.
In writing this short essay, it is not my intention to brag. I realize that my program made a difference in this community when it needed the most help. My job is to assist victims of crime, and this task, however daunting, was done well.
Instead, I want to remind other providers of Victim Assistance that we have a unique position within communities. We are not politicians, and do not require the commitment that counselling or therapy entails of their clients. Rather, we can have brief service contacts in times of crisis that can remind people of three important facts:
- A Victim Assistance Program exists to help people who are victims of crime.
- Feeling unsafe and vulnerable are normal, human reactions to trauma.
- Individuals can reach out and be proactive in making changes in their lives and accepting challenges, even when they did not ask for them.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Hay River Victim Assistance Program responded positively through this crisis and continues to do so. This is my job, after all. But it is my initial 'enlightenment' when drafting the crisis plan that continues to motivate and excite me. This is the message I have for other service providers:
Be visible. Be compassionate. Be proactive.
VICTIM ASSISTANCE PROGRAM COORDINATOR
HAY RIVER, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES
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