From Revelstoke Women’s Shelter Society’s Uplift Magazine.
Revelstoke’s Victim Services can help those in situations of abuse, even before a crime has been committed.
“Someone can raise a flag through our office,” program manager Stephanie Melnyk says. “It can indicate that something may be serious and that helps us be ready before something happens.”
Melnyk has been in her role for five years and this year Jessica Knopf joined the team on a part-time basis, increasing their services to our community. Knopf is currently completing a Masters in Counselling and previously has a Bachelor of Arts majoring in psychology and experience with Revelstoke’s Community Connections and the Canadian Mental Health Association
“The legal system is hard to navigate for some people and I see this work as offering assistance and being that human element,” Knopf says. “Asking those fundamental questions; what do you really need right now? It’s gratifying and I’m just getting started.”
Melnyk describes their work as navigating for fairness.
“We really connected early on because we both were wanting to do justice,” she says. “When you see the justice system, it is not always fair, so it’s finding the right path through to find fairness or a resolution for people.”
Victim Services is a comprehensive provincial government service available to witnesses, victims or those wondering and wanting more information.
They are also part of Revelstoke’s wraparound care. They work with community agencies such as the Revelstoke Women’s Shelter Society or Community Connections and make referrals when needed.
They provide guidance with the court system as well help navigating government forms and accessing programs such as the Crime Victims Assistance Program. They are there to guide those who may feel overwhelmed and are a safe, confidential place to unload without judgment.
“We’re not counsellors but we can listen, reflect back and help someone prioritize what’s next,” Melnyk says.
Women and men access the service at a ratio of about 70:30, dealing with the whole spectrum of crime. “We’re here to help and be on that person’s side 100 per cent,” Melnyk says.
The program in Revelstoke is police-based. In larger communities there is also a community-based service.
Revelstoke’s office is in the police station, which Melnyk says can be a barrier and off-putting for those concerned with involving police. But she stresses that interactions are privately with her or Jessica and the individual coming to them is in control.
“There is absolutely nothing that needs to be shared with police or any other agency without the consent from that person,” Melnyk says.
“We know how important it is, right from that first phone call, to build a relationship of trust and openness with the victim so they know what they can expect from the process. I find people appreciate that honesty and decide for themselves what they want to do.”
One aspect in turning to a police-based victim services is that Melnyk can liaise with police if need be.
Restraining orders, or peace bonds as they are now known since there is more to them than just distance, are not easy to get as the other party has to agree to the terms. So instead, Victim Services can provide help with safety planning and build an early relationship with police if needed.
The line between emotional abuse and physical violence is often crossed when the victim decides to leave the situation.
“It’s when the abuser believes they have lost control,” Melnyk explains. “She may have left the house three months ago but if he still has power, the dangerous point hasn’t been met yet. Yet when she says I’m leaving you, or she’s standing up for herself, that’s when they realize the control is slipping and that’s when they would escalate and use a different tactic of violence to get control back.”
For cases going through the court system, Victim Services helps with understanding it. Some domestic violence cases don’t make it to trial if crown counsel (the prosecutor appointed by the provincial government) has a strong case. The defence might aim for a middle ground, such as a guilty plea in exchange for a lesser sentence. In some cases this is done through a peace bond, which will have conditions such as no drinking or completion of a partner-assault response program. This means the offender receives no long-term criminal record but they do have a police file and they do have to enter a guilty plea.
“That never goes away,” Melnyk says. “It’s a really good thing when someone can stand up in court and say they’re guilty, even if they don’t believe it in the moment, as it can be a huge turning point for potential reform.”
Probation officers provide services for offenders.
“They look to put supports in place, to educate and help the offenders make better choices in their lives so they don’t repeat their past mistakes.”
Melnyk says she is noticing more domestic violence and sexualized assault cases going through the court system based on credible evidence such as witness testimony or the woman herself telling her story.
“The primary reason someone testifies about their experience is because they want the behaviour to stop,” she says. “They don’t want others to be hurt in the future. It’s an emotional process and not easy. It’s a way to stand up to the violence they experienced.”
|Sheanna Moore, 28, shares her story of what it was like accessing victim’s services. (Submitted)|
Turning to Revelstoke’s Victim Services: Sheanna Moore
In 2019 I found myself requiring the assistance of Victim Services. I never thought I would find myself in this situation. I have been told that I do not fit the stereotype of domestic abuse. But the truth is, there is no stereotype. It can happen to anyone.
I realized quickly that the average person is not equipped with the skills or knowledge to support victims of abuse.
Everyone in society understands that abuse is bad, but when it comes to talking about it, it makes people extremely uncomfortable. I experienced people avoiding eye contact, changing the subject, telling me they didn’t want to hear the details, and downplaying what I had to say.
People don’t want to believe that someone they know is capable of this type of behaviour. Naturally, people want to give others the benefit of the doubt. It left me feeling unsupported and alone.
I found that I could turn to the women at Victim Services when I was trying to process everything that was happening. Stephanie helped me understand better what abuse looks like. She reinforced that I did the right thing by reporting the abuse and that the consequences of that were not my fault. I think there are a lot of victims that feel a sense of guilt for reporting the abuser.
They validated how I was feeling and gave helpful advice on how to handle others around me. Their advice made a big difference on how I dealt with everything, which helped me move forward with my life. Most importantly, they listened to my truth and believed my truth, when others did not. I have the upmost respect and gratitude for these women.
I hope that more woman have the courage to come forward and speak their truth because there is no shame in seeking this service.