BY BETH CROUSE
As children we are taught about stranger danger and about personal boundaries when it comes to sexual assault, but what about what victimization is or how to recognize someone who is being victimized?
Sandy Lozano, a fourth-year community and criminal justice student at Conestoga College and volunteer at Victim Services of Waterloo Region, has completed a research project that focuses on how victims can be better supported in Waterloo Region.
“Most people associate a victim with being someone who has experienced some kind of criminal activity, like sexual assault, domestic violence, theft or homicide, but in reality a victim can experience other forms of activities that aren’t criminally related,” Lozano said.
Through her research, Lozano was able to conduct a needs assessment for Waterloo Region which mapped out the different agencies that provide direct or indirect support for victims.
Lozano found there are great services available, but victims don’t know about them, such as financial assistance where victims can get money for counselling, or for things like fixing a broken door or window as the result of a break-in.
“There needs to be more awareness across the board in community service agencies, schools and done at the municipal level to promote awareness in high schools and job places,” she said.
“We need to get employers involved in more training to try and understand victimization and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how to recognize it.”
In Canada, Lozano’s research shows victims have an issue with the lack of involvement in the criminal justice system, feeling they don’t have a voice. There are victim impact statements, which are really beneficial, but there needs to be further supports put in place.
“There’s no job security and because of the economic impact of victimization, Canadians and companies lose millions of dollars. Victims can suffer from PTSD and stress. Their output at work can drop, and the quality of work can be affected from their victimization,” Lozano said.
“Employers have to fire people who have been victimized because they can’t work anymore or they’re coming in late because of the PTSD, so then victims are fired and the company has to hire someone else.
“Victims in the first place shouldn’t be fired, the victim should be getting more support but a lot of companies don’t understand and they don’t have the training on how to support employees who have been victimized so there’s no legal protection for them,” she added.
When police are called, it is up to them to decide if Victim Services is needed. Although there is a policy in place where there are mandatory referrals to Victim Services, there also has to be training for police officers because if they don’t understand how to identify who is a victim, they are leaving victims without support.
“Looking back on coming into my program, I just realized legally how little support there is, and with my work with Victim Services, it’s the one thing that bothered me,” Lozano said.
“I was involved in a robbery and I wasn’t referred to Victim Services and if it wasn’t for my mother who’s a social worker, I wouldn’t have gotten any support.”
Lozano was also a part of the Human Library held at the Library Resource Centre on Jan. 29. Her experience as a victim is what pushed her to share her story and give a voice to other victims who feel they don’t have one.
“I want victims to start having a voice and feel empowered, not disempowered. That’s how I felt. I felt like I should be ashamed, but I’m not ashamed anymore. I felt talking about what happened to me has empowered me so I really hope that with more awareness, we can promote more people to come forward to get the services available and get empowered rather than live in silence and shame from whatever trauma they may have suffered.”
The stigma of victimization keeps people from talking about it. Lozano said some people may even believe that victimization doesn’t happen that much, but it does.
In 2009, a general social survey was conducted and it found that 7.4 million Canadians self-reported as being victimized. That’s one-quarter of the population.
“For people to recognize they’d been victimized in some way is amazing. So providing more community awareness to schools, and teaching young people what victimization looks like, what is it or how the community can help you, is where our attention needs to be,” Lozano said.
“We have really great agencies that want to help people, but we don’t have the financial backing to do it because there’s not enough funding to support these services,” she added.
“Victims don’t know about these supports, or they’re afraid to seek out support for fear of retaliation from the victimizer or because they’re afraid of these services.
“It’s the awareness that really needs to be promoted throughout our region and nationwide, so that’s why my focus is on Waterloo Region, because it’s easier to get change in a smaller spectrum.”
Currently, Lozano is trying to implement an awareness campaign in Waterloo Region next year that would see National Victims of Crime Week (the week of April 19) turned into a month of victim awareness where organizations could come together and collaborate to educate people on the services available.
“In the end, the only way to support people is for everyone to work together. We want to see people come forward rather than have to deal with the trauma in silence and by themselves.
“I want people to start talking about the stigma of victimization more. The only way for us to get beyond the stigma and the ignorance of victimization is to talk about it.”
Lozano will be presenting her results and recommendations from her research on April 15 from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Blue Room at Conestoga College’s Doon campus.
For more information on Victim Services of Waterloo Region, visit their website at www.vswr.ca.
BY BETH CROUSE