For Project Lynx coordinator Lindsay Roberts, supporting young victims of crime properly and effectively means support services coming to the victims and adjusting to their needs — not the other way around.
And that’s what the project, a branch of Yukon Victim Services that addresses the needs of child and youth victims of crime younger than 19, has been striving to do since it took on its first case four years ago.
“It’s unique in that wrap-around support, the one-stop shop, the any-door-is-the-right-door, and that, I think, is something that communities across Canada have been working towards,” Roberts said.
Work behind the federally-funded Project Lynx has been underway since 2011, with the team taking on its first file in January 2014. Since then, it’s worked through at least 130 cases — many of them involving a child who has been abused at the hands of a family member or caregiver — but Roberts said that’s not necessarily an accurate picture of how many child victims are actually in the territory.
“It’s a voluntary support, we receive referrals from any community partner, from families, from people themselves, so it’s by referral. It’s not a (mandatory) process,” she explained, adding that a victim doesn’t need to have reported an incident to police or be in the court system to take advantage of Project Lynx.
Among the services Project Lynx offers to victims and their families should they choose to go ahead following a referral are crisis and trauma support, developing a safety plan and offering support and guidance should a victim’s case go to court.
But the work can’t, and isn’t done alone, Roberts said, and often requires collaboration with other organizations such as police, housing agencies and Legal Services.
In an effort to unite service providers as well as prompt conversations about child sexual abuse and how to respond to it, Project Lynx recently helped put together a two-day symposium called “Prevention, Awareness and Response: Conversations about Yukon youth and sexualized assault.”
“The main purpose of our symposium was to start that conversation,” Roberts said. “These are intimate, emotional, personal details of people’s lives and for some of us working in the field, we’re used to that, it’s what we do. But it’s not common language, it’s not things everybody wants to talk about or is talking about.… We know we have great supports and services in our community — how can we build on them? How can we work better together?”
Among the speakers at the symposium was former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, who has been outspoken about the sexual abuse he faced at the hands of junior hockey coach Graham James and has become one of the country’s most prominent child advocates via the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre and the Respect Group.
In a phone interview after the symposium’s conclusion, Kennedy said he thought the event was “very well-done” and “very-well attended.”
“I thought that we were able to discuss an issue that has real impact and real consequences in communities across this country and around the world which are sometimes difficult to talk about — child abuse, sexual abuse and its impact,” he said.
In his more than two decades of advocacy work, Kennedy said he’s seen a gradual societal shift where the willingness to talk about the issue of child sexual abuse has increased, as has the research into how being abused at an early age can have devastating impacts on someone later in life.
Kennedy hasn’t worked directly with Project Lynx, but said that what he saw during the symposium and team’s effort to create “real, integrated practice” was encouraging.
“We can’t operate in silos,” he said. “We can’t have police not talking to health not talking to social services not talking to victim services not talking to schools, especially in communities like Whitehorse and the surrounding areas. We need to be able to look and understand the whole picture before we start making decisions on that and the only way we’re going to be able to do that is to allow these organizations to share information in the best interests of the child.”
And although we’re at a time where sexual assault is being highlighted and talked about more than ever, Kennedy said it’s crucial that those conversations are translated into real action.
“I think, to me, we’re past the point of people understanding that this stuff happens,” he said.
“I think it’s great that we keep it out there, but I really believe that we need a systemic shift, with the knowledge and the science that we have in front of us today, to make the change and the shift to do better…. We know (that when a child has been) hurt this way, we need to throw all of our resources at them to get their lives turned around here, because if we don’t, it’s going to cost us seven times the amount of money and potentially, a life, if we wait and deal with it down the road.”
Contact Jackie Hong at email@example.com