Law can’t help community crime victims who can’t speak out

Lacey Scarff apologized for any tears she may shed while singing into the microphone set up in the courthouse lobby. "We're still healing," she said before stepping back with the two other members of Rising Sun.

Lacey Scarff apologized for any tears she may shed while singing into the microphone set up in the courthouse lobby.

“We’re still healing,” she said before stepping back with the two other members of Rising Sun.

She belted out goose-bump-making yells while smacking her hand-held drum with the stick she held in the other hand.

Rising Sun was performing on Thursday in the abnormally full foyer to celebrate Victims of Crime Awareness Week, which runs until Saturday.

The territory’s Victims of Crime legislation was proclaimed on April 8.

“It gives clarity and it gives assurance to the victims as they travel through the justice system, that they are treated with respect, dignity and they are helped through the system,” said Justice Minister Marian Horne.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in the Yukon communities or in Whitehorse, you should receive the same assistance regardless of where you are.”

But the situation for victims of crime is not the same in the communities as it is in Whitehorse.

The communities are small and isolated. In most of Yukon’s communities, it is impossible to call 911. Cellphone service is unpredictable and people who do speak out tend to be ostracized by their own families.

The new legislation protects victims once they have already come forward and have been recognized as victims. It can’t do much for those who can’t speak out.

Prevention and education is a part of the overall strategy, said victim services director Lesley Carberry, adding many victims will tell someone close to them, like a family member, but that’s usually where it ends.

“That’s why our partnerships with communities, with families are so important,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important we work together with the offender’s side, with the police and with the Crown. It’s a long, slow journey.”

The majority of crime in the communities goes unreported, said Carberry. Especially persistent crime, she said. That’s the type that usually continues for years and is most commonly kept in the most intimate places, like behind closed doors of houses and bedrooms, she said.

Victim Services sees about 1,200 clients each year, with approximately 350 new cases annually.

But only about one-quarter of victims report crimes, she said. That means there are about 5,000 people victimized each year – 4,800 who don’t get any help at all, she said.

But if victim services clients are helped better, perhaps more people will speak up.

“It’s not going to be a positive experience because they’re a victim of crime,” said Annette King, who works with victims. “But if they can actually say, ‘I was treated with respect,’ more people are going to come forward. Because they test the waters and they share their experiences. And if they share negative experiences it will shut people down even more.”

Police and the Crown are essential to the success of the new law.

“They are the first responders and taking people through a justice system that is really more about the offender,” she said. “It’s about the crime that the offender committed. So there’s been the desire to be victim-centred for many years and this really highlights that.”

Victim services has workers visiting every community in the Yukon on a monthly basis, said King. As well, old cellphones and chargers can be donated at the Whitehorse Law Centre until the end of April so they can be given to victims who may need them.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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