Victim’s Needs: On both sides of the bars

22 Nov, 2013

Welcome to SAGE no. 6 – this issue of SAGE explores Victim’s Needs: On both sides of the bars

The current institutional structure of our legal system means that the victim has a very limited role in the justice process. In fact, the role is often limited to that of a witness at a trial, with the state taking on the role of the victim in criminal proceedings. Victims are sometimes asked to give a victim impact statement in court and in some cases are provided restitution through the court process, but these things are not guaranteed. Additionally, most services offered to victims require that the victim identify themselves to the justice system. In reality many victims of sexual assault, for instance, do not report the crime to police. The current structure of our justice system and the limited role for victims leaves us with a number of questions: What does it mean to be a victim? What does it mean to be labelled as ‘victim’? What does justice look like for victims? How do we begin to understand the experiences of victims? How do we, as a society, work towards achieving justice for victims? Any answer to these questions is not simple. Any answer to these questions must take a holistic look at the range of social and emotional factors, and the broader social contexts faced by victims. Our social realities are such that we cannot look at the needs of victims in isolation. In order to understand and address these issues we must also consider broader socio-economic issues, and eroding social support systems that contribute to criminalization and victimization in our society.

Through this issue of SAGE you will hear a number of perspectives on this issue. Starting with an editorial by our Executive Director, Janet Handy, which asks us to consider whether the criminal justice system is really the best arena to address the needs of victims? We also hear from Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies Executive Director Kim Pate who asks us to consider “Why are we even talking about a ‘Victim’s Bill of Rights'”? As another point of reflection Scott Kindred-Barnes, Minister at the First Baptist Church of Ottawa, challenges us to look beyond our common understanding of criminals as “bad people” and to consider that criminals are often victims themselves. In order to take a truly holistic look at these issues we must also consider those “secondary victims” who are also impacted by crime. Those can include friends and family of both victim and offender. With this in mind we also offer an overview of a new book co-edited by CCJC Board Member Rebecca Jaremeko Bromwich looking at issues faced by Incarcerated Mothers and also offer an emotional letter written by CCJC President Nancy Steeves to a family member facing the justice system.

With the ongoing talk of a Federal Victims’ Bill of Rights here in Canada these questions we pose are important ones. We hope this issue of SAGE will provide you with an opportunity to reflect on some important questions about the needs of victims and how we, as a society, can begin to address these needs.

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