Survivors of domestic violence in southwest Scarborough are being assigned “victim advocates” to help them cope with the justice system and meet their other needs.
Working from the headquarters of Toronto police’s 41 Division at Birchmount Road and Eglinton Avenue, the two advocates are described as “go-to” persons who lead teams tailored to assist victims and their children in a project called the Scarborough Family Justice Initiative.
A decade of advocacy work led to a$249,000 federal investment in the project announced recently in downtown Toronto by Justice Minister Peter McKay.
Research in 2005 showed a “disproportionate amount” of domestic violence in this part of Scarborough, and distances residents had to travel for services, added to frequent language barriers, made navigating the system “almost insurmountable,” said Bobbie McMurrich, programs director for Victim Services Toronto.
The organization began matching clients with advocates in February in cases where charges are laid or are about to be in 41 Division, which covers Scarborough between Hwy. 401 and Lake Ontario, and between Victoria Park Avenue and Brimley Road.
It is “going extremely well,” McMurrich said.
Besides division headquarters, members of the team can meet clients in their homes, at The Hub Mid-Scarborough, or at Kennedy Employment and Social Services.
Advocates can also get written consent to act on client’s behalf.
After satisfying their immediate need for safety, domestic violence victims will need to deal with issues in criminal court, and may need longterm counselling and help with finances, employment, subsidized day care and housing which members of the team can give them, McMurrich said.
Victim Services, which operates across the city, wants this victim-friendlier system with advocates introduced to other neighbourhoods, and to run a bricks-and-mortar family violence centre in Scarborough similar to one San Diego opened in 2002.
“We’re not there yet,” said McMurrich.
Family violence can come in different forms, including neglect, and the involvement of a close relative can make the trauma for victims even greater, said Scarborough Centre MP Roxanne James.
She added the federal Conservative government “has kind of swung the pendulum back” to support victims of crime rather than the rights of criminals.
Domestic violence is 26 per cent of all reported crime in Canada, and police responded to 95,000 cases in 2011. “Those numbers are quite staggering,” said the Conservative MP, on hand with Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair for McKay’s announcement.
Still, James said, many victims of such abuse choose not to report it.
Letting people know there’s additional help available in southwest Scarborough means “they might actually pick up a phone and make that call,” she said.
McMurrich agreed a significant number of domestic crimes go unreported and that the pilot project may encourage more people to come forward, but added the decisions of victims are often complicated by fears of reprisal, shame, social isolation and other factors.
Victim Services Toronto operates a 24-hour victim support line at 416-808-7066, and more on its work is at www.victimservicestoronto.com