FRAMEWORK FOR ACTION AGAINST FAMILY VIOLENCE
5. Victims' Support Services
The term "victim support" encompasses a range of services, and does not, of itself,
differentiate as to whether those services are provided by the Department of Justice, another
government department, police forces, transition houses, community agencies, volunteer
organizations, or a combination of all or some of these.
(a) The Framework Requirements for Victim Support
The Framework for Action states that "Safety of the victim must be the primary concern
of the justice system,"(1)
and outlines the services to be provided to victims of intimate partner
- attend the scene of domestic violence, upon referral by the police, to provide immediate
crises intervention once the alleged perpetrator has been removed, and referral to
appropriate services in the community;
- communicate with victims as cases proceed through the justice system to convey details
regarding the progress of the case and the status of the alleged perpetrator.
(b) The 1999 Evaluation Report
The importance of providing support for victims of intimate partner violence is
recognized in the 1999 Evaluation Report, which concluded:
The emotional and physical impact of spousal/partner violence is profound and
victims have reported feeling doubly victimized through their involvement in
what many perceive to be a hostile and confusing criminal justice process.
Despite the development of protocols to lessen the reliance on victim testimony, the
criminal justice system still needs the cooperation and participation of victims to
successfully prosecute spousal/partner violence. The early intervention and advocacy
services provided through the victim support service program were assessed as an
essential component of the successful implementation of the Framework for Action.(2)
The 1999 Evaluation Report found that victims' services officers reported "a dramatic increase
in their caseload due to family violence matters."(3) Although the policy developed to implement
the Framework requires that victims be contacted within 2 days, the Monitoring Committee
found that this did not always happen. Reasons given for this included the heavy caseload and,
in some cases, difficulty in contacting the victim.
(c) Victims' Support in other Jurisdictions
According to the interjurisdictional survey conducted as part of this review, all provinces
and territories offer some services for victims of intimate partner violence; what varies is the
scope of the services available, and who provides the services. In most jurisdictions, a mix of
government, police-based, community, and volunteer services offer some or all of the following
to victims of intimate partner violence:
- advocacy and support;
- court accompaniment;
- criminal injuries compensation;
- assistance with Victim Impact Statements;
- information about case status;
- victim notification;
- information and referral to other services;
- counselling, both short and long term;
- shelters/transition houses or other safe places to go in times of crisis; and
- .second stage housing.
All jurisdictions have a range of women's shelters/transition houses, second stage housing,
satellites, safe homes, family resource centres, and other safe places to go in times of crisis. The
number of services and the funding available to support them varies widely among provinces
and territories, with the least being available in the north.
(d) Existing Services in Nova Scotia
Victim support services in Nova Scotia can be divided into those provided directly by the
Victims' Services Division of the Department of Justice, police-based victims' services, and
services offered by community organizations (often through a combination of government
funding and volunteer support).
(i) Department of Justice
Although the Framework for Action speaks of providing victims with information and
referrals, the Victims' Services Branch of the Department of Justice was not identified as a
separate component within the Framework. Since implementation began, however, the Victims'
Services Branch has been involved both through policy and planning at the departmental level
and through the direct provision of services by victims' services workers in the regions.
Victims' Services officers attempt to make initial contact (whether by telephone or
letter) with all those victims who are referred to them by police officers, Crowns, the Halifax
Regional Police Victims' Service Unit, or others. During this initial contact, the victim is
offered support services, such as case-specific information; an explanation of the criminal
justice process; court-orientation; liaison with the police, Crown, and corrections; assistance
with the Criminal Injuries Counseling program; an explanation of the Victim Impact Statement
program; information about court orders (i.e. undertakings, peace bonds, probation orders);
referrals to other services; information about the Child Victim/Witness program if there is a
child witness involved; and to a limited extent, court accompaniment. If a victim declines
support, she is invited to contact Victims' Services should she change her mind. Unless the
victim is agreeable to follow-up contact, workers do not reinitiate contact with victims at various
stages of the justice process in order to make renewed offers of assistance.
The Victims' Services Division of the Department of Justice also administers a
provincial criminal injuries compensation program. However, because of funding reductions in
the 2000 budget, the program now only pays for counselling awards. It no longer compensates
for other costs associated with being a victim of crime, such as wage loss or medical and dental
When the Framework for Action was introduced, the Department of Justice also provided
funding for eight victim support projects across the province, in an attempt to determine what
model might work best for enhanced community-based victim support. Following evaluation,
there seemed to be no consensus on this, and the Department determined that the projects
overlapped with existing services. In the 2000 budget, funding for the projects was not
The Halifax Regional Police Force provides support to victims of intimate partner
violence through a mobile domestic violence response team, and a victims' services unit. The
mobile response team provides emergency counselling and crisis intervention at the scene of a
domestic violence incident. When a police officer responds to a call which involves intimate
partner violence, the officer determines whether the mobile response team should be brought in.(4)
The team is called in about 50% of the time.
The Victims' Services Unit within the Halifax Regional Police Force works primarily
with victims of intimate partner violence, and monitors compliance with the Framework for
Action. This Unit, which consists of a Co-ordinator and two other staff, identifies all domestic
violence calls received by the police on the previous day, and then attempts to contact the
In 2000, the Unit opened and closed 1719 files, 1459 of which involved intimate partner
The victim was contacted in 74% of the cases, usually by telephone. Reasons for no-contact included: the victim did not have a telephone, the telephone number was disconnected,
or three calls were made with no answer.
Where the victim is reached, the Victims' Services Unit
- provides information on the police file (what charges have been laid, the date of the first
court appearance, what will happen in court, and the meaning of any undertakings
attached to the perpetrator's release from police custody);
- makes an automatic referral to the Victims' Services Branch (Department of Justice);
- makes referrals, as appropriate, to various other support services, including Bryony
House, Social Services, community agencies, Legal Aid etc..
The Unit has found that most victims are very pleased to receive the information offered to
them. About 5% decline any information; however, their names are still forwarded to the
Department of Justice. In January 2000, the Unit attempted to initiate further follow-up, but
found that it did not have the resources to handle this.
Community-based supports for victims of intimate partner violence include nine
transition houses across the province, second stage housing, a Mi'kmaq Family Treatment
Centre (with two sites), six Women's Centres, and two counselling programs for abused women.
Some victim advocacy, court accompaniment, and other forms of support are also provided
through transition house outreach programs and community or interagency organizations.
(e) 2001 Review
Support services for victims were discussed at each of the focus groups. Victims'
Services workers were seen (by others and by themselves) as having excessive workloads and
insufficient resources to meet the needs of victims. However, the workers were described as
doing an excellent job within the limits of their resources, and as having an excellent
relationship with Crowns (although Crown referrals to Victims' Services are still inconsistent in
some regions), transition houses, and others who are involved with victims of intimate partner
Two themes emerged almost universally from focus group discussions:
- adequate support services are required both for the well-being of victims of intimate
partner violence and for the effective implementation of the Framework for Action;
- if the government is serious in its commitment to the Framework for Action, more
resources will have to be allocated for victim support.
Victim advocacy, education, and support were characterized by focus group participants
as critical at all stages of a victim's contact with the criminal justice system. The need of this
support was reflected in the experiences of victims themselves. Victims frequently spoke of the
criminal justice system as being intimidating, bewildering, hostile, and ill-suited to meet their
needs; however, those victims who had contact with some form of victims' support services
were, with one exception, very positive in their assessment of the support services offered to
them. Several focus group participants noted that victims are more likely to understand the
criminal justice system and the role of the Crown if they have been in close contact with
This importance of providing victim support, both in terms of a victim's general well-being, and in terms of enhancing the success of pro-charge, pro-prosecution polices, is reflected
in two American studies reported by Epstein, who suggests that at least a partial answer to the
question, "How can prosecutors find a satisfactory way to enhance deterrence of intimate abuse
and, simultaneously, adequately protect the safety and autonomy of individual victims?"(7) may be
to expand the support offered to victims throughout their contact with the criminal justice
One of the studies she refers to explored the impact of providing lay advocates for
women leaving a transition house, and the second examined "the role of social support from
family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers in determining victim follow through in domestic
violence criminal prosecutions."(8)
In the first study, it was found that in comparison with a
control group, women provided with a lay advocate reported less physical violence and less
depression and "perceived themselves as significantly more effective in obtaining community
resources and assistance."(9)
In the second study, those with higher levels of support were more
able to co-operate with the prosecution. Epstein concludes, "Recent prosecutorial
responsiveness to domestic violence cases must be accompanied by an equivalent increase in the
provision of easily accessible victim advocacy services."(10)
In the focus groups, widespread concern and frustration was expressed over the lack of
resources for victims' support. Many participants cited the withdrawal of funding for the
Victims' Support/Advocacy Projects and the Family Violence Prevention Initiative as evidence
of a lack of government commitment to reducing intimate partner violence. Concern was also
expressed about the trend of "'downloading' victim services to the community" without
providing community services with sufficient resources to respond.
(f) Conclusions and RecommendationsRegarding Victim Support Services
The literature on intimate partner violence, the results of the interjurisdictional survey,
and the insights provided by focus group participants all indicate that there are a range of
services needed in order to provide support for victims. These would include: immediate crisis
intervention at the time violence occurs; crisis housing for those victims who do not feel safe
remaining in their own homes; where charges are laid, information regarding the progress of the
file through the justice system, as well as court orientation and accompaniment, counselling and
advocacy; and assistance for women wishing to access other community services.
The available evidence suggests that adequate victim support is essential not only for
helping victims and their families deal with the experience of intimate partner violence, but also
to ensure effective implementation of a pro-charge, pro-prosecution policy. In fact, it would
seem that a lack of victim support can almost guarantee higher rates of reluctant witnesses and
mutual Crown/victim disenchantment, which in turn undermine the possibility of an effective
criminal justice response to intimate partner violence. Even if a pilot project on diversion were
to be introduced, as is discussed in the section on Crowns,(11) victims' services would be equally
essential for that model; along with objective criteria regarding the extent of the violence, past
offences, etc., a case would be considered appropriate for diversion only if the victim were in
full agreement. Victims would require counselling and support to ensure that such agreement
was voluntary and informed.
It also appears evident that effective victim support requires collaboration within
government, among various community organizations, and between government and
Therefore, it is recommended that the Department of Justice enter into discussions
with those within the Department charged with implementation of the Framework, other
government departments, and the community, in order to determine the most appropriate
and efficient ways of delivering the services needed for full victim support, and it is
recommended that the government commit sufficient funding to allow for such delivery.
would appear that an entity such as the Family Violence Prevention Initiative would be
instrumental in facilitating the necessary discussions, and then ensuring that the services
provided did in fact work together to provide comprehensive victim support.
It is therefore
recommended that the Family Violence Prevention Initiative be reinstated.
1. Supra note 10 at 7.
2. Supra note 14 at vi.
3. Supra note 14 at 35.
4. The team is not available after 5 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday, although it is available on
Friday and Saturday nights.
5. Supra note 71.
6. All the Unit's intake forms are sent to the Department monthly. Initially there were some
concerns as to whether information could be shared in this way; however, it was reasoned that
the information would become public once the matter reached court.
7. Supra note 24 at 19.
8. Supra note 24 at 20.
9. Supra note 24 at 20.
10. Supra note 24 at 21. Epstein should not, however, be understood to suggest that the only
reason for providing victim support is to ensure co-operation with the Crown, or that with the
provision of such support, complete and rigid adherence to a pro-charge, pro-prosecution policy
would be possible, or even desirable:
These results [of the studies] are quite exciting. They indicate that in many cases,
an increase in victim support from family, friends and trained personnel can be
enough to empower victims to exit the cycle of violence. Advocacy services
apparently reduce some victims' dependency on the criminal justice system by
helping them find the strength to escape on their own. And for those who need
prosecutorial intervention, the presence of an advocate or supporter enables them
to better assert themselves in gaining the help they need. By amplifying victims'
voices, advocates can help the government better respond to individual concerns.
Advocates also help the government to better discern those cases in which the
survivor seeks to drop charges because of a considered decision that the course of
action is best for herself, her family, and the larger community to which she
belongs. Certainly, domestic violence is a crime against the state and generally
should be treated as such; but victim advocates could be a key to transforming
one-size-fits-all prosecution policies into responses that are also tailored to the
concerns of individual women. (at 20)
Similarly, although Manitoba is noted for its Women's Advocacy Program, this program does
not appear to have significantly reduced the number of victims who are reluctant to proceed with
criminal charges. In Manitoba, when a victim expresses reluctance to proceed or asks the
Crown to drop the charge, a referral is made to the Women's Advocacy program to ensure that
the victim is provided with support and information before a decision is made by the Crown.
Given that the stay rate in Manitoba is approximately 45%, it appears that the effectiveness of
the Advocacy Program lies in assisting women to understand the consequences of their request
for a stay, and assisting the Crown to determine where it is appropriate to agree to such a
request, rather than in persuading all women that their best choice is to proceed through the
criminal justice system.
11. Supra at 56.
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