Each year thousands of New Zealanders are affected by crime, involved in accidents or impacted by sudden and traumatic events. Victim Support are there 24/7 to help and guide people through their darkest hours. This week, we speak to people whose lives were turned upside down by crime, and helped back from the brink by dedicated Victim Support staff. The Other Side of Crime is a campaign to help raise awareness and funds for this crucial victim service.

Pukekohe woman Chris Cowell is one of hundreds of Kiwis who give up their own time to help people suffering in their communities through Victim Support.

Victim Support volunteers like Cowell help more than 30,000 people each year though traumatic situations - including but not limited to homicide, fatal crashes, suicides, domestic and sexual violence and abuse and witnessing accidents.

So why would someone want to do this work?

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Why would someone want to deal with someone else's tragedy when they could be spending their time with their own family, doing their own hobbies or pastimes?

For Cowell, the answer to that is simple.

"I can really help people - even if it's one little thing I do for them, I've made a difference," she said.

"It's incredible that people actually let a complete stranger in at the most vulnerable time of their lives to help them.

"I can't take away what's happened, but I can give them practical help and advice - make it easier for them."

Cowell has been a volunteer for Victim Support for nine years and got involved after her daughter became a victim of crime.

"My daughter was car-jacked and at that time I became aware of Victim Support," she explained.

"I wanted to volunteer but I work, I'm a solo parent and I have a special needs son, so I had to get the timing right.

"It was about four years later I saw an ad in the local paper asking for volunteers, and the rest is history."

Cowell hadn't heard of Victim Support before her family were thrust into the middle of a crime.

"Most people probably don't know we exist or what we do," she said.

Chris Cowell has been a Victim Support volunteer and helping Kiwis in need for 9 years. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Chris Cowell has been a Victim Support volunteer and helping Kiwis in need for 9 years. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Cowell is rostered on and usually works on Saturday nights.

It's an on-call system, so she works when, if and where she is needed.

"When you're on call the police phone you and ask if you can help," she said.

"Once you get the call and get there, you assess the situation, talk with the officer in charge and make an assessment of how you can best help the people there."

Cowell has attended countless incidents including homicides, sex attacks, suicides and family harm.

She has special training for homicide victims and can be called in to help even when she is not rostered on.

"I've seen some quite horrific things," she said.

"I just make sure people get what they need to help them through the process."

For her efforts, Cowell has was awarded a Kiwibank local hero medal and was previously recognised within Victim Support for her outstanding contribution with the Lisa Johnson Award which only goes to one exceptional volunteer each year.

Cowell said her work was "extremely rewarding" and she hoped that by sharing her story, other people would volunteer for Victim Support, or make a donation.

"You get back out what you put into life, I'm a strong believer in that," she said.

"I don't think a lot of people know about Victim Support until they have some direct contact with it - and why should they know about it until then?

"But for us, it would be better if we had a bigger profile, more awareness, then we could encourage more people to volunteer."

Cowell also urged Kiwis to support the organisation financially.

"It's a big job… It would be great if we could get some more resources, then we could help more people more effectively.

"If people want to help, that would be great, if people want to join, that would be fantastic."

VICTIM SUPPORT - HOW TO HELP

To donate to Victim Support click here.

To find out more about becoming a volunteer or for more information, visit www.victimsupport.org.nz.

WHAT IS VICTIM SUPPORT

Victim Support is an independent incorporated society that provides a free 24/7 community response to help victims of serious crime and trauma.

Hundreds of volunteers provide emotional and practical support, information, referral to other support services and advocacy for the rights of victims.

This support helps victims find strength, hope and safety in the face of grief and trauma at what may be the worst time of their life.