Each year thousands of New Zealanders are affected by crime, involved in accidents or affected by sudden, traumatic events. Victim Support is 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.
What is Victim Support?
Who do they help?
And why are they there?
Chances are, unless you have been the victim of crime or trauma, you have little idea about this service and the work hundreds of volunteers do each day to help other Kiwis through unimaginable pain and trauma.
Victim Support has been operating in New Zealand since the early 1980s, starting with several small voluntary groups and transforming into an official national group by 1991.
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These days the organisation provides practical and emotional support to more than 30,000 people each year who are affected by crime, trauma, and suicide - roughly the same number of people as the population of Pukekohe, Blenheim or Timaru.
The number of people needing support is rising - and Victim Support is now calling on Kiwis to help them keep helping.
The other side of crime is a series by the Herald highlighting the crucial work Victim Support does in the community.
We want to raise awareness, get people volunteering and help Victim Support to raise much-needed funds to keep their service operating.
"We hope this series helps people understand that Victim Support is a place where anyone who is affected by a crime, trauma, or suicide can go for help – and find someone compassionate to talk to, someone to help you find safety from harm, or someone who can give well-informed advice and information to remove some of the stress and uncertainty that follows a harmful incident," says chief executive Kevin Tso.
"The stories captured in this series tell it all… When people's lives are falling apart, they can rely on Victim Support to be there for them because people they've never met care enough to fund our service with their donation.
"No one should ever have to suffer through grief or trauma alone; and with just a small donation you can make sure they never have to."
Victim Support currently has 622 volunteers and 90 frontline staff working across 60 locations and providing nationwide coverage, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It is not a government agency and though it receives some funding, it generally relies on donations to provide services.
"The big challenge we face at the moment is that the funding we do get from government has been frozen for a very long time," says Tso.
"We're increasingly reliant on the donations we receive from generous, everyday people to keep our service freely available nationwide.
"We really do need the support of generous people reading this so we can keep providing the services which so many people rely on at the toughest times of their lives."
Tso says Victim Support's annual costs run into the millions of dollars.
The organisation relies on a "huge" network of people and there are costs around recruiting, training and running the call centre which takes around 150,000 calls each year.
"It's important to remember being volunteer-driven doesn't mean we have no costs,' Tso says.
VICTIM SUPPORT - WHO NEEDS IT?
Victim Support services are free to anyone who needs help after a trauma, and sometimes those services are needed for years after an event.
"The length of time that victim is supported varies hugely depending on a person's needs," says Tso.
"Most people can imagine being the victim of a crime or losing a loved one unexpectedly, but unless we've been there before, very few of us know what would happen after that.
"We don't know what impact trauma would have on us or how we would cope with it, how we would deal with police and the courts, or what are the wide range of government and social agencies that will all of a sudden become important to us.
"A Victim Support worker is someone you can talk to, trust, and seek guidance from as you work through each step of that journey to recovery and justice - a patient listening ear, someone to help with the small things when they are just too much, someone to keep you and your family informed about what's going to happen next and the choices that are available to you.
"Sometimes the things we are called on to do are the last you'd expect, but really matter in a time of crisis, like finding accommodation for the family whose home has just become a crime scene, or helping a bereaved family through the trauma of identifying a loved one after a fatal accident. In one case, a support worker even arranged for a supermarket to reopen at night so the victims of a bus crash could replace lost essentials."
Tso says every victim has different needs - for some it may be a phone call or two to answer questions, others need more regular and long-term contact and support.
In some serious cases, particularly in instances of fatal crime and sexual violence, a victim or survivor may be eligible for support as part of the Victim Assistance Scheme.
This scheme provides financial help to people who need it to access counselling services or participate in the court system as a victim.
VICTIM SUPPORT NEEDS YOU
Victim Support needs to recruit 200-300 new volunteers nationwide every year to maintain its service and Tso says the organisation is always on the lookout for more people who want to get involved.
"It takes a very special kind of person to be a Victim Support volunteer, to throw yourself voluntarily into the midst of crisis and trauma," he says.
"But the same intensity that makes the work challenging, is what makes it rewarding.
"You don't have to have any particular professional background or be a qualified social worker. We're more interested in getting the right sort of person – patient, compassionate people who care deeply about others in their community, and thrive on new challenges."
Comprehensive training is provided to equip recruits with the skills they need to do the job well.
Tso says it takes a "huge network of people" to cover the country.
"So without the help of those volunteers, we wouldn't be here, he says.
"It's that simple.
"Victim Support volunteers are incredible people who give so much to make a difference in the lives of people in need.
"There's just something special about knowing that someone in your community will drop everything to come and help you - not because they have to, but because they care enough to.
VOLUNTEERING - WHAT TO EXPECT
Once selected as a support worker, a volunteer can expect to be well-supported, Tso says.
"They'll complete comprehensive training and a supervised period over a number months before becoming a fully-fledged support worker.
"From there, they'll be closely supervised and supported by a professional service coordinator based in their own community, who will support them with ongoing training, feedback, and debriefing after a callout."
He said volunteers may need to assist people after a wide variety of incidents, and experienced volunteers have the chance to specialise in high-need areas like homicide, suicide, family violence, or sexual violence.
"From later in 2018, we're really excited that volunteers will also be able to gain an NZQA-recognised diploma for completing their training," Tso said.
"While the work is voluntary, we cover all travel, accommodation, and other costs associated with their work."
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.
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.