The Ministry of Justice’s Victim Support Unit (VSU) has been providing counselling and other services to victims of crime for many years.
Established in 1998, the VSU has been charged with the mandate to indentify the victim’s needs, advocate for their rights, and to provide support through the implementation of therapeutic/psychological programmes.
Senior Co-ordinator at the Unit, Reverend Osbourne Bailey, informs JIS News that the agency, through its provision and administration of various programmes of intervention, assists persons against whom certain offences have been committed.
“The unit has also been charged with the responsibility of co-ordinating the Government’s response to victim support,” he adds, while noting that although much of the work is done by the unit, a large part of what is done is the co-ordination of the work performed by all the agencies involved in the process.
Rev. Bailey notes that there are many organisations in the justice circle that by virtue of what they do, are in a good place to add value to the level of support that victims get.
Guided by its tagline, ‘Healing and justice for all victims of crime’, Rev. Bailey reiterates that the unit will continue to provide support for the victims who often undergo physical and emotional trauma as a result of the crimes that are committed against them.
In an effort to achieve these objectives, the VSU offers free and confidential emotional support (counselling and mediation), court support (court orientation, support during and after case disposition), crisis intervention (telephone counselling, on-the-scene response, home visits or walk-in services), and technical services (advocacy, training of professional and allied personnel).
Importantly, the VSU does not only provide support for individuals who have been affected by murder, as its programmes are also geared towards the rehabilitation and counselling of individuals who have committed criminal offences, including rape, incest, wounding as well as victims of arson, victims of domestic and community disputes, victims of human rights abuses, and children who are used by older persons to commit crimes.
Chief among its programmes is the ‘Children in Court’ project which Rev. Bailey describes as an inclusive programme, designed to help the children to understand the layout of the Court.
“We specifically do not use the word ‘preparation,’ because we do not prepare children for court; we however create a sense of orientation of the process,” Rev. Bailey tells JIS News.
In addition, he notes that during the process “a checklist is used to help the child to understand what it is to be ready, what they will face in court, and the purpose for the various persons.” A model court house will also be used to foster a greater understanding of the processes.
Rev. Bailey also highlights that the ‘Children in Court’ programme allows the VSU to be able to indicate the child’s state of readiness for appearance in court. He notes that training/sensitisation sessions have been held with prosecutorial staff, judges and police officers in an effort “to foster a greater understanding of the psychological, sociological, emotional and cognitive impact that crime has on the child.”
The VSU is also instrumental in providing training for students and parents who will be able to readily identify individuals who are experiencing the effects of trauma through its Special Intervention for Schools (SIFS) programme.
Commenting on the importance of community involvement in the administration of justice, Rev. Bailey says that, “the VSU realises that justice for communities needs to be community based, in that while there is an office like this that they can come to, there needs to be an understanding within communities that if there are issues, before they get to a stage where they need to go to the police and the courts, they can actually come over and speak with us.”
He also underscores the importance of a parent’s involvement in their child’s life and daily activities, while pointing out that parents can utilise the risk assessment tool, developed by the unit, to ensure that their children are not being exposed to any risky areas.
In light of the recent spate of child abuse cases, including rape and incest, Rev. Bailey is urging all parents to assess who they trust around their children, so as not to unintentionally expose them to any harm.
“There is need also for the connection of a number of players,” he says, while noting that “schools, parents, churches and other community structures need to really come together and look at the child stock in communities and find out where gaps exist in communities.”
He reiterates that the community organisations and the society at large need to assess whether there are safe times or safe places within communities and really take steps to ensure that once a child enters the community, he or she is safe.
Rev. Bailey emphasises that although the unit has its salaried team, it is pertinent that volunteers are trained to carry out functions on their behalf, to increase its coverage of communities that would normally be out of reach due to limited manpower.
He tells JIS News that at any given time there are 200 to 250 volunteers on the revolving register, with between 35 and 70 persons volunteering their services across the island each week.
Individuals with the relevant skill sets, such as counselling, promotion, networking and administration are also being invited to join the cadre of volunteers in an effort to advance the work of the VSU.
Rev. Bailey notes that students of institutions that do training in counselling, psychotherapy and social work can also volunteer their services in an effort to fulfill hours as required by their courses of study.
The Victim Support Unit is affirming its commitment to serving victimised persons and groups within the Jamaican society, in an effort to protect their rights, ensuring justice is served and to facilitate their rehabilitation into their communities and homes.