Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When Your Rights Are Violated

Interactions with Police and Criminal Justice

What can you expect if you encounter police?

Many people, including police officers, believe we are all pimped, trafficked, on drugs, and victims with no choice in what we do. They believe we are too degraded and exploited to even speak for ourselves, regardless of whether we are workers on the street, high-end escorts, exotic dancers, or adult performers. The same is true of sex industry business owners and consumers, in the stigma that casts us all.

In a police raid there will often be no warning. Police will enter the premises in high alert. In exotic show lounges this is done by a show of force through great numbers of officers in uniform and carrying guns entering as a group and intimidating everyone present. In a raid of a micro brothel or massage parlour, it is a step up to where doors are kicked in, guns drawn, everyone is put on the floor and hand cuffed.

Supports are seldom provided and for the most part workers are treated like criminals.

These are standard operating procedures for Police Services and are intended to protect police from unseen threats such as guns or other weapons during an operation. Police, as most of Canadian society, believe all sex industry community members are forced into working and so also believe officers will be at risk during raids as a result of organized crime involvement.

These can be extremely frightening experiences and can lead to emotional trauma for sex industry workers who are raided.

Remember you have rights!

Try to relax and not get angry, further complicating your situation. Free legal advice can be found in any region of Canada so say nothing and call a lawyer!

If you are incarcerated as a result of your arrest, remember once again that prison employees see you as on drugs, forced, exploited etc. Prison employees may try to give you medication such as methadone, which could be harmful if you don’t need it. Be sure of any medication you are given and remember you have the right to refuse it. Being incarcerated can be extremely frustrating; but once again, try to keep your cool to prevent further complicating your situation.

Are you the victim of a crime?

Help is Available

If you are a sex industry worker and have been the victim of a crime, YOU DO QUALIFY FOR SUPPORT and YOU DO HAVE RIGHTS. No matter what you are told to the contrary, help is available through VictimLINK and the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

Sex industry workers may feel frustrated when dealing with the criminal justice system after being a victim of crime. As sex industry workers we often experience added trauma as we are judged or devalued because of our occupation and the prejudices of others during the process. Lack of education and understanding has made it difficult for sex industry workers to access Victim Services and the supports that are available for ALL victims of crime.

The BC Government has programs created specifically for victims and the information has been included here to support you in accessing these programs. However, you should be prepared for delays as some barriers still exist.

The following information should assist you on your journey. Remember that you are strong, you are powerful and resourceful. No one and nothing can ever take that from you.

Dealing with the after-effects of Violence

If you have been the victim of a serious crime it is very normal to feel
  • Overwhelmed
  • Depressed
  • Anger or rage
  • Fear
  • Confusion
  • Numbness
  • Shame
  • Powerlessness
Or do things like:
  • Use drugs or alcohol to cope and/ or forget
  • Go back to work
  • Take greater risks
  • Withdraw and isolate
What can I expect to experience personally?

People experience a wide range of physical and emotional changes over a short period of time while others experience feelings long after the crime has taken place. You may find that your reaction will change from day to day or from week to week.

Victims of crime have some common experiences. For example you may feel just fine and then suddenly you break down and feelings of powerlessness, rage or sadness return. During these times remember that the feelings will pass.

Triggers


Triggers are things that cause physical, mental, or emotional changes within us such as a certain smell, sound, place, or person.

When the intensity of these feelings has passed, identify any particular smells, touch, place, and/or sound that may have set off the intense feelings and reminders of the crime.

Getting a sense of your triggers can help you avoid situations where you may encounter them. Involvement in the sex industry can mean that you will HAVE to return to places and situations that may trigger you. If you plan to return to work in the sex industry, it is wise to develop a plan to help you cope.

Returning to work

Sex workers often have to return to the scene of the crime in order to continue to earn their living.

Where possible, try to make a return to work safety plan with a friend or a sex worker advocate that addresses any fears you may have and will help you plan in advance how to handle being triggered should it occur. You may want to create your own self-care plan; rituals and routines that make you feel safer.

Creating a self-care safety plan and making it a daily routine in your life will also help you cope with returning to work.

Self Care

Self-care is not just a tool for victims of crime but for every human being. Creating a strong self-care plan keeps you healthy and increases your resiliency (ability to ‘spring back’).

What should you do if you are the victim of a crime?

There are many things to consider if you have been the victim of a crime. Your physical and emotional health is at risk and the decisions you make can impact your life for years to come.

The filling out of police reports and proceeding with criminal charges can be a difficult and painful process and as a sex worker you may even encounter people who are insensitive in their handling of your case.

Details of your private life may become public and your privacy compromised. The consequences of being “outed” as a sex worker can affect many aspects of your life both personally and professionally.

So Why Report?

The safety of other sex workers depends on the prosecution of the people who commit crimes against us. Choosing to go forward with criminal charges will protect other sex workers from experiencing the crime that you have. Proceeding with charges can also change the way society and the justice system handles our cases.

You will have to be strong as well as patient but you don’t have to be alone. An important step in dealing with the effects of a crime is to talk about it with someone you feel comfortable with. Friends and family can be a great source of support and if you are uncomfortable with talking to someone you know, VictimLINK (see resource section) can put you in touch with over 150 victim service programs across the province. They can also connect you with a sex worker serving organization who can try to answer any questions you may have in regard to the risks and benefits of filing criminal charges.

Your Rights

Knowing your rights is the key to receiving fair treatment throughout the criminal justice process. If you have been the victim of a crime, you have rights under the Victim of Crime Act.

The purpose of the act is to make Victim Services available to ALL victims of crime and to remove any barriers that prevent people from accessing their services. However, some problems do still exist for sex workers attempting to qualify for benefits and access to victim services programs.

What is the Crime Victim Assistance Program (CVAP)?

This program is a resource that provides ‘last resort’ financial support to victims of crime and immediate family members providing that assaults are reported to community support staff, medical professionals or law enforcement.

Financial support is given for a range of expenses for injuries from the crime, some of which include the following:
  • Medical and dental treatment and prescription drugs;
  • Replacing eye glasses and clothing damaged during the crime;
  • Counseling;
  • Support for a child born of rape if you keep the child or pay child support
  • Disability aids, childcare and homemaker expenses;
  • Income support;
  • Transportation to get to medical or counselling appointments;
If you are not on Income Assistance, this program does not require you to apply for those supports.

If you are present when someone close to you is killed or suffers a life threatening injury from a crime you can apply for things like counseling, prescription drugs, and transportation to get to counseling,

If you are a victim of a sexual assault, there is no time limit to apply for funds.

What is a Peace Bond?

It is an order of protection made by a judge in criminal court to protect you against anyone. To get one, call 911 and ask for an “810 Recognizance.”

What is a Restraining Order?

It is an order of protection made in civil court against a family member or ex family member only.

Crown Counsel

Crown Counsel Lawyers work for the government and represent the interest of the public. They are not your lawyer! They decide if there is enough information to pursue your case. This decision should be based on evidence and not your occupation.

If Crown Counsel approves your case, charges will be laid, there will be a trial, and you will receive a subpoena to appear in court. Keep in mind, sentences vary and are based on prior offences, personal history, and impact of the crime on the victim.

We strongly recommend that you access Victim Service workers who are mandated to provide you with support and options.

Victim Safety Unit

The Victim Safety Unit works to ensure victim safety by:
  • notifying victims about the release or status of offenders;
  • providing victims and family members with travel funds to attend court;
  • making sure victims know about supports and have access to resources.
Victim Impact Statements:

A Victim Impact Statement is a written report about how the crime has affected the victim, physically, emotionally, and financially. It does not include details about the crime. The statement is used in court by the judge to determine sentences. How the crime has affected the victim is important to share because crimes against sex workers often go unreported.

Crimes against sex workers have a real impact on our lives and the lives of those who love us. Ending violence against us must fall within the public interest.

A Victim Services Worker can help you write a statement or you can ask an advocate or someone you trust to write one on your behalf.

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