In tough times, victim services workers respond 

National week honours workers, victims

Sheila Sherkat remembers the first time she accompanied a police officer to inform visitors to Whistler of a death in the family.

"My heart was pounding," said Sherkat. "I was extremely nervous and sweaty."

Six years later the SFU psychology graduate and victim services worker’s heart still races when her pager goes off.

Sherkat never knows who is going to need her or what kind of help she, or any of the other nine volunteers she supervises who work with local RCMP, can offer individuals who’ve encountered some sort of crime-related trauma or death.

Trained volunteers and Sherkat provide information and support about where to go and whom to talk to to make it through the myriad of emotions that accompany devastating upsets.

"When there’s a traumatic event we’re not ever prepared," said Kerrie Palmer, Victims Services coordinator. Palmer emphasized that people react differently to life-changing events.

"Sometimes people will find themselves sleeping a lot more, or they can’t sleep," she said. "Or they can’t concentrate on work or can’t stop working."

Victim services workers assist people who have been assaulted, by a partner or another, have been robbed, defrauded, stalked, or lost a friend or loved one unexpectedly while living or visiting Whistler. April 23-29 is the first National Victims of Crime Awareness week, designed to honour those who’ve survived crime and recognizes workers who are on the front lines. The week also highlights options available to those who might one day need help.

With increased awareness of need and funding from the municipality, Whistler-Pemberton’s unit has grown from a volunteer-only organization to two paid staff members with nine volunteers.

Both Sherkat and Palmer are reluctant to talk about exact intake numbers, saying only that a week never goes by without a call, but will talk about what workers do. Like referring victims to professional counsellors and lawyers and explaining complex processes, such as how to apply for financial assistance or what court appearances may entail.

And sometimes victim services workers – who take certified communications and procedural training through the Justice Institute of B.C. – are simply an ear.

"The volunteers, Sheila, and myself – we offer the chance to be just good listeners," said Palmer, a former high school teacher who has worked with troubled teens.

"It’s important for a victim to know that feelings they are experiencing – sadness, disbelief, shock, anger, grief, confusion – those are all very normal reactions to very abnormal situations," Palmer said.

Sherkat said the job is challenging but ultimately rewarding.

"It’s a real honour to be in a position to help and support people and that they are open to that and welcome you into their lives."


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