Ottawa Victim Services (OVS) wants queer people targeted by hate crimes to know that they are eligible for support, whether they’ve reported being attacked to police or not.
OVS’s victim quick-response program (VQRP) is available to those who feel they have been the victims of hate. Funded through the Ministry of Health, the emergency financial assistance program ensures that any victim can access free counselling, usually up to 10 sessions, with a counsellor of their choice.
“We would pay the service provider,” OVS's executive director, Steve Sullivan, explains. “If they still feel the need for longer-term counselling, we can help them access some community programs later on.”
In addition, for gays and lesbians involved in domestic disputes, funds from the VQRP can cover the cost of changing locks.
Sullivan says OVS has not assisted many queer victims, but he would like that to change. Asked if he believes this is because queer victims are less likely to seek help or because they are simply not aware of OVS’s services, he says it may be a combination of both factors.
“We know that victims of hate crimes tend not to report to police for various reasons, and we also know they tend not to reach out to traditional victims’ services,” Sullivan says. “They are more likely to go to an agency that they’ve had experiences with in the past that is more GLBT-focused. They stay within their community. Maybe because they don’t feel comfortable; maybe they are concerned about being judged, and all those things are legitimate concerns.”
OVS recently reached out to PTS for resources to better serve queer victims who access their services. Sullivan believes on-call OVS volunteers, who will respond to calls from police and hospitals, are more informed of the realities of being a queer victim thanks to the training they received.
“Our volunteers are all very supportive, and we go through training and assessment so they are non-judgmental,” he says. “But when you deal with someone who may have a different lifestyle than your own, it can be uncomfortable. You don’t want to say the wrong thing. I think the PTS training helped raise awareness and made them a bit more comfortable when they have to support someone. Our desire is to raise awareness about the program so hopefully, the people who need it can access it.”