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Woman says she had to fight ‘tooth and nail’ for support from Manitoba Victim Services

A Winnipeg woman who suffered a vicious domestic assault says a provincial service meant to help victims of crime has left her feeling worse off.

Service 'not something I would suggest to somebody that's trying to get better,' woman says

A stock photo shows the back of a woman silhouetted against a window as she sits on a bed in a hotel room.

A Winnipeg woman who suffered a domestic assault says a provincial service meant to help victims of crime has left her feeling worse off.

Tiffany, 39, says Manitoba Justice Victim Services has done little to advocate for her, and instead she's spent months making repeated phone calls, answering emails, filing paperwork and making multiple appointments in an effort to cover mental health counselling and get other compensation.

"All of those things for me are triggering," Tiffany said. CBC is not including her last name for safety reasons.

"You're not living in a different world. You're just living on repeat."

Victim Services is intended to support victims of serious crimes, including domestic violence, murders and sexual assaults, by helping them access their rights, understand their responsibilities and connect them with other agencies or resources, as outlined in the Victims' Bill of Rights, a spokesperson for the province said.

It also aims to support child victims, witnesses and families of missing and murdered Indigenous people, and offer financial compensation to those who face personal injury, hardships or expenses due to certain crimes.

But Tiffany, who suffers from PTSD after the assault in 2017, said the system ran her in circles and ruined some of the progress she made in her mental health.

"The amount of correspondence is mind-blowing," Tiffany said.

"I'm having to resend information I've already given, I'm having to dig out files I've already given, I'm handing them back to the same doctors. This is, like, ridiculous."

In one instance, Tiffany said a worker was trying to get her updated medical information, and she had to remind the worker that she already had some of the information she was looking for. The worker also was trying to get information about Tiffany's diagnosis from a doctor who didn't diagnose her, she said.

"She was essentially going in circles asking for information from doctors who didn't have a clue, because they weren't the ones that did the diagnosis, which she would have known had she opened up and looked at her reports she requested," Tiffany said.

Before that, when Tiffany was attending "extremely helpful" PTSD counselling sessions, she had to stop going to them when she reached the maximum amount of funding the province agreed to cover.

Meanwhile, her doctors had previously warned the department "about the dangers of starting and stopping this type of therapy, because it basically digs everything up," she said.

"You're opening up all the wounds and you're just leaving it exposed."

'Endless paperwork'

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle, has worked with people who have tried to navigate Victim Services.

She said the service is "a complex system with endless paperwork."

"Individuals who are victims of crime and families who've had traumatic experiences are provided all this paperwork to complete on their own, and I don't think that's trauma informed at all," Anderson-Pyrz said.

Crime victims have told her the service doesn't meet their needs, isn't culturally appropriate and they often feel revictimized by accessing the service.

While the province said claimants are typically responsible for facilitating and making their own appointments, Anderson-Pyrz said the department should "follow up and follow through and [say] here's services that are available."

"They need to ensure that there's not a lot of roadblocks in trying to access those services," she said.

"You need to ensure that there's [a] wraparound approach.… It has to be safe, trauma informed, culturally appropriate, and there has to be followup."

She said the service needs a "major overhaul" and she hopes the new NDP government will review how it's delivered.

Months 'arguing back and forth'

Tiffany first filled out an application for compensation in October 2017, but she wasn't contacted by Victim Services until spring — and then it was only so she could be reviewed to see if she would be fit to testify at trial.

"There was still no advocacy behind it," she said.

She was told they would walk her through the services available to her, but that never happened, she said.

She started hearing from Victim Services again in 2020, when doctors at a psychiatric hospital she was attending reached out for her.

The department told Tiffany's doctors she would be assessed for a permanent impairment award — a one-time lump-sum payment intended for people who suffer a permanent physical or psychological injury because of a crime — once the doctors submitted a report outlining her PTSD diagnosis and the counselling she required, Tiffany said.

When Victim Services received that report in early 2021, it said the hourly rate of her counselling was too expensive.

She ended up spending months "arguing back and forth" with the department before they agreed to pay the counselling rate, she said.

Tiffany finished about half of the sessions between around the end of 2021 and January 2023.

At that point, the department said it would review the permanent impairment award, which could be used to cover the rest of the counselling.

"[Victim Services] made it sound like maybe a few months … that it would happen fast enough, that I would be able to continue on right with the work that I had done."

But between then and December 2023, Tiffany was "fighting tooth and nail" with Victim Services about getting assessed for that award, she said.

"I was constantly having to send more paperwork and more paperwork and request files from my regular doctor," she said.

"The sheer legwork behind it … for someone in regular health, it would be overwhelming."

She was eventually told she'd receive a permanent impairment award in January 2024 that will account for her PTSD diagnosis and other diagnoses, but her experience trying to get that award left her struggling with an alcohol addiction and depression.

"What they didn't take into account … is the fact that the process that they put me through to get there is what put me back to where I am," said Tiffany, who had been sober for nearly four years.

'Clearly broken'

She'll also likely have to restart the PTSD counselling, since it's been so long since she last had a session.

"Their system is clearly broken," she said.

"It's not something I would suggest to somebody that's trying to get better."

The province said the department "cannot speak to specific client concerns and has nothing further to add."

It also said the service is reviewing the application form for the compensation program to simplify the language on the form and reduce the amount of information that's required.

"An efficiency audit of the program's existing software" is also currently underway, the province said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Ferstl

Reporter

Rachel Ferstl started reporting for CBC Manitoba in February 2023. She graduated from Red River College Polytechnic’s creative communications program and has a bachelor of arts in communications from the University of Winnipeg. She was the 2023 recipient of the Eric and Jack Wells Excellence in Journalism Award and the Dawna Friesen Global News Award for Journalism. Her work has also appeared in the Globe and Mail and the Winnipeg Free Press. Get in touch with her at rachel.ferstl@cbc.ca.

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