Grade 9 is supposed to be a new and exciting experience; it’s a time where you have the opportunity to make new friends, memories, and start a new chapter in your life. My experience was different. Eight years ago, during my first semester of high school, the world that I knew shattered in front of me.
I remember being called out of class to the office and having to share experiences I had tried to repress, with the police, my school, and my family. Hearing myself speak, I remember slowly going from being ecstatic about this new chapter of my life, to wanting to hide away forever.
My life began to change drastically when I was told that I had to be a witness at the trial against someone I once called my best friend. The world I knew became a very uncomfortable place, which made it very difficult for me to cope. I was a 14-year-old girl who was now being exposed to the real world in a way that no one could have anticipated.
When I was put in contact with the Child Witness Centre, I finally felt like I had a safe place to go. I had a place where people understood what was happening to me. This was also a place where no judgement took place. I remember the first day I was introduced to my caseworker at the Centre; I immediately felt welcomed, safe, and accepted. My caseworker never asked me what the accused had done, or how I got to where I was. She talked me through the court process, and helped me feel comfortable with the trial.
The Child Witness Centre helped put my mind at ease. When I had questions, I always got an honest answer. When I wanted to know things that I did not want to ask the police, or share with others, I felt okay asking my caseworker. It was my safe place in a shattered world.
For years, I tried to repress the traumatic experience I went through. Court processes are lengthy and scary, especially for a child. As I got older, I started understanding what happened during this time in my life, and how it had impacted me. Doing so, I realized I needed to give back. A few months ago I reached out to the Child Witness Centre. I wanted to volunteer at the organization that helped me so much in one of the darkest times of my life. This organization gave me hope in the midst of despair. They helped turn my shame and sadness into an opportunity. I am now happily in my final years of University pursuing a degree in Legal Studies, in hopes to one day help victims find justice.
Emily is your United Way.
If you’ve ever wondered what your donation to United Way looks like, it’s Emily. Emily’s story is all too familiar, with 1 in 3 girls being sexually assaulted before adulthood, and 1 in 5 boys experiencing sexual assault before the age of 18. The Child Witness Centre strives to minimize the negative impact and potential re-victimization of the judicial process on child victims and witnesses and their families and enhance their emotional well-being by ensuring they are informed, supported and included in the process. 345 child victims and witnesses were referred to the Child Witness Program in 2015-16, and together with cases that carry over from the previous year, they assisted 579 children, youth and their families. Research confirms that children and youth who have the benefit of court preparation provided by caseworkers with child specific training are better able to tell their story and make better witnesses. Children who are traumatized by crime have the chance for positive support and preparation for court. Support from the Child Witness Program helps children and families through very challenging times, empowering them to re-claim their lives.
United Way Guelph Wellington Dufferin is proud to support the Child Witness Centre and the children and families they support. With the help of people like you, we are helping to change the lives of thousands of individuals in our community.
For more information on the programs and agencies United Way funds, click here.