Crime counsellor
Social worker helps victims of crime through justice system

Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

RANKIN INLET (Jul 29/98) - She wants to help make a victim's experience within the justice system as easy as possible.

And for Samantha Ussak the compassion needed to be a victim and witness support worker comes naturally. A social worker who just finished the two-year program at Nunavut Arctic College, she is trained to help people in difficult situations.

"In my job, I mainly work with victims of crime or witnesses," she said. "If someone comes to me, I try and help them out."

Ussak, who grew up in Arviat, works in the Pulaarvik Kablu Friendship Centre in Rankin Inlet to provide the kind of support victims of crime need.

She makes sure her clients understand the justice system and knows what to do in court.

"If they haven't pressed any charges, I assist them in doing that," she said. "They have to fill out a victim impact statement form and the judge reviews it before handing down his judgement."

But most importantly, Ussak is there to support those victims of crime who haven't anywhere to turn to for help.

"If they have to go to court, I would be with them for support," she added.

Some of her other duties include referring clients to other agencies to ensure they get the kind of help they need.

"For example, if a woman comes in who is beaten up, I refer her to the women's shelter," she said. "I also provide short-term counselling before, during and after court."

Myrna Michon, director of the Pulaarvik Kablu Friendship Centre, said the support can be very important for people who aren't familiar with the justice system.

"It was felt that the accused have legal aid, (but) there's no one with the victims who can prepare them for what's going to happen -- so they are not alone in it," she said.

Michon said Ussak is bringing stability to a program that has been in place since 1992, but hasn't had continuity to provide a good service.

"She has commitment to it and she has the educational background for it," she said of Ussak.

Ussak said her training as a social worker helps her a great deal in her new position.

"It helps me in a lot of ways -- I took some counselling courses and we got into the justice system," she said.

Her duties also extend to the other six Keewatin communities outside Rankin Inlet.

"This is the only one in the Keewatin -- if I receive any calls long distance, I can help them (too)," she said.

Being a victim of crime, she said, is difficult enough without the stresses of going through the ordeal again in court. It's her job to minimize further stress for the victim.

"Right now, I'm trying to let people know we're open," she added.

She can be contacted Monday to Friday 8:30 to 5 p.m.