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(JAMAICA GLEANER) — Traumatised by reports of brutal killings and assaults, several Jamaicans not connected to victims of these crimes have been showing up for counselling at the Victim Services Division (VSD) after experiencing severe anxiety and sleepless nights.
These individuals, mostly women, are referred to as tertiary victims and have been utilising the division’s counsellors to help them get their lives back on track after hearing about ghastly encounters.
“That means, for some reason, they saw the news on television and feel that this crime somewhat affects them,” said Osbourne Bailey, director of the division..
“The one that comes to mind is when three children were killed in St Mary and four in St Thomas, in different incidents, and mothers were turning up all over the country wondering if their relationship was safe [and] how they could get counselling because they were experiencing the same type of abuse and they didn’t say anything and they were wondering if they were next in line.”
He recalled that, in one of the cases, the perpetrator of the vicious attacks was a stepfather.
“If you are a mother and you hear that people are killing children and you are living with someone, or you are in a relationship with someone in Westmoreland and you hear that in St Thomas that a man lived with a woman with three children who are not his, she only has one child for him, and you hear that he killed three of the children that are not his and you are living in a similar situation all the way in Westmoreland, you wouldn’t feel safe,” said Bailey, who is a pastor and a trained psychologist.
He said tertiary victims, on seeking out counselling, generally display a wide range of psycho-emotional symptoms. These include feelings of insecurity, fears, anxieties, sleep issues and safety issues.
The psychologist noted that these symptoms have also been identified in children who are tertiary victims. As a result, efforts have been made by the division over the years to reach these children, although their core mandate is to provide intervention for primary and secondary victims.
Several of these victims have experienced difficulties coping after hearing of a crime in the community where they live or go to school. This propelled the division to introduce a cultural resocialisation intervention project a few years ago, which is designed to help children feel safe and learn to deal with trauma. The project targets at-risk and hurting children between the ages of six and 18 years old.
“We would try to use various psychology theories [and] techniques to infuse them with coping mechanisms,” said Bailey.
“We would go and pick them up where they are, after the logistics of parent consent, and so on. Some of them literally don’t even have what to wear and they are from different schools, so we put them in a similar colour, so that we neutralise any kind of class and division and we find a green area, usually some place up in the hills.”
Bailey said he finds that some of the children are severely traumatised by their daily experiences. In fact, he recounted how two male students lay flat on the ground after hearing a truck backfire twice, because they thought they were hearing gunshots.
The aim usually is to do one-on-one counselling with the children, so, for example, on occasions when there are 50 students, there would be about 25 counsellors.
“It is like the whole place becomes a psychology lab, so we can control movements. They are safe, they don’t have to worry that they are going to necessarily hear gunshots,” he said.
Due to resource constraints, the division has been trying to have the schools implement aspects of the project at their own institution following the training of teachers, parents and students.
The VSD falls under the Ministry of Justice and provides therapeutic intervention to victims of crime. The division provides emotional support, crisis intervention, court support and technical services such as crime prevention services and welfare support to victims of all crime.