KIZZIE FRANCOISE was finally able to escape 14 years of abuse with the help of Victim and Witness Support Unit (VWSU) and pick up the broken pieces of her life.
While the unit was recognised for all its work done since its inception in 2008, it was the voice of one of its survivors which impacted the audience the most.
Francoise, 38, mother of seven, who is now a legal secretary, heaped accolades on retired acting commissioner of police Stephen Williams for being the first to spearhead the VWSU.
The unit celebrated its tenth anniversary under the theme To God be the Glory.
Francoise was thankful to three of its founding members, manager Aisha Corbie and senior officers Bernadette Sealy and Deborah Lee Riviears.
Francoise was particularly mindful of Sealy who, she said, never gave up on her even when she held on to her fears of her abuser and of leaving. She described the VWSU as a "family" and not just an organisation one could go to for help in crisis.
The VWSU was formed to help victims and witnesses cope with the trauma and devastating effects of crime. It was led by Williams from 2008-2011.
A humble Williams recalled the challenges faced but praised the staff of the VWSU from inception to date. He commended the perseverance of the unit's core members at its start, Price-Corbie, Sealy, Lee Riviears, Abigail Noel, Sgt Ricardo Morris and Keisha Bowla-Hines. Williams noted that their perseverance had come with great patience.
"What the VWSU has always had was a team of truly dedicated staff all geared towards making a difference in the lives of victims and witnesses of crime. Now, it is critical the unit stays its course. Your service must never be lessened, make a difference on a daily basis. This must be the critical yardstick for the unit going forward," he advised.
Margaret Sampson-Browne, the unit's first manager from 2011-2016, recalled her team going into Matelot, which at that time had the highest incidents of incest. She was acting commissioner of police at the time. She recalled her team spending a weekend in the Matelot community and engaging residents.
An impassioned Sampson-Browne listed some of the interventions the unit did from inception. She recalled having an officer at the site of several traumatic events, such as the fires at Laventille and the Moruga riots (three residents had been shot by police officers).
Engaging traumatised victims, she said, sometimes called for out-of-the-box actions, even if it meant taking a bus load of angered residents to the mall to cool off.
Sampson-Browne also noted the demands of the job also often call for its officers to set aside their own trauma for the sake of the needs of the victims and witnesses. She recalled having to temporarily forego grieving the loss of her mother when her team was needed in Moruga and again when her brother died, when the unit held its conference.
"You can't postpone pain. So we had to be there for those victims and witnesses who needed more than just talk," she stressed.
Sampson-Browne commended the work of Corbie and her team of officers, noting her confidence that they would continue to touch the lives of those who need them the most.
Corbie, in her address, pledged the unit's continued dedication and commitment to victims from statement to sentencing and beyond. She reiterated that though the team of officers may be small, their interventions continue to have a significant impact on empowering individuals and communities. She commended Francoise for the courage to share her personal journey of overcoming abuse, noting that it's not an easy task to bear one's vulnerabilities in the presence of strangers. The VWSU, she said, is honoured to have been a part of Francoise's journey.
"In forging ahead, our efforts will be focused on intensifying impact and community engagement," she added.
An energetic Pastor Clive Dottin filled the room with laughter as he encouraged the VWSU to continue its good work. Dottin's charm and sense of humour were accompanied by advice to the VWSU to ensure that their "efforts are always done with God at its helm."
He spoke boldly of going into "at-risk" communities, of being threatened, but reminded the audience that his confidence lies in his faith. Dottin, who said citizens were living in "shark-infested waters," urged the unit to continue to do "Christ's work" despite adversities.
The Hindu community was represented by Pundit Ravi-Ji , while the Muslim community by Maulana Reyaz Shah.
At intervals, the audience was entertained by the TT Police Band and Choir. A compelling rendition of the gospel classic To God be the Glory was performed by Shenelle Benta.
Several tokens of appreciation were presented to all stakeholders.
To date, the VWSU has assisted and intervened in the lives of over 15,422 men, women and children, up to September 2018. The unit presently is manned by 19 officers, with most of their victims and witnesses having been affected by homicides, domestic violence and sexual offences.
SIDEBAR: Some of the unit's key initiatives
2011 Matelot initiative
2011 Support groups launched
2012 Victim to Victors conference
2013 One Male Conference: Wisdom, Patience, Peace
2014 Project Romeo
2015 - present AVA (Addressing Victims Anywhere)
2016 Domestic Violence sensitisations
2017 Confronting Fear: Managing Life After Violent Crime conference
2017 AVA (Addressing Victims Anywhere) project on domestic violence through the streets of San Fernando,
2018 Student empowerment series at secondary schools: From Vulnerable to Resilient,
2018 Elder Abuse Fair: Raising Awareness, Encouraging Resilience and Empowerment
2018 "Eye In Me" Self Esteem Programme for teen girls affected by abuse and other crises.