SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - On Wednesday, September 8, 2021, the Victim Support Sint Maarten Foundation (VSS) was officially established under the leadership of the Minister of Justice Anna E. Richardson. The Foundation's board members include Ms. Cassandra Richardson as President, Ms. Roxanne Howell as Treasurer and Mr. Isaac Harold Richardson as Secretary. VSS was established to supervise victims of life crimes, serious car accidents, burglaries/break-ins with heavy violence/force or with the use of a firearm (or other weapons) and will mainly function in close collaboration with three official bodies to ensure the proper functioning of the foundation: namely, the Ministry of Justice via the SJIB Probation Service, the Public Prosecutor’s office and the Police Force of Sint Maarten.
Minister Richardson stated, “I am elated for the establishment of the much-needed Victim Support Sint Maarten Foundation. This is a step in the right direction and a milestone for the community of St. Maarten. For many years, such a foundation or support platform has been a void in our community. As I kept hearing the many stories of persons who have been through a traumatic experience, I ensured that this initiative remained one of the Ministry of Justice’s top priorities. I have total confidence in the board of individuals who are well aware of the needs of the foundation. They will undergo training to ensure the foundation is functioning at the level needed to provide optimal service. I’d like to thank the Ministry of Justice, the VSS board, the notary and my cabinet staff for the commitment and support rendered so that the foundation could become a reality for the people of St. Maarten.”
Victim Support Services
VSS offers high-quality shelter and assistance to victims who are subject to crimes which, according to the legal definition, are punishable by imprisonment of six years or more or a traffic accident. The assistance provided by VSS is not process-based or psychotherapeutic in nature. VSS will only support the victim if he or she deems it desirable and insofar as the victim cannot handle these matters him/herself.
VSS will assist victims in the following ways:
- providing emotional support as soon as possible after the offense has been committed;
- providing shelter after the offense has taken place;
- accompanying victims during criminal proceedings and providing practical assistance;
- representing the interests of the victim;
- obtaining compensation;
- mediating the conflict between the perpetrator and the victim;
- checking and identifying whether the victim is recovering and suggesting opportunities for improvement where necessary
The VSS Foundation is currently finalizing its working protocol which will serve to map out the tasks and standard operating procedures of the organizations and entities involved. It will also describe and streamline the work processes with regard to victim support from the start of the criminal process (reporting of a criminal offense) to the end (the execution of the perpetrator’s sentence), so that victims are properly and efficiently assisted at every stage of the criminal proceedings process. The various aforementioned organizations already assist victims in practice in various areas; from providing general information to referring the victim to professional institutions. This care, and with it the range of duties, is expanded with the present protocol.
The Police Force of Sint Maarten (KPSM)
In most cases, KPSM is the first official body in the criminal justice chain that the victim comes into contact with. The victims come to KPSM after filing a report or after the police arrives on the scene of the crime. KPSM provides initial and practical assistance, with an emphasis on providing information and making victims aware of their various rights. KPSM focuses mainly on acute assistance to victims and on tracing criminal offenses and is impartial in this respect. The responsibility of the KPSM starts at the start of the criminal proceedings and in principle continues until the moment the case is transferred to the Public Prosecutors Office. This is the case if the suspect in question is detained or the final report is sent by KPSM.
Public Prosecutors Office
The Public Prosecutor (OM) applies criminal law on behalf of society with an open mind and is therefore not an assistant, counselor, conflict mediator or agent for the victim. The OM acts in its role as a magistrate and is impartial. In addition to the interests of individual citizens (victims), the Public Prosecution also stands for collective values such as the rule of law and the integrity of society. The Public Prosecutor is clear about this in communication with the victim.
The basic principle for the Public Prosecutor in its services to victims is active reciprocity. This means that the Public Prosecutor can only properly provide a service to the victim if the victim (whether or not supported by assistance or legal advice from others) does his share where possible. The responsibility of the Public Prosecutor starts at the moment of the suspect's detention or submission of the final report and continues up to and including the execution. The Public Prosecutor also has a role in the care after the criminal case has been concluded.
SJIB (Probation Services)
The goal of the probation office is to contribute to a safe society by preventing as much new offense behavior from probation clients as possible. The probation service can be involved in victim support in the following areas:
- mediating between the perpetrator and the victim with regard to reaching a compensation agreement;
- conflict mediation between offender and victim, if the victim would like this;
- reporting (on behalf of the victim) to the KPSM / Public Prosecutor of the violation by the offender of the conditions imposed on the victim related to a suspension of pre-trial detention, parole or a court decision. In case of domestic violence, a contact or location ban can be advised and imposed, which can be monitored by means of an ankle bracelet (electronic surveillance). The victim is informed of this
In preparation for the establishment of the foundation, President of the Board Cassandra Richardson attended a conference at the Acoya Resort in Curacao on August 26, whereby the theme concerned the sexual assault of and preying on minors. Three presenters discussed topics geared towards the prevention and overcoming of victimhood in incidents where children are targeted. Discussion topics included EMDR therapy and overcoming sexual abuse, predators of the internet and signs for detection, and lastly, interview tactics performed by police with victims of crime.
The intended audience were those involved in providing emotional support and care to victims such as front-line workers and social workers and persons working with victim support services. The event was well attended by professionals from all six islands. The attendance for St. Maarten was especially noteworthy with the newly established victim’s support services. The coordinators of the event premiered a film concerning what to expect from departments of justice such as police and prosecutor’s office for persons who are victims.
President Cassandra Richardson built most of her academic and working career in the United States and Canada, respectively. She holds a bachelor’s degree, double majoring in Communications with an emphasis in Journalism and Environmental Science from the University of St. Catherine’s in St. Paul Minnesota, and two master degrees, one in Social Work and the other in Communication and Social Justice, both from the University of Windsor in Windsor Ontario, Canada. Ms. Richardson served as Executive Director of the Safe Haven Foundation, a domestic violence shelter for women experiencing intimate partner violence. She also filled the position of counselor and therapist to women and their families that are victims of domestic violence. She is an educator on gender-based violence, an advocate for gender equality and children and youth rights in her St. Maarten community and is a proponent for access to programs and opportunities alleviating the poverty of vulnerable groups.
Mr. Isaac Harold Richardson has served on the boards of various education, political and religious organizations and he looks forward to working and being a part of the VSS because it has to do with victims; people who have been violated or who have no one to speak on their behalf. Mr. Richardson brings a heart of compassion and love for people in general. Whatever it takes to encourage and let people know that there is hope at the end of the tunnel, he stands ready to serve them.
Ms. Roxanne Howell holds a Bachelor of Business Economics in Financial Accounting and brings with her 20 years of experience in the financial sector. She has been working for the Government of St. Maarten for the past 10 years as the Financial Controller for the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labor and now serves as the Concern Controller for the Ministry of Finance per June 2021. Ms. Howell believes that the VSS foundation is a great initiative as many times people go through certain experiences and tend to forget the trauma that comes afterward. During a traumatic experience, it’s imperative that victims have the support that they are able to access and rely on. She trusts that with the establishment of VSS, this platform will now allow victims to be heard.
Within short, the Ministry of Justice together with VSS will be launching the management and staff positions of the foundation as well as a call for volunteers. The staff and volunteers will undergo training in order to be equipped in dealing with traumatic situations for their clients. The community may look forward to more information and being advised as soon as the VSS website is launched.