Chief’s Gala Helps Victims Heal

By Ron Fanfair

Ron Fanfair

Writer/Photographer

Office of the Chief

Over 1,500 people who supported the Chief’s Gala in support of Victim Services Toronto (VST) heard directly about the impacts their donations have in helping people escape abuse and overcome trauma.

Last summer, a young woman called the VST crisis line in desperate need of help.

Sex trafficked for seven years since age 12, she wanted to escape her trafficker.

VST personnel and the young woman met at a safe location and she was advised to dispose of her phone to avoid tracing by her captor. It was less than an hour in her new location with a new phone that her trafficker showed up at the hotel.

Surprised he was able to locate her, VST workers immediately called police who arrested him.

Placed in another hotel for her safety, one of the trafficker’s associates turned up there as well.

In her 12 years in human trafficking advocacy, VST Executive Director Carly Kalish had never seen anything like this.

Suspecting that something was amiss, they took the woman to the hospital where a body scan revealed she had been microchipped. The victim was unaware that the implanted chip, similar to the kind used to identify a pet, was inserted under her skin.

“This is just one example of the abhorrent depths of depravity these criminals will reach to keep their prey,” said Kalish, at the 16th annual Chief’s Gala that is VST’s major fundraiser. “Thanks to the support of our team, today she is safe. She is in a treatment program and will transition to supportive housing.”

The non-profit agency provides a lifeline for over 17,000 victims annually.

Those subjected to crime and sudden tragic circumstances can access crisis and support services.

“Our staff dedicate their lives to support those who have experienced the unimaginable,” Kalish said. “They are the ones who hold the hand of a mother who has just lost her child to suicide. They are the ones who accompany the young girl to the hospital for a sexual assault exam. They are the ones who sit in the living room of a grieving family who just lost her son, a victim of gang violence. They are the unsung heroes inside our communities, providing comfort, solace and a helping hand to those living their darkest hours. They are ones who turn despair into hope and chaos into recovery.”

Woman stands beside flags
Victim Services Executive Director Carly Kalish gets ready to speak at Chief's Gala Photo: Brent Smyth

“By providing support to victims of crime and trauma, we not only help them heal, but we help society heal. We endeavour to break the cycle of violence and create a culture of empathy, understanding and resilience… In the face of adversity, we can choose to be bystanders or we can choose to be helpers. We can choose to be silent or we can choose to be voices for positive change. The power to make that choice is in our hands and in our hearts.”

Chief Myron Demkiw acknowledged the incredible capacity Victim Services staff provides for the Toronto Police Service to ensure the safety and well-being of community members.

Over 1,500 people attended this year’s fundraiser at the Beanfield Centre on November 16.

“Your support this evening has a profound effect, one that saves lives and helps Victim Services empower individuals to redefine their narrative towards positive outcomes,” he said. “Victim Services Toronto has evolved into the gold standard for assisting victims of crime and sudden tragedies and for supporting entire communities.

“And while they provide support no matter what the crime, we – as police officers – know that gender-based violence, human trafficking and intimate partner violence, in particular, can leave victims feeling worthless, hopeless and helpless. The kind of soothing voice of Victim Services volunteers and staff reassures victims that they are not alone and that there is hope.”

To help ensure victims and survivors of human trafficking and intimate partner violence receive immediate supports and services, the provincial government invested $1,000,000 in VST new Exit Route program.

Case Managers and VST Social Workers are embedded in 14, 23, 43 and 51 Divisions and the Sex Crimes Human Trafficking Section.

“This co-located model helps to strengthen communication and collaboration between police and Victim Services and it has resulted in the opportunity to provide immediate walk-in support to people in their neighbourhoods during business hours,” said Demkiw. “Another very promising result of this new model is that there has been a significant decrease in intimate partner violence in the piloted divisions.

“This is excellent news, particularly since Victim Services Toronto long-term goal is to expand to provide this enhanced access and support in our communities 24/7 by being co-located in each division and every specialized unit in Toronto. Being in the many different communities will also help foster relationships with community-based hubs and local social service providers for more cohesive and integrated support.”

Kaitlin Bick, VST Anti-Human Trafficking Specialist, was the keynote speaker at this year’s event.

As a human trafficking survivor, she connected with VST in 2015.

Bick returned to school and is now a counsellor helping other survivors.

“Without Victim Services Toronto, I wouldn’t be here tonight,” she said. “At VST, I work alongside some of the most caring and empathetic people I have ever met. I am part of an organization and team that goes above and beyond to make sure our clients and friends are safe. All it takes is just one person who cares. It is not about saving someone. It is about leaving a lasting impression of genuine care to connect you to the resources you need.”

 

A woman receives a standing ovation at a podium
Keynote speaker Kaitlin Bick receives a standing ovation during her speech Photo: Brent Smyth

 

Bick is now reunited with her family and is enjoying life as a fiancée, daughter, aunt, niece, sponsor, co-worker, friend and dog mom.

“All I have ever wanted was to be loved, appreciated and to feel accepted,” she added. “I don’t know what you all struggle with in your own lives, but I believe that most problems can be solved with love. After this, I have hugs for anyone who needs one. If no one has told you they love you yet, today I do.”

Last year’s Chief Gala raised over $1 million.

Since its inception in 2008, nearly $4.5 million has been raised.

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