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First class support available for victims of crime

Find out more about the help and support available to victims of crime and why, in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, victims and witnesses receive an award winning service.

From starting in an administrative role at the age of 23 to becoming its Head of Service just three years later – Manjeeta Sunnar-Atwal is passionate about Victim First – the service that offers emotional and practical support for victims of crime in Leicestershire.

In fact in Leicestershire, Victim First has won a Catch22 Service of the Year Award three times in six years and is one of only three victim support services in the country to be awarded a Victims Choice Quality Mark in 2020. If that wasn’t enough the service has also been awarded a DeMontfort University LGBT+ Inclusion Award in recognition of the accessibility and support the service offers to diverse communities across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.

Manjeeta is rightly proud of those achievements which she puts down to an excellent but small team of just 16 people who support on average 15,000 victims of crime every year. They are referred to Victim First by police officers, other organisations or by self-referral.

Manjeeta Sunnar-Atwal holding the DeMontfort University LGBT+ Inclusion Award

Born and bred in Leicester, Manjeeta is from a Sikh family. At the heart of the Sikh faith is a strong belief in helping others and being part of the community and that shaped Manjeeta’s thinking about where her future might lie. After considering becoming a police officer, and following work experience in a solicitor’s office and at the Harborough Mail, Manjeeta knew neither of those career options were for her. What she really enjoyed was volunteering for victim services which she had done throughout her degree in Criminology at Loughborough University and her Master’s at the University of Leicester.

She said: “When I started volunteering my intention was to get a bit of experience to put on my UCAS form to get into university but I really did enjoy it. I enjoyed talking to people about what they had been through and seeing the difference I was able to make by talking to them and showing them where they were and how far they had come. I believed in the whole ethos of victim support so decided that’s where I wanted to develop my career.”

Victim First is a service that is commissioned through the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. Following a competitive tendering process in July 2015, an organisation called Catch22 successfully secured the contract to run the service across the force area calling it Victim First. Manjeeta joined Victim First in a full-time position doing admin support and data analysis.

Manjeeta said; “I was excited to be involved at the beginning of something new and see where it took me and how it could develop. When I started in 2015 no one had been in that role before so I was able to develop it and our Head of Service at the time was great and if I came up with ideas he’d say ‘yup let’s give it a go.’ I started to mentor some of the volunteers because I wanted to develop that leadership skill and I wanted to give back as I had so much experience of supporting victims myself from my volunteering days.

“I created a case management system by looking up ‘how to code a document’ on Youtube and although it isn’t perfect it is a system we still use. This job has given me so much creativity and I’ve been able to develop in areas I didn’t even think I could do. I am not much of an IT savvy person but if you do concentrate on things, and you’ve got that passion to learn something, you can do anything.”

In January 2017, just two years after joining Victim First, Manjeeta successfully interviewed for a Senior Caseworker role and then just a year after that the Head of Service position became available. “I applied for the role to get more interview experience and I did not think in a million years I would get it but I did and I’ve been doing it for four years now!”

But if anyone needed proof about the impact this award wining service can have on people then the feed back from this victim says it all;

“I would like to give my feedback regarding the service from Lauren [a caseworker]. She has provided the BEST service I have ever had supporting my mental health. Lauren has arguably saved my life no words can express how amazing she is at her job! Before speaking to Lauren I was in a dark place but Lauren has empowered me to gain control of my life and chase my dreams. Thank you, Lauren, and Victim First for your amazing service.”

And another;

“They were very helpful, she called me and she listened to me for 30 minutes and she was so supportive. She was trying to put herself in my shoes, she calmed me down and she was very nice to talk to. I felt listened to and reassured. She posted me an alarm too, so I can use it when I feel unsafe.”

What service does Victim Support offer?

Victim First offers a free, independent and confidential service for victims and witnesses of crime across the force area.

Initially, a caseworker will assess how each person is mentally and physically and whether they have support networks around them or not. The caseworker will listen to the victim and work with them to establish what support they feel they need.

Everyone is offered bespoke support from a team of experienced and professional case workers to help them cope and recover. They offer a service tailored to adults as well as young people over the age of 13. The case workers work very closely with a wide range of counselling and support services such as UAVA which supports victims of domestic abuse; Juniper Lodge which supports rape victims; Witness Care; Citizens Advice; Crimestoppers the Crown Prosecution Service and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and many others.

The service is not just for victims of crime either, it also supports the family and friends of victims and witnesses who can also find themselves struggling with the aftermath of a crime.

Restorative Justice

Another service Victim First offers is Restorative Justice (RJ). A Specialist Caseworker facilitates RJ which offers the victim the chance to safely communicate with the offender. RJ enables victims to talk about the incident and the harm it caused them and the impact the actions of the offender has had on them. For many it is an opportunity to ask questions and can provide a means of closure and the chance to move forward.

This has proved increasingly popular which maybe because of the pandemic because it offers the victim a voice in a controlled and safe environment to make sense of what happened and why.

Manjeeta adds; “Quite often with victims of domestic burglary, for example, people can feel very violated and vulnerable and ask ‘why me?’ When they get the chance to talk to the person who burgled their home to ask them those questions the offender often says they ‘just saw it as an opportunity’ this can go along way to reassuring the victim that they weren’t deliberately singled out or targeted.”

Practical help

Victim First can offer very practical help as well an emotional support. They work closely with an organisation called ‘24/7 Locks’ who will visit people at home to review their security and offer new locks if necessary or provide personal alarms to make them feel safer.

Manjeeta concludes by saying; “Every victim of crime has 12 rights which list the statutory level of service they are entitled to receive from the police and criminal justice system after they have fallen victim to crime.

“One of those rights is to be referred to services like Victim First. Not everyone takes up that offer but here in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland we have an award-winning service which is staffed by dedicated and trained professional.

“We work closely with Leicestershire Police to promote our service and ensure every police officer refers every victim to us. We can do so much to help officers and take a considerable work load off their shoulders but victims can also refer themselves, just by picking up the phone, so please don’t struggle on your own we’re here to help.”

How to contact Victim First

You can call Victim First whether the crime is recent or not. They will support you even if you choose not the report the incident to the police.

You can call the helpline on 0800 953 9595 or email or go the website at they are open from 9am to 8pm.

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