Victims of Crime Research Digest, Issue No. 6
Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? The Opportunities and Challenges of Using GIS-Based Mapping with a Victim’s Lens
Geographic Information System (GIS) technology has been used for decades to uncover and analyze the intersections between geography and a host of scientific and socio-economic phenomena, such as the environment, health, and even consumer trends. Modern computerized applications integrate hardware, software, and geographically referenced data to help us visualize, interpret, and understand data in ways that reveal patterns and relationships (ESRI 2012). GIS-based maps can be effective communication tools in that they convey information visually so it can be understood across professional disciplines. GIS is increasingly being used in the criminal justice field. Numerous police services in Canada, for example, use this technology to map locations of crime incidents, an endeavour to help police better utilize resources and communicate with the public.Footnote 1 There are also some examples of GIS-based mapping being applied from a victim lens. Dawson (2010), for example, has done significant groundwork in Canada in terms of understanding how resources for women who have been victims of violence can be mapped. Some extensive work is being done on community responses to intimate partner violence in rural and northern regions of the Canadian Prairie provinces and the Northwest Territories (NWT). One component of this project involves mapping services for female victims of intimate partner violence.Footnote 2 Other studies in the US and Britain have used GIS-based mapping to illustrate where gaps in services exist for victims (see Coy et. al. 2008; Stoe et. al. 2003).
As a further exploration of the use of GIS-based mapping as a tool for better understanding phenomena in the criminal justice field, the Policy Centre for Victim Issues and the Research and Statistics Division of the Department of Justice Canada conducted a case study in the NWT, where incidents of violent crime were mapped alongside services for victims and the intersections between victimization and available support services for victims were visually analyzed. This mapping exercise uncovered gaps in service provision for victims in some areas of the territory. However, does a picture always tell the full story? There are many inherent challenges to the provision of services in the NWT, and the Government of the NWT (GNWT) has found innovative ways to fill these gaps and reach victims, ways a single map cannot always capture.
The Northwest Territories: A Case Study for GIS-Based Mapping
The map accompanying this article shows the results of a simple GIS-based mapping of the violent crime incidents reported to police in 2011 and the locations of victim services and transition homes in the NWT. Violent crimes are displayed by offence type using graduated symbols?the larger the symbol, the greater the number of incidents. A cursory analysis of the map reveals gaps in services for victims of crime in a number of communities. Violent crimes have been reported in communities across the territory, including in communities where no permanent victim services exist. For example, there are no victim services located in Norman Wells, Tulita, Deline, nor in Fort Liard or Lutsel K’e. The community of Tuktoyaktuk has a transition home (women’s shelter) and an outreach worker, but no permanent, on-site victim services. Providing comprehensive and seamless coverage of services for victims in any jurisdiction is difficult, and it is even more complicated in isolated and remote areas of the country such as the NWT.
Figure 1: Locations of Services for Victims of Crime and Selected Violent Incidents in the NWT, 2011
Figure 1 - Text equivalent
This is a map of the Northwest Territories which illustrates the locations of victim services, victim service outreach services, transition homes (women's shelters) as well as the numbers (represented by ranges of values) of incidents of selected violent crimes that occurred in each town/community in 2011. The types of violent crimes represented on the map include homicide; sexual violations against children; sexual assaults (which include sexual assault levels 1, 2, and 3); aggravated assault; assault causing bodily harm/with a weapon; and common assault. The numbers of criminal incidents occurring in each town/community are represented by graduated symbols, that is, the larger the symbol, the greater the number of incidents that occurred. Each type of criminal incident is represented by a different colour. The ranges of values for each symbol size and for each type of criminal incident are listed in the legend and are as follow:
- Homicides are represented by a small, black circle. There is only one range of values for homicide and that is 1 to 2 incidents.
- Sexual violations against children are represented by a small, fuchsia circle. There is only one range of values for this type of crime and that is 1 to 2.
- Sexual assaults are represented by three sizes of pink circles: 1 to 5, 6 to 20; and 21 to 42.
- Aggravated assaults are represented by two sizes of dark green circles: 1 to 5, and 6 to 7.
- Assaults causing bodily harm/with a weapon are represented by 4 sizes of light green circles: 1 to 10, 11 to 30, 31 to 50, and 51 to 82.
- Common assaults are represented by five sizes of yellow circles: 1 to 5, 6 to 25, 26 to 50, 51 to 125, and 126 to 448.
The following describes the services and the range of criminal incidents that are mapped to each town/community, starting from the northern regions of the territory.
- Tuktoyaktuk has a victim service outreach worker and a transition home. There were 126 to 448 common assaults; there were 11 to 30 assaults causing€ bodily harm/with a weapon; there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults; and 1 to 5 sexual assaults.
- Aklavik has one victim service outreach worker. There were 51 to 125 common assaults; there were 1 to 10 assaults causing bodily harm/with a weapon; there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults; there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults; and there were 1 to 2 sexual violations against children.
- Inuvik has a victim service and a transition home. There were 126 to 448 common assaults; there were 31 to 50 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 6 to 20 sexual assaults; there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults; and 1 to 2 sexual violations against children.
- Fort McPherson has a victim service outreach worker. There were 51 o 125 common assaults; there were 11 to 30 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults; and 1 to 2 sexual violations against children.
- Tsiigehtchic has a victim service outreach worker.
- Paulatuk has a victim service outreach worker. There were 51 to 125 common assaults; there were 1 to 10 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults; there were 1 to 2 sexual violations against children.
- Sachs Harbour has a victim service outreach worker. There were 1 to 5 common assaults; and there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults.
- Ulukhaktok has a victim service outreach worker. There were 51 to 125 common assaults; there were 1 to 10 assaults causing bodily harm; and there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults.
- Colville Lake is mapped.
- Fort Good Hope has a victim service. There were 51 t0 125 common assaults; thee were 1 to 10 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults; and there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults.
- In Norman Wells , there were 1 to 10 assaults causing bodily harm; and there were 6 to 25 common assaults.
- In Tulita, there were 51 to 125 common assaults; there were 1 to 10 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults; and there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults.
- In Deline, there were 51 to 125 common assaults; there were 1 to 10 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults; and there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults.
- In Wrigley, there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults.
- In Fort Simpson, there is a victim service. There were 51 to 125 common assaults; there were 11 to 30 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults; there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults; and there were 1 to 2 sexual violations against children.
- Jean Marie River is mapped.
- Nahanni Butte is mapped.
- In Fort Liard, there were 51 to 125 common assaults; there were 31 to 50 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults; there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults.
- Trout Lake is mapped.
- Fort Providence has a victim service outreach worker. There were 51 to 125 common assaults; there were 11 to 30 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults.
- Kakisa is mapped.
- Hay River has a transition home. There were 126 to 448 common assaults; there were 31 to 50 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults; there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults; there were 1 to 2 sexual violations against children.
- Enterprise s mapped.
- Hay River Reserve has a victim service.
- Fort Smith has a victim service and a transition home. There were 51 to 12 common assaults; there were 11 to 30 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults; there were 6 to 20 sexual assaults.
- Fort Resolution has a victim service outreach worker. There were 26 to 50 common assaults; there were 1 to 10 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults; there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults; and there were 1 to 2 sexual violations against children.
- In Lutsel K'e, there were 51 to 125 common assaults; there were 1 to 10 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 sexual assaults; and there were 1 to 2 sexual violations against children.
- Reliance is mapped.
- Detah is mapped.
- In Yellowknife, there is a victim service and there is a transition home. There were 126 to 448 common assaults; there were 51 to 82 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 6 to 7 aggravated assaults; there were 1 to 2 sexual violations against children; and there were 1 to 2 homicides.
- There is a victim service in Behchoko (Rae-Edzo). There were 126 to 448 common assaults; there were 51 to 82 assaults causing bodily harm; there were 1 to 5 aggravated assaults; there were 6 to 20 sexual assaults; and there were 1 to 2 sexual violations against children.
- Wekweeti is mapped.
- In Wha Ti, there were 6 to 25 common assaults; there were 11 to 30 assaults causing bodily harm; and there were 6 to 20 sexual assaults.
- In Gameti, there were 1 to 5 common assaults; and there were 1 to 10 assaults causing bodily harm.
The legend presents a dotted line which portrays that there are towns that fall within the same police detachment boundaries. A footnote explains the following: The Uniform Crime Reporting Survey 2 captures criminal incidents at the police detachment level. Where detachments serve more than one town or community, incidents occurring in one town may be misrepresented on this map as having occurred in another town within the detachment's service area. Certain towns on the map fall under the same police detachment. These groupings are as follow: Tsiigehtchic is within the Fort McPherson detachment; Colville Lake is within the Fort Good Hope detachment; Nahanni Butte and Trout Lake are within the Fort Liard detachment; Jean Marie River is within the Fort Simpson detachment; Kakisa is within the Fort Providence detachment; Enterprise and Hay River Reserve are within the Hay River detachment; Reliance is within the Lutsel K'e detachment; Detah is within the Yellowknife detachment; and Wekweeti is within the Behchoko (Rae-Edzo) detachment.
The map also presents paved highways, gravel highways, and winter roads throughout the NWT. Tuktoyuktuk is connected to Aklavik and Inuvik by winter road; Inuvik is connected to Tsiigehtchic by gravel highway and Tsiigehtic is connected to Fort McPherson by gravel highway. Winter roads connect the following towns: Colville Lake to Fort Good Hope to Norman Wells to Tulita to Deline to Wrigley. By gravel highway, Wrigley is connected to Fort Simpson, is connected to Nahanni Butte, and Fort Liard, then to Jean Marie River and to Kakisa. Trout Lake is connected to the previously mentioned gravel highway by a winter road. From Kakisa, the following towns are connected by paved road: Hay River, Enterprise, Hay River Reserve, and Fort Resolution. Fort Smith is connected t the previously mentioned paved highway by and intermittent paved and gravel highway. From Kakisa, Yellowknife and Detah are connected by paved highway. Gameti, Wha Ti, and Behchoko (Rae-Edzo) are connected are connected to Yellowknife by winter roads.
SOURCES: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Uniform Crime Reporting Survey 2, 2011; Government of the Northwest Territories, Department of Transportation, Northwest Territories Highway System (accessed September 24, 2012, from http://www.dot.gov.nt.ca/_live/pages/wpPages/travelinfo_brochures.aspx).
Challenges to Service Delivery in the NWT
The NWT is a unique region of Canada. The territory is spread across more than a million square kilometres, with a climate that varies considerably from the northern polar climate to the southern subarctic climate. These conditions make building transportation and other infrastructure a real challenge. The NWT’s population of roughly 43,000 is spread across 33 communities. While roughly half the population lives in Yellowknife, the capital, the rest reside in mainly rural and often isolated communities, most of which have less than 1,000 residents (GNWT Bureau of Statistics 2012a). Fourteen communities are on a road system while the remaining nineteen can be accessed solely by ice roads in the winter or are fly-in communities. Only 19 percent of all residents have year-round road access. As of 2008, sixty-five percent, including those in the territory’s capital city, did not have any road access for one or two months of the year during the seasonal transition between ferry service and ice-crossing construction (Government of Yukon 2008). The distances and lack of transportation routes can make accessing help and safety difficult for victims, particularly in areas where no victim services or safe houses exist. While not all jurisdictions across Canada have seamless service coverage for victims, the NWT faces the additional challenge of making services accessible to sparsely populated and often isolated communities with limited transportation routes.
A further challenge is that crime rates in the Canadian territories have historically been higher than in the provinces. The map "Locations of Services for Victims of Crime and Selected Violent Incidents in the NWT, 2011" illustrates the number of violent incidents reported to police in each community,Footnote 3 and while in some communities the incident count may seem relatively low, it is important to remember that the population of most communities is less than 1,000, which makes crime and victimization in the NWT a more intimate reality. In fact, two-thirds of victims of violent crime in northern Canada know their perpetrator (Perreault et al. 2012), and when population is accounted for, the NWT had one of the highest crime rates in Canada in 2011 (Brennan 2012). The 2009 General Social Survey on victimization (GSS), which asked respondents to report their own victimization experiences, also found the victimization rate in the NWT to be among the highest in Canada. It is important to note that while our map uses the incident counts reported by police services via the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, the 2009 GSS reported that only 70% of violent victimizations in the territories were actually brought to police attention (Perreault et al. 2012). Therefore, the true extent of crime and victimization in the NWT is likely not fully captured on our map.
In addition, the NWT faces social and economic challenges, many of which are associated with higher rates of crime and victimization. Almost one-third of the population is under the age of 15 (GNWT Bureau of Statistics 2012a), and research has shown that victimization rates are higher among youth and young adults than among older age groups (Perreault et al. 2012; Perreault et al. 2010; de Léséleuc et al. 2006). The NWT is one of two jurisdictions in Canada where Aboriginal people constitute the majority of the population (GNWT Bureau of Statistics 2012a). Research has found that being an Aboriginal person is associated with a higher likelihood of being the victim of a crime (Perreault et al. 2012; Perreault et al. 2010; de Léséleuc et al. 2006). Education levels are lower overall than in the provinces (GNWT Bureau of Statistics 2011), while income levels and employment rates show large gaps between communities and between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations, with rates among the Aboriginal population well below the Canadian averages (GNWT Bureau of Statistics 2011; 2012b). It is estimated that almost one out of every five dwellings in the NWT is in core housing need,Footnote 4 with rates substantially higher in the smaller communities (GNWT Bureau of Statistics 2011). It is a continuous challenge for service providers to help clients who have not only experienced primary trauma through victimization but are also dealing with housing issues, poverty, and a lack of education and employment options. In cases of family and intimate partner violence, these barriers can often contribute to victims going back to the abuser (Levan 2003).
Furthermore, the GNWT recognizes eleven different official languages. Of these, nine are Aboriginal and are most frequently spoken in smaller communities throughout the NWT. To facilitate the provision of services in the language of choice of clients, the GNWT has for many years used the services of CanTalk, a twenty-four-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week interpretation service that offers fast access to over-the-phone interpretation and translation.Footnote 5
Even when services are available, there are occasions when societal attitudes and norms can preclude victims from seeking help. In some communities, victims may experience shunning, blaming, and shaming, and if the incident is reported to police, victims may also experience a great deal of secondary victimization by the offender’s family and other members of the community who are pressuring them to drop the charges (Centre for Northern Families 2012; Levan 2003). In a 2003 study that examined victim services in the three territories and conducted interviews with victim service workers to ascertain attitudes and perceptions, some respondents indicated that the support and assistance given to victims is dependent on their place within the community power hierarchy. In other words, victims belonging to the least powerful families are more likely to be blamed, shunned, and intimidated than victims belonging to the more powerful families. In addition, respondents noted that shelters and other victim-focused programs are often accused of
"breaking up families" (Levan 2003, 88). However, at the time of the study’s report, it was noted than in many of the larger communities, these attitudes were beginning to shift towards more support for victims of crime in many communities.
In addition to a lack of full-time and accessible services for victims in the NWT, particularly for male victims, there is a shortage of counsellors and adequate treatment programs for trauma and addictions (Levan 2003). The lack of specialized services, in turn, increases demand for victim services, putting increased pressure on a system where there already exists a shortage of workers. Victim service providers, particularly in the smaller communities, often know both the client and the offender (Centre for Northern Families 2012). Victim service providers have noted anecdotally that seeing family and friends being hurt can contribute to compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma.
Services in the NWT
While the accompanying map shows that not all communities in the NWT have permanent victim services, the GNWT has always used innovative ways to overcome the inherent challenges in serving its isolated communities and continues to invest in the services it provides in order to advance high quality services.
Currently, the NWT Department of Justice funds seven regional, community-based victim services programs throughout the NWT. As seen on the map, these are located in Yellowknife, Fort Good Hope, Inuvik, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Tlicho (Behchoko/Rae), and Hay River Reserve. While program coordinators provide direct services to clients, they are also extremely visible in their communities. They provide information to community members, raise public awareness around victim issues, and liaise with other community service providers. There are also two outreach programs operating out of Inuvik and Hay River Reserve. The Inuvik outreach worker serves the communities of Tuktoyaktuk, Sachs Harbor, Aklavik, Ulukhaktok, Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchic, and Paulatuk, while the Hay River Reserve outreach worker serves Fort Resolution and Fort Providence.
There are also five transition homes (women’s shelters), funded by the NWT Department of Health and Social Services, for women and their children in the NWT (based in Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Hay River, Fort Smith, and Yellowknife). The Centre for Northern Families in Yellowknife houses some homeless women, and plans are currently underway to build a permanent shelter for homeless women in Yellowknife.
The Crown Witness Coordinator (CWC) program is another example of how the GNWT is effectively using resources to reach and serve victims of crime in areas where making victim services available is a challenge. There are five CWCs in the NWT who travel with the circuit court to 21 communities in the NWT. CWCs locate, support, and prepare crime victims and witnesses for their role in the prosecution of crimes. CWCs act as liaisons between the Crown prosecutor and victims/witnesses, keeping both parties apprised of developments and situations which impact the case. CWCs encourage the use of victim impact statements, assist in the arrangement of testimonial aids, attend court with victims/witnesses and follow up with them as necessary. CWCs also support and accompany victims and witnesses during their court process and, when appropriate, refer them to available, supportive community services. However, because there are only victim services programs in seven communities in the NWT, a CWC is often the victim’s sole support. After a court case, coordinators continue to share information with victims and witnesses regarding the status of their case.Footnote 6
Community Justice Committees (CJC) can also support victims of crime through their community-based interventions and responses to crime. While CJCs do not have a mandate to provide support services to victims of crime, many do provide support. The approaches vary across committees regarding the level of victim involvement and support provided.
In addition, informal supports such as family and elders exist, but like CJCs, these vary and are not always easy to identify. While these examples of victim supports could be mapped, mapping them is often a challenge given their sporadic, informal, or itinerant nature. They nevertheless play a very important role in providing support to victims.
In addition to reaching victims in innovative ways to reduce gaps in service, the NWT is also investing in making the resources it does have as effective as possible. Since the enactment of the NWT Victims of Crime Act in 1989, there have been significant improvements in the services available for victims of crime in the NWT. Most recently, the GNWT has adopted the use of the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA) tool to help service providers better assess the level of risk clients are facing and develop more effective safety plans with clients. The RCMP has developed policies and procedures stating that all domestic violence cases that come to the attention of police will require an ODARA score to be completed. Shelter workers and victim services workers also continue to receive training on how to use the risk assessment tool in conjunction with safety planning. The NWT has also adopted a response-based practice when working with victims of violence: victim service providers support and acknowledge the efforts that victims make to resist violence, and these efforts are validated and incorporated into service delivery.
Response-based practice has also been incorporated into a pilot program for men who use violence in their intimate and family relationships. The goals of the program are to reduce violent behaviours and re-offending rates among violent men. This program is part of a larger system of accountability and safety that provides violent men with an alternative way of behaving with their partners, their children, and their communities.
In 2009, the NWT, with the Department of Justice Canada, hosted the first national victims of crime conference for northern service providers. The conference was an opportunity for frontline workers to network with each other and share creative solutions. Participants gained new information in many areas including compassion fatigue, working with child/youth victims and testimonial aids, volunteer safety, restorative justice, and spousal violence. The conference was also beneficial in gathering information on victim services programs in other jurisdictions. One of the most important lessons learned from the conference was that victim services have come a long way in Canada and they continue to improve.
A topic that interested many participants at the 2009 conference was compassion fatigue/vicarious trauma and self-care. Since 2009, the GNWT Department of Justice has been investing in the well-being of its frontline workers by addressing one of the most significant pitfalls of frontline service work. To date, there is one on-site trainer who provides full-day workshops on compassion fatigue/vicarious trauma and self-care. Two additional employees will be trained so that more workshops can be provided. Workshops have so far been provided to shelter workers, victim services workers, nurses, college students, and corrections officers.
Moving forward, the GNWT will continue to work with victim services workers and others to ensure that they are receiving the training that keeps them up-to-date on best practices. Due to the high turnover rate amongst frontline workers, the RCMP, and the Crown’s office, there is a need to continually ensure that new workers are aware of available programming and existing policies and procedures, are proficient in response-based practices, and are trained to recognize and prevent compassion fatigue/vicarious trauma.
GIS-based mapping has many advantages that can complement the ways in which patterns and relationships are analyzed and understood. The map of the NWT produced for this case study is fairly straightforward. It shows that victim services are available in many communities and reveals that there are gaps in formal service provision in some communities. What this particular map cannot illustrate, however, are the informal and traditional supports used by victims (i.e., elders, family members, and community members) and the policies that build and strengthen the capacity of those who do this very important work. Mapping is, nevertheless, an excellent starting point for determining where program development may be needed. The potential of GIS-based mapping is virtually unlimited. Other industries have adopted GIS-based mapping wholeheartedly, and it is certainly used by sectors of the criminal justice system, such as police services.Footnote 7 The application of a victim’s lens to GIS-based mapping may serve to increase awareness of the usefulness of mapping in analyzing and communicating results, in perhaps any discipline, in ways that are easily interpreted and understood.
- Brennan, Shannon. 2012. Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2011. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
- Centre for Northern Families. 2012. NWT child advocacy centre feasibility study. Yellowknife: Government of the Northwest Territories.
- Coy, Maddy, Liz Kelly, and Jo Foord. 2008. Map of gaps 2: The postcode lottery of violence against women support services. London: End Violence Against Women.
- Dawson, Myrna. 2010. Documenting the growth of resources for victims/survivors of violence. Victims of Crime Research Digest 3:4-8.
- de Léséleuc, Sylvain, and Jodi-Anne Brzozowski. 2006. Victimization and offending in Canada’s territories 2004 and 2005. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
- ESRI. 2012. Overview: Top five benefits of GIS. California. Accessed September 17, 2012, from http://www.esri.com/what-is-gis/overview.html#top_five_panel.
- Levan, Mary Beth. 2003. Creating a framework for the wisdom of the community: Review of victim services in Nunavut, Northwest and Yukon Territories. Ottawa: Research and Statistics Division and Policy Centre for Victims Issues, Department of Justice Canada.
- Government of Yukon. 2008. Northern connections: A multi-modal blueprint for the North. Yukon: Government of Yukon.
- GNWT Bureau of Statistics. 2011. Socioeconomic scan. Accessed July 27, 2012, from http://www.statsnwt.ca/publications/socio-economic_scan/.
- GNWT Bureau of Statistics. 2012a. Community data. Accessed July 27, 2012, from http://www.statsnwt.ca/.
- GNWT Bureau of Statistics. 2012b. Labour force statistics. Accessed September 17, 2012, from http://www.statsnwt.ca/labour-income/labour-force-activity/.
- Perreault, Samuel, and Shannon Brennan. 2010. Criminal victimization in Canada, 2009. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
- Perreault, Samuel, and Tina Hotton Mahony. 2012. Criminal victimization in the Territories, 2009. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
- Stoe, Debra A, Carol R. Watkins, Jeffrey Kerr, Linda Rost, and Theodosia Craig. 2003. Using Geographic Information Systems to map crime victim services. Washington: U.S. Department of Justice.
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