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Newmarket women lauded by province for aiding victims of crime

Ellen Campbell of Abuse Hurts, Gillian Freeman of Victim Services of York Region are recipients of this year's Attorney General’s Victim Services Awards of Distinction

Ellen Campbell of Abuse Hurts and and Gillian Freeman of Victim Service in Newmarket are among the individuals being recognized by the province this year for supporting victims of crime, while creating awareness about the issues they face.

The annual Attorney General’s Victim Services Awards of Distinction recognize the dedication and achievements of individuals and organizations in the sector. This year, 14 individuals and eight organizations were recognized.

Campbell is the founder of Abuse Hurts, which works to reduce abuse through public education and provides support to adult survivors, their families, and caregivers. She said the award recognizes the work of all her staff, not just herself.

“We can’t usually fix the problem, but we can be a voice for them and help them with referrals and resources,” said Campbell. “We also speak up to governments. We advocate for victims.”

Campbell has received numerous awards for her accomplishments, including the Order of Ontario. She translated her recovery from childhood sexual abuse into hope for others.

“I started this agency 31 years ago this month thinking about how to help one person,” said Campbell. “We’ve grown to an agency that serves thousands of people each year and thousands of victims. I think over the years, we have become a voice for victims of abuse.” 

Abuse Hurts has worked with victims of crime, from children to seniors. Staff are currently working with victims experiencing intimate partner violence.

“We’re trying to speak on behalf of that community,” said Campbell. “We did three conferences on intimate partner violence, and now we’re trying to work on putting some referrals, resources, and support in place for those victims.”

Freeman, executive director of Victim Services of York Region, said she feels honoured and humbled to be included on the list of award recipients who support crime victims.

“People need an immediate response,” said Freeman of the services provided by Victim Services,  a non-profit, charitable agency that partners with York Regional Police and Ontario Provincial Police to provide 24-hour emotional support and practical assistance to people affected by crime or tragic circumstances.

“People need an opportunity to stabilize and look toward ... the changes need to occur for them and their families. The work is invaluable.”

The agency's clients are provided with a safe, secure, supportive, and non-judgmental environment to express themselves.

“We tell people, be sad, it’s OK, be sad,” said Freeman. “Show it to us. Be angry, show it to us. We’re not going to judge. We’re going to be here with you for whatever that journey looks like for you.”

Freeman is a registered social worker with experience in family dynamics, trauma and grief. She has spent more than 25 years assisting children, teens, adults, couples and families in York Region.

She created programs for youth, as well as homicide and suicide bereavement groups at the organization. She said it came about after staff could only find groups for the loss of a parent or a sibling but none for suicide.

“Suicide has its own unique, traumatic grief attached to it,” said Freeman. “For example, some people don’t like to tell others the nature of how their loved one died. Which is like telling people don’t cry and hold it in. Some people judge the nature of death.” 

She has also worked for the victim/witness assistance programs in Durham, Wellington and Brantford.

Maureen Leshem from Vaughan was also recognized with the award. She is a lifelong volunteer and champion of victims’ rights. Her organization, the 482 Collective, supports survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. She created the SAGE program to help clients navigate the challenges of life after violence. 

Leshem has received the Victim Services of York Region’s Recruit of the Year award, the City of Vaughan Volunteer Recognition Award, and the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce Business Achievement Award of Excellence.