New alumnus a passionate advocate for witnesses and victims
By Emma Keeler-Dugas
Soraya Janus understands what vulnerable victims and witnesses face in the Canadian criminal justice system.
Her new master’s degree in criminology was influenced by her own history as both an advocate and a vulnerable witness.
When Janus was 11 years old, she witnessed a horrific sexual assault in the city of Delta and was abruptly introduced to the criminal justice system. As a witness, she had to re-live the traumatic experience many times during the justice process.
“I was a vulnerable witness who at times felt unheard and extremely overwhelmed,” says Janus. “This introduction to the criminal justice system ignited my passion and enthusiasm for law.”
This passion became more victim-centered after she began her undergraduate studies in criminology at SFU and became a volunteer with Delta Police Victim Services. Between her studies and a full-time job, she still found time to log more than 1,300 volunteer hours with Victim Services over the past five years.
“I spend time listening, offering emotional support, and providing court support through orientation and accompanying victims who require additional aids,” says Janus. “Though this opportunity has been enriching, it highlights a demographic of people who appear to be forgotten.”
Her graduate research examined the available support for vulnerable witnesses in the Canadian criminal justice system—and found it lacking.
“There is still a lot that can be done to support vulnerable witnesses, including better definitions of who is a vulnerable witness, and how to support them,” says Janus. “The system forgets witnesses play a huge role in the criminal justice system. If we don’t have a successful witness we don’t have a successful case. It’s my hope that I can be an advocate for those who feel as though they have been silenced.”
Janus started a PhD in criminology this fall at SFU after her supervisors, professors Gail Anderson and Sheri Fabian—her “dream team,” encouraged her to continue her research.
For her PhD thesis, Janus will focus on traumatic brain injuries in youth.
“Traumatic brain injuries may have profound effects on youths’ ability to express themselves, communicate and understand court proceedings,” says Janus, who thinks this impact should be addressed more seriously.
“In everything I have ever done, I always try to be passionate about it,” says Janus. “We need to learn to support who we are and promote who we want to be.”
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