Losing a child is devastating for any parent.
It was a conscious choice that retired Constable Patricia Hung made in becoming an advocate for victims of crime instead of drowning in isolation or sorrow.
In 2008, her then-14-year-old daughter, Stefanie Rengel, was stabbed to death in a brutal crime that shocked the city.
Since that horrific tragedy, Hung has embarked on a mission to uplift others who grieve by reconnecting them with joy and inspiring them to reach their full potential emotionally, spiritually and financially.
Hung, who retired last February after 25 years’ service, was the recipient of the Leading the Path Award that recognizes individuals and organizations who demonstrate outstanding service in supporting victims and witnesses of crime.
It was presented at police headquarters on May 30.
She was instrumental in the Toronto Police Service creating a central information site aimed at providing links to resources for victims and witnesses of crime.
“Even as police officers, we didn’t have the tools to deal with such a catastrophic personal tragedy,” said Hung, who has been married to Police Dog Services Staff Sergeant James Hung for the last 13 years. “But there were those that came before us who found the courage to share their stories, the journey of healing and how they created and are creating positive change for victims of crime.
“As survivors of violence, telling our stories to promote post-traumatic growth paves the way for victims to heal and move forward. Organizations such as Toronto Police and Victim Services all strive to make changes to better serve victims of crime. It is so important for the victims and survivors to move beyond their victimization. Speaking and telling their stories is cathartic for them and inspiring for others. While all victims of crime define their experiences differently, their victimization should not define them. This award will serve to remind me that I have done a little to fulfil a promise I made to Stephanie in my darkest days that, if I ever made it back into the light, I will dedicate my life to helping others to ensure that her tragic death is not in vain.”
Chief Mark Saunders made the presentation to Hung in the presence of Deputy Chiefs Mike Federico and James Ramer and other senior command members.
“This is not only going to an individual, but a very good friend,” he said. “…I have met very few individuals who have such a powerful voice. If you have had the opportunity of hearing Patricia speak, the room becomes hauntingly quiet and the message becomes loud and clear. Having worked in Homicide, I have met many people. Those who survive have different approaches. Some become advocates and educators and some slip through the system and disappear. But I can tell you that those who become advocates become the loudest and the strongest and they move hearts and minds. That’s Patricia, in a nutshell.”
Victim Services Toronto (VST) executive director Bonnie Levine said there is no advocate more deserving of the award than Hung.
“She is someone who has dedicated her personal and professional life, along with her soul, to help victims of crime individually and systematically,” she said. “…She uses her voice to balance the scale for victims. Her work includes addressing some of the gross inequities of a justice system which has focused almost exclusively on offenders, from protecting their rights to the comprehensive, rehabilitative and integrated services they receive on an ongoing basis.
“Patricia is a strong advocate for equal protection, equal rights and equal service for victims. A large part of her work also focusses on teaching people how to demonstrate compassion and care and kindness for those who are suffering unimaginable losses… She teaches us how to be there for one another, how to support people through trauma and the simple things that we can do to show those who are suffering that we care.”
A certified grief coach, author and motivational speaker, Hung began her own company Coaching Joy, a grief-coaching organization that specializes in coaching to help improve poor employee performance that’s attributed to grief and suffering.
The Leading the Path Award is presented annually during Victims and Survivors of Crime Week, celebrated from May 30 to June 4 this year.
“Most people here today are people whose lives have been touched by crime and tragedy,” said Levine. “They are police officers, first-responders, victims and survivors of crime, family members, friends, neighbours and staff and volunteers of Victim Services. All of our voices are important because they help shape and influence the many social systems, the institutions, policies and laws and even financial investments and how we relate to one another as a society.”
VST, which provides 24/7 crisis, response, trauma and support services to victims of crime and sudden tragic circumstances, won the organizational award.
Supervised by crisis counsellors, volunteers provide crisis intervention and referrals, assist on the telephone or attend the scene as requested and also assist with fundraising and other community-outreach initiatives.
Toronto Police Services Board member Ken Jeffers said Victims and Survivors of Crime Week provides an important opportunity to highlight the various services, assistance and laws in place to help victims, survivors and their families.
“It is critical that victims and survivors are aware of these services and supports and know how best to access them in their times of need,” he said. “As we all know, providing policing services to a community is about much more than simple law enforcement. It is about providing an empathetic and caring response and it is about community members supporting one another, especially in times of crisis or grief.”
The theme of this year’s celebration is “The Power of Our Voices.”
“This is an extremely fitting and powerful theme as the voices of victims and survivors of crime in our communities are an integral part of our conversations about crime, violence, support and healing,” Jeffers added. “We must listen to those affected by crime in our communities. We must hear what they are telling us they need and we must make changes where we fall short.”
Heather Sanders spoke about the Victim/Witness Assistance Program that was launched in 1987.
“We have come a long way,” she said. “Back then when the program started, there were few supports for victims of crime and victims’ needs were not top of mind.”