Halton Regional Police Service Tackles Sexual AssaultsVictim Services Unit – First Point of Contact By: Kimberley A. Clark, Administrator, Victim Services Unit, Halton Regional Police ServiceFor many Canadians, sexual violence casts a dark shadow over their lives. Studies show that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. In Halton Region, where more than 600,000 Ontarians make their homes, such figures translate into a significant number of individuals that have the potential to be impacted in terms of safety and well-being and, subsequently, reach out for assistance.A region-wide survey of sexual assault survivors in 2017 identified a need for greater information, transparency, and support. In response, the Victim Services Unit (VSU) of the Halton Regional Police Service sought to create a more sustainable platform to better meet the complex needs of survivors. The new platform included three components:1. The creation of a Sexual Assault Information Guide
2. The establishment of Victim Services as the first point of contact
3. Close of investigation letters
Sexual Assault Information Guide To support survivors through greater access to information and awareness about the investigative and criminal justice process, the Victim Services Unit implemented a Sexual Assault Information Guide. This was an educational collaborative between members of our Sexual Assault Advisory Committee. It contains information about reporting options available to the survivor, dispels myths about sexual assault, defines sexual assault and issues around consent, clarifies the interview, investigative, and criminal justice process, highlights financial assistance options, community resources and coping mechanisms, and creates opportunities for further follow-up.This guide has been adopted by all front-line service providers in Halton as a region-wide standard. No matter where a survivor enters the process, they will receive the same accurate information.Victim Services Unit – First Point of Contact Status quo for reporting sexual violence to law enforcement has always placed the police as the first point of contact. Accurate and current information about the investigative process, awareness of trauma, and community referrals to victim support becomes incumbent upon the officer to provide. Given the demands of the investigative process, important and timely information sharing with the victim may not occur until a later date. This model has always been fraught with challenges. One of the most significant challenges has been that it places unrealistic expectations on the police officer while failing to prioritize the needs of victims to have early and on-going opportunities for information and resources.To advance support for survivors, the VSU recommended a reverse engineered model that placed Victim Services as the first point of contact, with the goal of introducing and reviewing the Sexual Assault Information Guide with victims. In addition, the survivor is also given the option to access a fully trained facility dog given their propensity to help lower blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety. Once the Guide has been reviewed, the survivor chooses the next step:• Report the sexual assault
• Have the Sexual Assault Evidence Kit completed at the hospital, with the option to request police involvement or have the kit held for up to one year
• Seek up to four hours of free legal advice
• Refrain from taking any action
The above model empowers victims/survivors to make a well-informed choice about what is best for them, based on accurate and realistic information about the investigative and criminal justice process.Close of Investigation Letters To further advance support through transparency, every survivor is contacted during their investigation to ask whether they wish to receive a letter outlining the specifics of their investigation. This includes the status of the investigation and how it was coded. The survivor is also reminded that there is no statute of limitations on sexual assault should they wish to move forward at a later date. Finally, the letter acknowledges the impact of sexual violence and identifies supportive community resources that offer assistance.Outcome Measures This new model began as a pilot in 2018, but after exceeding expectations, it is now part of Halton Regional Police Service’s Policies & Procedures.
This standardized service delivery model now ensures that all sexual violence survivors that access police or a community agency in Halton Region receive the same accurate and up-to-date information about sexual violence as well as the investigative process, criminal justice process, and resources available for support.
Survivor feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with victims saying they felt in control, connected to community, and better prepared for the next stage of their journey. Meanwhile, police officers, while initially skeptical of this radical departure from traditional reporting, quickly recognized the benefits of this model through reduced workload and a shared responsibility to advance support for victims.Not only did this program advance victim/survivor issues within Halton Region, but also across Ontario. After launching this innovative program, it was shared with Hamilton Victim Services who, together with the Hamilton Police Service, implemented the program. Furthermore, other Police/Victim Services in Ottawa, London, and Guelph have also implemented this program. In addition, this program also received provincial endorsement as a “best practice” by the Ontario Police College as well as the Office for Victims of Crime, who felt this model is a more sustainable platform to meet the complex needs of victims.Kimberley A. Clark is the Administrator for Halton Regional Police Service’s Victim Services Unit. She can be reached at Kimberley.clark@haltonpolice.ca.
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