The card, which is an optional resource for police services to distribute to Albertans who report sexual violence, includes contact information for agencies and organizations that provide support, the file number and investigator name, and messages such as: “You are not alone” and “You have the right for your needs and wishes to be considered at each stage of the criminal justice process.”
“When someone’s experiencing a very traumatic experience in their life you can’t expect them to be thinking about if I need to follow up who do I contact and that sort of thing, so this will give them that resource,” said Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley.
“It also has a very powerful message on the front just reminding victims of what their rights are in the system, that they do have the right to have their needs and wishes considered. They do have the right to be treated appropriately with dignity and respect, that they should consider accessing medical services. I think that all of this is really important. And reminding victims too that it’s not their fault that they were victims of crime.”
The resource card was recommended by a provincial sexual violence police advisory committee, which was formed in 2015 to find ways to improve support for survivors of sexual assault. Ganley said the committee has also recommended that a provincial standard be developed for police to deal with sexual assault cases.
“We do know that the way survivors of sexual assault interact with the justice system has been problematic historically,” said Ganley.
“There are a fair number of incidents in which survivors have not been treated appropriately in the system and I think there is increasing public awareness of that and I think that as members of the system we should absolutely be doing something to work to address that.”
Haley Scott, education and outreach program director with Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, noted sexual violence remains an under-reported crime.
“I think it’s difficult for people to come forward and report because we live in a society that typically silences and minimizes and normalizes sexual violence to the point where when people come forward they are not met with supportive responses,” Scott said.
She added any efforts made by police to ensure people who’ve experienced sexual violence receive messages of support and information about their rights is a step in the right direction.
“I think as support people, and also as first responders, that our response to a disclosure has the power to support but then also the power to inhibit healing, and so I think that it’s essential for all people who are receiving disclosures of sexual violence, including our police, to convey those messages of support and belief,” Scott said.
She said the resource card will also help to ensure that people who have experienced sexual violence have something they can take away and review after reporting the incident to police.
“When you’re in those situations it can be difficult to remember detailed information that’s provided, so being able to take that away, look at it after the fact and see messages of support and then also see information about resources and your rights can be very helpful,” she said.
Ganley said the province hopes to see a positive effect on sexual violence reporting rates through initiatives like this one.
“Each individual survivor is going to have their own journey and make their own decisions based on what’s best for them and any other number of factors in their lives, so we don’t want to say for sure it will have that impact but we hope that if we are really clear and we take the time to say that if people do come forward to the justice system we are going to treat them with dignity and respect, that that will increase the rate of reporting,” Ganley said.
The advisory committee is expected to bring forward recommendations later this year on provincial guidelines to ensure consistency in the investigation of sexual violence cases in Alberta, in addition to standardized training for investigators.