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This article was published 16/4/2018 (550 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba has become the third province in Canada to start tracking third-party reports of sexual assault incidents, offering an alternative that can empower survivors who are too afraid or don't want to go to police.
Winnipeg police, Manitoba RCMP and representatives from the provincial government helped make the policy announcement Monday, alongside partners from community agencies who will help administer the third-party reports.
Manitoba joins Yukon and British Columbia in adopting the policy.
Manitoba Status of Women Minister Rochelle Squires praised the move, saying she wished she'd had a similar option to turn to for help when she was sexually assaulted at age 13.
"As a survivor of sexual violence, I think that third-party reporting certainly does give choices for people who have been stripped of choice in a very profound way. And so it also allows survivors to access supports in, perhaps, a gentler way than walking into a police station," she said.
In Winnipeg, Sage House at Mount Carmel Clinic and Heart Medicine Lodge at Ka Ni Kanichihk will help collect reports from sexual assault survivors wanting to share their stories. Those reports can then be relayed anonymously to police, so long as the person reporting is over the age of 16. (If they are 15 years old or younger, agencies must report the allegations to Child and Family Services.)
Klinic Community Health Centre on Portage Avenue will also field in-person reports and phone calls from urban and rural areas. Klinic already has a hotline for people wanting to talk about sexual assaults (1-888-292-7565) and the centre expects to get more calls now that third-party reporting is available, said counsellor Megan Mann.
"Knowing that we’re having a press release and there’s going to be a lot of coverage on it. I think at the beginning at least we’ll get an uptake of historical reports, as well as more recent ones," Mann said.
Klinic fields about 4,000 sexual assault-related calls per year, or roughly 200 per month. Executive director Nicole Chammartin said those numbers have gone up recently.
"We have been asked regularly over the last year if we have seen an increase with #MeToo and #TimesUp and all of these campaigns. We definitely have been seeing an increase since about mid-last fall," Chammartin said.
More resources may be needed to support callers beyond the three full-time staff Klinic already employs and the 40 to 60 trained volunteers it has working the phones, Mann said.
Squires said the province will be closely monitoring the agencies' intake and volume of calls to see if they need more resources or money down the line.
While police won't be making any arrests based off anonymous third-party reports, having extra data handy could help them identify trends and serial predators, noted members of the Winnipeg Police Service sex crimes unit. It's believed less than five per cent of sexual assaults are currently reported to police.
"It’s hard to know the extent of a problem when it’s so under-reported. And so what third-party reporting will also allow us to do is get a sense of what might those numbers actually look like, or what’s a closer estimate to what those numbers look like, given that we know the majority of people aren’t making formal reports," Chammartin said.
Sgts. Krista Dudek and Cam MacKid, members of the sex crimes unit, pointed out that if an offender is mentioned repeatedly in third-party reports, police can go back to the community agencies, ask them to liaise with the sexual assault survivors and see if they'd be open to talking to officers.
Knowing multiple people have reported similar behaviour sometimes emboldens survivors to find strength in numbers, MacKid said.
"I think there is that myth out there that if you speak with police, you’re automatically in an investigation," said Dudek. "Well, an investigation has started. You can speak with us and say, ‘You know what? I’m not comfortable going forward right now. I want to wait.’ And we’re OK with that… we absolutely understand that not all victims are there yet, but we do encourage them to make a statement."
Leslie Spillett, executive director of Ka Ni Kanichihk, acknowledged many Indigenous people and people of colour don't trust police enough to report sexual assault allegations to officers first. She suspects the vast majority of unreported sexual assaults stem from Indigenous communities.
Considering the backdrop of the ongoing national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Spillett said third-party reporting is "a little bit overdue, but it’s very timely in lots of ways."
"Indigenous women experience rates of violence at five to one, compared to other groups and so this resource, this opportunity or this access to being able to tell your story to someone... it’s often the beginning of a journey, it’s often the first step," Spillett said.
Community advocates, such as those at Ka Ni Kanichihk, can also offer "culturally safe" atmospheres where survivors can come forward, Spillett said, providing access to traditional medicines, elders and counselling services.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Monday, April 16, 2018 at 5:50 PM CDT: Fixes misspelled names
11:13 PM: Adds other provinces.