Release Date: May 11th, 2020 - 10:04am
Originator: Superintendent, Kevin Maher, Regional Investigative Services, 905-825-4747 x 8750
Contact: Superintendent, Kevin Maher, Regional Investigative Services, 905-825-4747 x 8750
Location: Halton Region
With the support of the Halton Police Board, the Halton Sexual Assault Advisory Committee (SAAC) was formed in 2017 as a result of national attention to the high rate of police clearing sexual assault cases as unfounded.' Comprised of community partners and external experts in the field of survivor support and counselling, the SAAC's collaboration with the HRPS has effected significant change in how the Halton community responds to sexual assault and supports.
In 2019, the HRPS implemented an innovative approach to how Sexual Assault Investigations are handled, where a specially trained Victim Services Unit (VSU) member became first point of contact for sexual assault survivors. This evolution has resulted in a more holistic, survivor-centred approach to these types of investigations. This progression would not have been possible without the dedication and commitment of the SAAC.
This survivor-centred, trauma informed approach to the sexual assault investigative process is a reflection of a shared belief between the HRPS and the SAAC that every survivor has the right to heal from crime and trauma.
In support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in May, the HRPS will be sharing de-identified incidents of sexual assault in the community on its social media channels to raise awareness of the Service's sexual assault investigative process and how it supports sexual assault survivors. No names. No residence details. We will, however, disclose the nature of the incident, the support offered to the survivor, and the outcome of the investigation.
"Survivors of sexual assault deserve to be fully informed of their rights and options, and to receive emotional support and compassion when they come to us for help,"says Deputy Chief Jeff Hill."With the assistance and guidance of the Sexual Assault Advisory Committee, our new sexual assault investigative process has enhanced our ability to provide that support."
"The collaboration of the community agencies and partners with the Halton Regional Police Service has made tangible improvements to how we do our work," says Chondrena Vieira-Martin, Chair of the HRPS SAAC and Executive Director of Thrive Counselling."We believe these changes can allow survivors to increase their confidence in the systems available to support them."
To provide additional background on the work the HRPS and the SAAC have carried out to introduce the new sexual assault investigative process, we have provided the following summary:
In 2017, after national attention was brought to the high rate of police clearing sexual assault cases as 'unfounded,' the Halton Regional Police Service began a comprehensive review of its sexual assault investigative process.
The first step: a survey of sexual assault survivors to seek feedback about their assessment of the investigative experience, whether good/bad or indifferent. The survey was soon followed by a symposium hosted by the Halton Police Board to introduce the HRPS and community partners to the Philadelphia Model, a model whereby community agencies would review 'unfounded' sexual assault cases and look for opportunities for improvement.
In May of 2017, the SAAC was created to lead this initiative, now operating primarily as a sub-committee of the Halton Violence Prevention Committee, which works to end violence in all its forms, alleviate its effects, and to build an inclusive, egalitarian and healthy community.
The SAAC is comprised of front line service providers, police and victim services and collectively offers an array of experiences related to supporting victims of sexual assault through individual counselling, knowledge of trauma informed practises, and supporting the healing journey of victims. Members include:
Halton Women's Place
Radius Child & Youth Services
SAVIS of Halton
Nina's Place (Joseph Brant Hospital)
In 2017, the SAAC began an extensive review of the investigative process utilized by the HRPS and past investigations, provided feedback, and made formal recommendations on how the Service could enhance support of survivors of sexual assaults.
As a result of the reviews, the SAAC provided recommendations in the areas of training, vulnerable populations, first responders, interviews, cautioning suspects and how to better utilize the Service's VSU.
In late 2018, the Service's VSU proposed a pilot project where they would become the first point of contact for survivors of sexual assault. This proposal was endorsed by the SAAC and approved by the Service's command, marking a bold shift from the traditional investigative process.
Guided by a Sexual Assault Information Guide, VSU support workers ensure that survivors are more fully informed of their rights and options, while also provided with emotional support and compassion. Survivors are informed of the sexual assault investigation process, the court process, coping strategies, and provided with information about community resources and supports. It is only after this initial meeting that a survivor chooses whether they want to meet with an officer to begin the investigative process.
To complement this new approach, the SAAC developed and delivers a comprehensive training module to all HRPS officers. This enhanced training is based on knowledge gained through case reviews and survivor feedback, and aims to ensure that survivors are met with continued compassion and support. As a result of this training from the SAAC, HRPS officers are equipped with a better understanding of the impact of trauma on survivors, trauma responses that survivors may experience, and how to best support them during the investigative process. Every HRPS officer receives this training.
Officers also received training from Dr. Lori Haskell on the Neurobiology of Trauma for Officers and Frontline Service Providers to better understand how they could operate in more trauma informed and survivor-centred ways with survivors. Among the many topics covered during this training, officers learned how experiencing a sexual assault affects the brain, how to better notice trauma responses and the responses a person may experience during or after a sexual assault, and how trauma impacts memory and perception.
In 2019, the pilot process whereby Victim Services was the first point of contact was adopted into policy and became part of the sexual assault investigative process. This process enables survivors to better choose their path, have the option to include "Journey" the HRPS Victim Services Facility Dog as part of their interview process and, provides immediate access to limited financial assistance through the Victim Quick Response Program.
Another key tool in the refined sexual assault investigative process is Close of Investigation Letters, which serve to enhance communication with survivors. The letters advise survivors of critical information about their investigation, including occurrence number, the officer in charge of the investigation and community services available for support. As a result, the HRPS and community services are working together to ensure that survivors feel safer and supported in their journey of healing.
Today, the SAAC continues to work collaboratively with the HRPS to review cases, recommend refinements to procedures and analysis, provide training to officers, and ultimately, support the continued improvement of how the HRPS supports sexual assault survivors. Together, we are striving to build the confidence of survivors in the service system, provide survivors with the services they need, and, ultimately, to evolve the culture surrounding sexual assault in the Halton community.
The HRPS recognizes the integral collaboration facilitated by the SAAC and community services to implement positive, effective, and meaningful change. Since evolving the HRPS Sexual assault investigative process, other police services are now working to mirror the process in their own jurisdictions.
Every person has the right to feel safe in our community.
Victims of violence and/or sexual assault and witnesses are encouraged to contact the Halton Regional Police Service. The following is a list of valuable support services and resources in Halton for victims of violence and/or sexual assault:
SAAC Media Contact:
Chondrena Vieira-Martin, M.A., R.S.W.
Executive Director, Thrive Counselling
Chair, Sexual Assault Advisory Committee