We’re one year into the Violence Against Women Advocate Case Review (VACR), and what have we learned? What’s next for this project and the work that came from it? And most importantly – what does this project mean for survivors?
Police services across Canada faced country-wide scrutiny after an investigation by the Globe and Mail revealed that 19 per cent of sexual assault complaints in Canada were deemed unfounded by police between 2010 and 2014.The “unfounded” label on cases meant that police investigated and officers determined that an offence did not occur. Saskatchewan in particular has one of the highest provincial rates of sexual and domestic violence in the country.
VACR involves an independent, non-police panel with expert knowledge on sexualized violence (in many cities across Canada, this panel is made up of sexual assault center staff members, as is Saskatoon’s). The panel reviews every sexual assault report that did not proceed to charges each quarter. In the past four quarters (January 2022 – December 2022), the review panel for the Saskatoon Police Service assessed 172 sexual assault files for strengths, weaknesses, and potential concerns. We determined that 42 of the closed files (24 per cent) required a closer look for police management.
Some of the files were reopened, although no charges have been laid as a result.
However, we are grateful to see that some immediate changes were implemented! Superintendent Patrick Nogier shared trauma-informed phrasing and scripts from the SSAIC for the sex crimes unit to utilize when speaking to survivors. SSAIC and SPS also developed a resource card to be given to survivors when they report a sexual assault, with contact information for SSAIC, Saskatoon Sexual Health, and Victim Services.
Our review team is appreciative of the humility we have seen from SPS: “Language that to me was very common — with respect to communication to a sexual assault survivor — was deemed to be somewhat problematic from a victim advocate lens,” Supt. Nogier shared with CBC News. Reagan Conway, our Executive Director, shared how language can impact a survivor’s mental health and perception of their own story; victim-blaming and questioning language can make survivors feel as though they aren’t a “good enough” victim, a phenomenon known as the “Perfect Victim Complex”.
Excitingly, VACR is being expanded into Moose Jaw and Prince Albert in the coming months, with the province dedicating $92,000 to VACR partnerships for 2023. The trust that the Saskatoon, Regina, and now Moose Jaw and Prince Albert Police Services have been extending to the VACR teams is admirable and incredibly appreciated.
The idea of VACR originates from Philadelphia in 2001 and is colloquially known as the “Philly Model”. The Improving Institutional Accountability Project (IIAP – shout out to Sunny Marriner, the project lead!) brought the project across the border with the goal of improving the experience survivors of sexualized violence have moving through the Canadian justice system. VACR adds a best practice link to the policing investigative chain:
Report → Investigation → Clearance → REVIEW
Our hopes moving forward? Firstly, we hope that our partnership with the Saskatoon Police Service will lead to better experiences overall for survivors of sexualized violence in the justice system, whether that’s helping them understand why charges weren’t laid or having investigators take another look at their case. We’re also excited to see that this project is expanding to now include four Saskatchewan communities, showing a sincere commitment by Saskatchewan law enforcement to do the best they can for survivors.
Our bigger, overarching hope is that survivors won’t hesitate to report to police if they want to, for fear of being invalidated, not being believed, not being taken seriously, or any other fear that may run through their minds. Rape culture and victim-blaming has left a huge impact on our society, and even on survivors themselves. Survivors shouldn’t have to advocate for themselves in the midst of an incredibly stressful process. We are honoured and grateful to continue doing this work.
Why police dismiss 1 in 5 sexual assault claims as baseless, The Globe and Mail
Saskatoon sexual assault case review launches, The StarPhoenix
Independent review of sex assault cases in Saskatoon to continue after inaugural year deemed a success, CBC News
Victim advocate case review program expands to Moose Jaw and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan News Release