3rd-party reporting for sexual assault victims launches in St. John's

Starting Tuesday, survivors of sexual violence can report what happened to them without having to go to police.

They can now make a report to a community group, the Journey Project, which will redact their information and send it along to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, who will file it away in case the person eventually feels OK with a formal investigation.

The anonymous reports will help police keep track of similarities and possibly spot serial offenders earlier.

According to RNC Chief Joe Boland, it could have helped police in the past with a rapist who targeted three women between September and December 2012.

"The [Sofyan] Boalag case is one that stands out to me," he said. "First of all I think more people would have came out earlier and we would have gotten the information so we could have been up on that particular file earlier to figure out who was responsible."

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If several incidents share common traits, police can reach out to the Journey Project to follow up with the complainants through the third party, and only if the person gives consent.

Aside from tracking offenders, Boland hopes it will help build trust with police and give survivors a voice.

Statements will be taken in person by staff members of the Journey Project — a conglomerate of the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre, and the Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The pilot project is available only in St. John's right now, but the group hopes it will spread across the province soon.

Giving people a voice

It's not the first program of its kind in Canada. Third-party reporting already exists in British Columbia, Yukon and Manitoba.

Nicole Kieley, executive director of the sexual assault prevention and crisis centre, says the program's structure makes it the best reporting program for sexual assault survivors in the country.

"I believe we are looking at something that not only the province can be proud of, but the country. We are truly leading the way," she said.

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Kieley said her centre has received calls from 795 people this year alone. She has no idea how many more people are out there who haven't come forward to community groups or police, but said it's believed police-reported sexual assaults account for only about 10 per cent of total assaults.

This won't break down all the barriers for people coming forward, but Kieley believes it will really help.

"Once you've reported officially, then things become outside your control. And having things outside your control is really hard for somebody who has been impacted directly by sexual violence," she said. 

"This offers an option for someone to share their story."

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