Battlefords RCMP, sexual assault centre open new supportive interview space

·4 min read

Amber Stewart, executive director of the Battlefords Sexual Assault Centre, wanted to make it easier for victims of sexual assault to file a police report if they wanted to pursue that option.

"We know that the [statistics] on reported cases are extremely low," she said. "So how do we get those barriers down? And if we can make this experience even a little bit less painful and traumatizing, then I really wanted to make that happen."

So the centre, which provides counselling to people affected by sexual or gender-based violence, teamed up with the Battlefords RCMP. Together, they have created a new safe space for interviews and counselling, located in the sexual assault centre.

"It's actually a counselling room that we use to see clients" at the centre's office, Stewart said.

Renovations were done for soundproofing, and to make sure it met RCMP's audio and visual requirements for recording statements, she said.

According to Battlefords RCMP Staff Sgt. Jason Teniuk, having a warmer, welcoming and — most importantly — truly private place for victims of sexual assault to come forward was long overdue. Previously, people who wanted to report a sexual assault had to go to the Battlefords RCMP detachment.

"When you come into our area, our waiting room is a very unprivate area, and you'll meet somebody at the front desk who is behind a barrier glass," said Teniuk.

The front office area is often "full of people in various capacities," he said.

"So now you put somebody who's just been involved in an extremely traumatic event, and you bring them into that environment, and they're standing in front of a glass wall talking to somebody on the other side, in full earshot of everybody else. That is intimidating.

"I would even hazard to say that we're revictimizing that person by bringing them into that environment — but unfortunately, that's what we were presented with."

Now, the process will be significantly different, with support for victims and survivors prioritized at every step.

RCMP will have a direct line to the sexual assault centre, Stewart said.

When RCMP receive a report of a sexual assault, the officer who takes the call will phone the line and be met at the BASC office by staff or a volunteer, and taken to the new interview space.

"From there, our role is to support the RCMP and the victims for before and after they give their statement — making sure that they're comfortable, making sure they have everything they need, letting them know that we're there to talk before or after.

"Then, of course, the RCMP will do their interview the way they need to do it."

Breaking down barriers

Stewart hopes the sexual assault centre will now be more able to address some of the other barriers that keep people from reporting sexual assault, such as access to child care. When people come into the new space to make a report, volunteers will be available to help out.

"If you have small children and you can't leave them, you can bring them in and we've got someone here," she said. "We can play video games or watch Netflix or eat snacks, whatever the case may be, so that there really is no barrier. And that's what the end goal was for us — to address the barriers."

Teniuk says child care has been significant issue in the past for people with young children who wanted to make a report to the RCMP.

"I can't tell you the amount of times I've been involved in a situation where there has been a sexual assault, or any other kind of violent incident, and you'll have a young person or a young mom or young dad come in and they have their kids with them," he said.

"And we've got to try and sort out a way that we can get a statement from that person, while trying to keep the kids entertained."

From January to September of 2020, Saskatchewan RCMP say they received 3,711 reports of intimate partner violence. With the new space at Battlefords Sexual Assault Centre, Teniuk hopes more people will feel they can safely come forward and make a report.

"I hope victims will come in and just feel as though they are being supported, that they're heard, and something is going to be done," he said.

"That is extremely important to me. And while it does happen when they come [to the RCMP detachment], I think support has been a big component of what we're missing."