Edmonton Police working with community experts to review sexual assault files

Edmonton, Alberta – The Edmonton Police Service’s Sexual Assault Section is collaborating with the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE) to better serve the needs of sexual assault survivors by participating in Sexual Violence Advocacy Case (SVAC) reviews.

A Canadian initiative, the reviews aim to improve police response to investigating sexual assaults and violence against women by determining if there were any instances of implicit gender bias that could have compromised an investigation.

“This mutually beneficial police-community initiative is part of an overall commitment to serving sexual assault survivors better,” says Inspector Sean Armstrong, of the EPS’ Serious Crimes Branch. “To do that, we need to understand the challenges survivors face in reporting sexual assault and help our partners understand how these cases are handled.”

The SVAC review team, which is comprised of SACE representatives, conducts reviews that take a second look at EPS files that did not lead to charges, and provides feedback to help ensure the needs of sexual assault survivors are being met.

“The review team takes into consideration anything they believe may have inadvertently affected a sexual violence investigation,” explains EPS Sexual Assault Section Staff Sergeant Terrie Affolder. “It could be anything from barriers survivors faced, to long-standing societal myths and stereotypes surrounding sexual assault. We want to know these things, because we are constantly improving the way we handle our investigations.”

Scheduled to be done on a quarterly basis, the reviews look at all concluded files that don’t go to charge within the quarter or review period. So far, the review team has examined 251 files over the course of two review sessions, the first in October 2020, the second in January of this year.

According to literature spanning more than 40 years, a primary factor in underenforcement in violence-against-women files is the influence of systemic and social gendered bias and myths against victims of sex crimes, which can influence the initial response to an investigation. It can also lead to concluding a sexual assault case as ‘unfounded.’

To combat this, reform methods across Canada, — like the EPS’ SVAC Case Review — have been developed and implemented in law enforcement agencies in recent years, leading to the creation of community networks, sexual assault and domestic violence response sections, and enhanced training initiatives.

The foundation of the SVAC Case Review is modelled on the Violence Against Women Advocate Case Review that was created in 2016 by Sunny Marriner, sexual violence justice advocate and former Executive Director of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre. An adaptation of the Philadelphia Model, the program allows independent agencies to work with police to review cases of sexual assault that did not lead to a charge.

Sergeant Brad Kline, with the EPS Sexual Assault Section, states that Marriner trained the Edmonton review team before they began assessing any files, and that her input and instruction was critical in ensuring the project got off on the right foot.

“We are grateful to be working alongside a strong partner like SACE. The process itself has been really smooth so far and the feedback we’ve gotten has been excellent,” says Sgt. Kline.

“The review process will be continually evaluated and improved upon as we go along, but through this format, we are now working to incorporate what we’ve learned, such as where we can improve our response to survivors and incorporate this into future training.”

As the primary collaborator in this endeavour, SACE’s expertise in sexual violence plays a key role in reviewing the investigative files. Following each review, results are communicated to the EPS Sexual Assault Section to be assessed, shared with police and incorporated into future sexual assault investigative training.

“Statistically speaking, we know that out of every 100 people who are sexually assaulted, only five will report,” says Mary Jane James, CEO, SACE. “From those five, only one case will move forward to charges. This is out of sync with almost every other type of crime. Our role in this collaboration is to be advocates for those four sexual assault survivors whose cases didn’t go to charges, and support EPS in addressing the factors that result in low charge rates.”

James notes that Edmonton is now the twentieth city in Canada to implement this case review model: “We’re very grateful for EPS’s desire and willingness to both be involved and invite learning from those of us who work with sexual violence and trauma. We’re hopeful that through this independent oversight, we’ll be able to help EPS improve reporting experiences for sexual assault survivors who choose a criminal justice response.”

Edmonton Police Service

MRU #: SA21R001

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