Kingston Police improve sexual violence investigations for survivors

A Kingston, Ont., police officer is being recognized for her work to improve sexual violence investigations for both survivors and police.

Det.-Sgt. Barbara Hough awarded for leading effort to be more survivor-focused

Kingston police are changing the way officers investigate sexual assaults and other reports of sexual violence. (Paul Jay/CBC)

A Kingston, Ont., police officer is being recognized for her work to improve sexual violence investigations for both survivors and police.

Det.-Sgt. Barbara Hough got a commendation from the chief of police earlier this month for her work on the PERSON program, which stands for police enhanced response to survivor-oriented needs.

In February 2017, the police force received $108,381 in provincial funding, to be spread out over two years, to run the program as a pilot project.

Hough told CBC Radio's Ontario Morning Tuesday that the funding let them redesign interview rooms to make them more friendly and comfortable for survivors of sexual violence, as well as reach out to young people to talk about consent and bring in experts from the United States.

"If we don't change we're not going to get better," Hough said. "It was important to look at how we could develop our officers and give them more information about a different way of doing interviews, that would put more tools in their toolbox to get more disclosure and build a better brief for court."

Officers 'sensitive, understanding'

It's helped Kingston police officers be more understanding when first meeting someone who's filed a complaint, she said.

"Officers need to understand the neurobiology … how memory is affected by trauma," she said. 

"A survivor is trying to put together what's happened to them like a puzzle. It might not come out like we're used to, where someone tells us what's happened from start to [finish]."

Hough said she's heard from survivors that officers have been sensitive, understanding and considerate, which helps survivors feel they've regained some measure of control over their situations.

With files from CBC Radio's Ontario Morning