WLU working with Brantford police to improve sexual violence response

Wilfrid Laurier's Brantford campus is one of several community partners working with the Brantford Police Service to improve how police respond to victims of sexual violence.

Brantford Police Service working with Wilfrid Laurier's Brantford campus, other community partners

Last week, the provincial government announced it's putting $1.8 million toward 15 pilot projects that would help improve the way police respond to sexual violence. (Google Maps View)

Wilfrid Laurier University's Brantford campus, along with community partners like the Sexual Assault Centre and Victim Services of Brant, will be working with the Brantford Police Service to help officers in the way they respond to survivors of sexual violence when they report incidences.

Last week, the Ontario government announced it is putting $1.8 million toward 15 pilot projects aimed at improving the way police respond to sexual violence.

The Brantford Police Service is running one of the 15 pilot projects and will receive $147,165 throughout the next two years to review past sexual assault investigations.

"To suggest that it's only needed in criminal justice, absolutely, but I think we are also trying to keep an eye on across sectors like social services, education, health care and criminal justice," said Dr. Jennifer Root, an assistant professor in the faculty of social work at Wilfrid Laurier's Brantford campus.

In early February, the Globe and Mail published a story highlighting the way police investigators handle sexual assault allegations. According to the newspaper's numbers, Brantford police cleared 219 of 724 cases between 2010 and 2014.

Part of Root's role in the project will be to identify patterns and trends to provide a broader concept of the issue, in the hopes of helping other communities that want to implement something similar in the future.

"We don't have a lot of Canadian context for understanding how this model might be applicable or how it can be taken up in various communities … so I have a real interest in figuring out how to make this work best, given the unique needs of communities."

Case review of past sexual assault investigations

Some of the things that will be reviewed are basic to police investigation, says Joanna Brant, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Brant.

She said some of the items that will be reviewed include witness interviews, forensic test and results, victim interviews, recurring incidents, determining whether the crime committed is consistent with the evidence, and follow-ups with victims.

Based on findings from the review, training for police will be developed on best practices.

"One of the things I think is so beneficial is the transparency of having the community advocate review," said Penny McVicar, executive director of Victim Services of Brant.

"It's crucial that it's not just the police reviewing themselves. It's the community coming in, looking at things through a very objective lens."