How do I report a sexual assault in Winnipeg? New video guides the way
'It doesn't look like anything that you would see on television,' says police inspector
A new video made by health-care providers, counsellors and police in Winnipeg tries to demystify what it is really like to report a sexual assault.
The nearly four-minute video made by Winnipeg's Sexual Assault Response Team, or SART, was released Friday at the meeting of the Winnipeg Police Board.
It shows what it's like to report sexual assault from the victim's perspective — the examination room at Health Sciences Centre where forensic evidence is gathered, the couches where interviews with police take place and the recovery area stocked with fresh clothes and toiletries.
All the way through, the video says the victim has final say in what happens to their body and their story.
"We've been talking about a video for years," said Ashley Smith, a registered psychiatric nurse and co-ordinator of the sexual assault nurse examiner program at Health Sciences Centre and member of SART.
"When patients come to see us, they have options," she said. "People don't have to necessarily choose to have anything done when they come to see us. Sometimes, they'll just come and want some information about what their options are."
Smith's unit sees close to 500 patients a year and the vast majority are women and girls. Last year, Winnipeg police reported eight cases of aggravated sexual assault, 17 cases of sexual assault with a weapon and 760 cases of sexual assault — all three offences were up from the five-year average.
The team's video tries to underscore the message victims drive the reporting process, said Insp. Kelly Dennison, in charge of specialized investigations at Winnipeg police.
"It's very victim-centred. The whole idea behind the video is to give victims of sexual assault some knowledge or some information on how in-control of this process they are," he said.
"We know statistically across this country a large number of sexual assaults do go unreported. That's something that we're really working hard to try and change."
There's this idea out there that we have a cold interviewing room ... and you're forced to tell a story that you're not ready to tell. That's not factual and that's not what happens.- Insp. Kelly Dennison, Winnipeg Police Service
Survivors of sexual violence in Winnipeg decide what medical steps they feel comfortable with, whether or not to proceed with a formal report, and they can report the crime to a third party if they do not feel comfortable speaking directly with a police officer, said Dennison.
"There's this idea out there that we have a cold interviewing room ... and you're forced to tell a story that you're not ready to tell. That's not factual and that's not what happens," he said.
"It doesn't look like anything that you would see on television."
As the video demonstrates, using actual Winnipeg police detectives, when victims do speak with police, they wear plain clothing. The interview takes place in a living-room-like environment at Health Sciences Centre, not in some dark interviewing room with a metal table and stools.
"The whole idea is for a victim to feel comfortable," said Dennison.
Ensuring victims have control over what happens to them and their story is key in cases of sexual assault, because so often the trauma began with choice being taken away, says Jerra Fraser, a counsellor with the sexual assault crisis program at Klinic.
Fraser helped to review the video for tone to ensure that it remains empowering to victims, she said.
"So folks have a really clear sense of what they're saying 'yes' to and what's available to them," she said.
Anyone who reports a sexual assault in Winnipeg can be referred to the team at Health Sciences Centre — whether through the emergency room at the hospital, or at any other emergency room in Winnipeg.
Victims can report cases of sexual assault to Klinic 24/7 at its sexual assault crisis line at 204-786-8631 or toll-free at 1-888-292-7565.