Sexual assault survivors can now report anonymously through Manitoba community agencies

Manitoba sexual assault survivors can now anonymously tell any of three different community agencies the details of who sexually abused them and have those details entered into a national database that tracks violent offenders.

Reports received will be for informational purposes and do not replace traditional reporting, police say

Rochelle Squires, Manitoba's minister responsible for the status of women, speaks to the media Monday about third-party reporting. (Gary Soliak/CBC)

Sexual assault survivors now have another option for reporting what happened to them.

Manitoba sexual assault survivors can now anonymously report the abuse to any one of three different community agencies, with the information provided eventually flowing to police agencies.

Called third-party reporting, it will give those who have suffered the trauma and fear of a sexual assault a reporting option that doesn't involve the police or court system, and will also possibly help police identify "offenders or trends" that may have been missed, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said. 

"We're not entering a formal investigation through a third party," said Smyth, meaning those who report to the community partners are not officially reporting a crime.

It is hoped that once survivors tell their story to one of the community partners, they will be more confident to tell police. From there, police would then be able to do a formal investigation, Smyth said.

However, if survivors aren't comfortable speaking with police, that doesn't mean officers won't investigate a third-party report, he said.

Third-party reporting starts with a victim reporting the sexual assault to a community partner. The worker at the agency will fill out a form to be entered into a local database without their name attached. The information could could be added to a national database if it meets certain criteria, said Insp. Kelly Dennison. 

The database could give rise to information trends. For example, if several people report sexual assaults concentrated in a certain neighbourhood, or if the abuser drives a certain vehicle, that information could be spotted as a pattern in the database for investigators to pursue.

Manitoba sexual assault survivors can now anonymously report the abuse to any one of three different community agencies, with the information provided eventually flowing to police agencies. 2:13

"Of course we have the ability to see if other assaults have taken place that are similar," said Smyth. "So it doesn't necessarily mean a criminal investigation, but I think it's a good way for us to get a sense of how much is happening in the community."

A police spokesperson confirmed names of those being accused could also be entered into the database, however, a victim would still have to make a formal complaint to police before they could pursue charges.

Those who cannot visit one of the agencies can instead call and speak to someone. Staff at nursing stations and support agencies in rural areas are also being trained to submit third-party reports. 

Bit overdue

Klinic Community Health Centre, Sage House at Mount Carmel Clinic and Heart Medicine Lodge at Ka Ni Kanichihk are all taking part in the program facilitated by the province of Manitoba.

"It's a little bit overdue but it's very timely," said Leslie Spillet of Ka Ni Kanichihk, adding Indigenous women in Winnipeg face the highest rate of sexual violence in the city. 

Relationships are the key to getting people to tell their stories, she said, and third-party reporting helps form those relationships.

Leslie Spillet of Ka Ni Kanichihk speaks at the press conference Monday. (Gary Soliak/CBC)

Manitoba is the third jurisdiction in Canada to make third-party reporting a tool for police, said Rochelle Squires, the provincial minister responsible for the status of women. 

"We know that in British Columbia, for example, advocates had said in the aftermath of some very high-profile serial rape cases that had there been third-party reporting available, there would have been perhaps identification of a trend, and perhaps an arrest made earlier," said Squires, who recently made public that she was raped when she was 13.

"As a survivor of sexual violence, I think that third-party reporting certainly does give choices for people who have been
stripped of choice in a very profound way," she said.

Squires said when she was raped, she felt she couldn't tell anyone. If third-party reporting had been an option, Squires said she might have felt supported enough to come forward sooner as she dealt with the trauma as an adult.

She said third-party-reporting is an important tool for both survivors and for law enforcement.

Only those 16 and older will be able to report this way, as there is a duty to report to police about victims under 16, a police spokesperson said.

It's estimated that less than five per cent of sexual assaults are reported to police in Canada.

Nicole Chammartin, executive director of Klinic, said they receive a few hundred calls about sexual assaults each month. With the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, there has been an increase, she said.

Third-party reporting doesn't come with any extra resources for community clinics, but the province and the agencies say they will be monitoring the demand.

With files from Caroline Barghout and The Canadian Press