Military looking to provide case workers for victims of sexual misconduct
'We want to provide assistance to them so they feel like they have an advocate in their corner'
The Canadian military is looking to provide case workers to victims of inappropriate sexual behaviour to ensure they have continuous support from the moment they report an incident through to the end of their case.
The initiative was revealed Wednesday by Denise Preston, executive director of the military's sexual misconduct response centre, where the case workers — or victim liaison officers — are expected to be based.
It comes as service personnel throughout the ranks continue to grapple with inappropriate sexual behaviour, including how to best support those who have been the target of such actions while in uniform.
While the military has made progress in addressing sexual misconduct, Preston said the lack of continuous support for victims as their case moves through the Forces' legal and health systems has emerged as a significant gap.
"What we really envision is this comprehensive continuum of care that's seamless, where there's a consistent supporter or advocate who essentially accompanies them through that entire journey," she said in an interview.
"What you have (now) is a victim who is sort of bumping from system to system to get their needs met rather than more of a case-managed system where there's one provider who is a consistent source of support who is helping them navigate all that."
The need for such support was emphasized in the sexual misconduct response centre's annual report released Wednesday, which said many of the nearly 400 people who called the centre in the last year did so more than once.
Service members also said they had reached out to the centre, where members can talk to a counsellor at all hours, despite having already reported the relevant incident to their commanders.
Senior leaders within the Department of National Defence have approved plans to provide case workers to victims, Preston said, and she and her staff are now working through the details, which will dramatically expand the centre's mandate.
'An advocate in their corner'
The plan is to have a streamlined version up and running by next April to help with urgent cases, she said, while specific details — such as the hiring of staff and deciding where to locate them — are ironed out on a more robust version.
"We want to provide assistance to them so they feel like they have an advocate in their corner," she said. "Someone who's going to help them figure out these systems that are very complicated, especially when they are in a very challenged, emotional state."
The military's sexual misconduct response centre was opened as a call centre in September 2015 upon the recommendation of former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps after she uncovered a highly "sexualized culture" in the Forces.
It is unique within the military in that it is independent from the chain of command, which Preston has previously compared to the way the Parole Board of Canada operates.
Preston reports to National Defence's top bureaucrat, deputy minister Jody Thomas, who is responsible for managing the department's civilian staff in the same way defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance oversees those in uniform.
The centre received a total of 558 telephone calls, emails and other "contacts" from 392 individuals between April 1, 2017, and March 30, 2018, according to the annual report, which represented a slight decrease from the previous year.
Ninety-one contacted the centre for support regarding sexual assault while 63 sought support related to sexual harassment and 58 were looking for support for other inappropriate sexual behaviour.
While the centre is specifically designed to assist service members, the report said that nearly 30 per cent of those who contacted it were not in the military but former military personnel, civilian Defence Department employees, and other civilians.