From the desk: Sexual assaults tough to talk about

May take a while to report an incident

I spent many of my policing years conducting sexual assault investigations. Some of those investigations were current and others were historical – meaning they happened years earlier and were only just being reported after time had passed.

As police, we recognize there will be a variety of factors contributing to why a person may have difficulty or make the decision to not report to the police … not just in a serious case of sexual and/or physical abuse, but for other crimes too.

In some cases, a person may feel their experience was not significant enough to warrant calling police. In other cases, people say they didn’t think there was really anything the police could do. Finally, and this one breaks my heart, we hear that victims are afraid to report or they fear they won’t be believed.

I recently wrote about how the police go about gathering evidence for all files.

For those cases which occurred years earlier, we find that victims or witnesses have often told other people in their lives over the years. They have seen counsellors, written about their experience in a diary and sometimes even confronted their offender. But they have yet to come forward to police.

Our job is to track down and follow all the evidence.

Even when these matters are historical, the police can gather enough evidence for the Crown to approve charges.

In other cases, after exhausting all avenues, files can become what is often referred to as cold. In actuality, we may never close some of these files because, in some cases, additional evidence comes to light somewhere down the road.

This could be in the form of DNA, or a victim, or critical witness, who for some reason, has changed their mind and decided to share what they have been afraid or unwilling to share so far.

I will never forget the lesson I learned when it came to the power that a witness has in becoming the one piece that solves a cold case file for a victim.

I was working in a sex crimes unit and one of my team members was assigned a cold case

This was a horrific sexual assault which occurred two years earlier against an elderly woman. One of the investigators was assigned to call back all the neighbours we had spoken to previously, to ensure no neighbours or potential witnesses were missed the first time around.

I was only half listening as the investigator was making these follow-up calls when I overheard the investigator say, “What do you mean, you know who did that?”

Yes, two years later, this witness, who was a friend of the suspect, had decided to change their mind and tell us what they really knew.Two years later!

Subsequently, that interview led to additional investigative follow up, a successful charge and ultimately a conviction.

Having the bravery to come forward is a huge step and we will always be compassionate and understanding of this.

You may not believe that your information matters. You may not know the importance of how your information pairs up with someone else’s information. You may be afraid of someone finding out you called. You may be afraid of going to court.

I can only say that I hope you will call.

We will always do what we can to assist you as the victim, the witness, the family members. We have experts that assist us in this role such as Victim Support Services and special groups that work in locations such as ‘Alisa’s Wish’ with access to counselling and further support services.

Several years ago, I made a comment about the importance of assessing whether a victim had the strength to go through the court process. One of my community partners said this to me, “All victims have strength.” They were right.

You got this … and we will be here.

When you’re ready.

Supt. Jennifer Hyland

Ridge Meadows RCMP

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