You have options: How Toronto police now approach sexual assault victims
Published Friday, May 31, 2019 8:21PM EDT Last Updated Friday, May 31, 2019 8:22PM EDT
In recent years there’s been a shift in how Toronto police help survivors of sexual assault.
Just over a year ago, Toronto Police Services launched “Yourchoice.to,” an online resource meant to promote a survivor’s right to choose what next happens next.
“Years ago it used to be more evidence focused whereas now it’s about supporting the survivor right from the beginning,” Det. Carol Ann Rock said. “It’s empowering survivors to make their choices as to what is best for them.”
The portal is part of a provincially funded initiative called, “Project Guide,” a two year effort to better support victims of sexual assault.
The “survivor centered” approach includes an online portal that allows survivors instant access to an array of local resources. In 12 different languages, the website lays out the options for someone who’s been sexually assaulted and provides a direct line to local help and support, as well as resources for friends and families.
“Yourchoice.to” also includes a 26-page document that provides answers to questions most commonly asked by survivors of sexual assault.
“We’re there to advocate for them and basically they steer the boat. It’s what is best for them,” said Det. Cheryl Jones.
Detectives like Rock and Jones are finding the portal is helping survivors make the difficult decision to come forward.
“We recognize that although we want to gather the evidence right away, but we want to do it in a way that we are not further traumatizing the survivor,” Jones said. “We want them to be well rested mentally and physically. We recognize that a lot of times they are up late, they are at a hospital receiving medical attention. So we want them to get that rest, get something to eat, get a support person to come with them, you know, and come speak to us when it’s good for them.”
Jones said the police service also now makes arrangements for survivors to choose whether they want to speak with a male or a female investigator and have stopped the practice of sending victims to other divisions.
“No matter where they show up, whether in Durham Region or York Region, or in another division, the officers there will take the information and it will be passed on immediately,” sh e said.
Farhana Kan, suffered years of abuse at the hands of her husband, but she feared reporting it to the police. The mother of four said that as a member of the Bangladeshi-Canadian community in Toronto, she experienced a mistrust of police and a stigma that follows those who report sexual abuse.
“Whenever they came, I just said nothing happened.”
After a particularly brutal beating, her eldest son went to the police and then she decided to get some help.
“Because of Toronto police, I am here today,” Khan said. “I wouldn’t be here in this place, I would probably be in a graveyard.”
Khan’s husband has since been convicted of his crimes.
In less than a year, more than 150,000 people have visited the online portal from around the world and the ‘Guide to Survivors of Sexual Assault” has been downloaded more than 750 times. Agencies within the province are now using the site and tailoring the resources to their own communities.
By the end of 2018, the Toronto Police Service noted a 16 per cent increase in reported sexual violations. The service also said there is a noticeable growth in trust, particularly in communities that were fearful of the police.
“Now you are giving them some power back to be able reach out and make an informed decision on what they would like to do, not everybody wants to come and see the police,” said Det. Const. Ryan McIntyre.