Responding to Sexual Violence in Medicine Hat – Part 3
In Part 1 of this series, we spoke to the Medicine Hat Police Service, Major Crimes Section. Part 3 of this series will explore the role of the Redcliff Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Speaking with S/Sgt. Sean Maxwell, we learn about another law enforcement perspective of sexual violence response.
When a complaint of sexual assault is received, the responding officer(s) begin their work. “We would take it as an investigative file and begin our investigation into what occurred,” says S/Sgt. Maxwell. By stabilizing the scene, collecting evidence, and taking a victim’s statement RCMP start to examine the information gathered. By making referrals to any relevant services (medical, Victim Assistance, Child and Family Services, SARC, etc.) the officers aim to connect victims to resources that can offer need-specific supports. Assessing the survivor’s emotional and physical wellbeing are of high priority, along with safety planning. If charges are laid against the offender, conditions and restraining orders can be put in place. These specifications would then be explained to the victim and offender so they understand the limitations of contact.
As a member of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), RCMP work collaboratively with other service providers to ensure victims have access to supports. “It lets us concentrate on our work,” says S/Sgt. Maxwell. “Our partners are better at many things including medical care, emotional, mental, and physical support.” By tapping into each agency’s strengths, clients can receive the care and attention they need for each specific concern while RCMP focuses on the legalities of the case.
Some of the challenges faced by RCMP when dealing with this crime can affect the outcome of the victim’s experience. “It can be challenging to develop trust. Gathering evidence, dealing with complacency, and making sure we treat the victim with respect are all key factors,” says S/Sgt. Maxwell. “It doesn’t take much to have someone read body language or listen to how things are said to make them think we don’t care.” Compassionate communication between the officer and victim is vital. Making the survivor feel comfortable and safe can open their readiness to tell their story, unleashing the information necessary to the case.
S/Sgt. Maxwell believes bystanders can play a vital role in preventing sexual assault. Applying the recognize, respond, and refer model can be effective in some instances. “Try to do something about it before it happens where you can,” says S/Sgt. Maxwell. “If you see signs of it, stop it. If you see something like harassment, say something. Like many things, sexual violence that is prevented benefits all of us.”
Part 4 available here.