If you are sexually assaulted or raped, one of your first instincts may be to go to the police. If not, the people you confide in will surely encourage you to do so.
They might say, "You should report to police to protect other women.”
You might be swayed. Maybe you make a call to the police to make a report. The police will either come to take your statement or you will be asked to take a trip down to your local law enforcement precinct. They will take you into a clinical and sterile room, where they will ask invasive and sometimes seemingly cold questions. They will reassure you they just need to get the “full picture.”
At the end the meeting, an officer might give you the card of a victim services worker, who will supposedly get you all the supports you need. You may believe them. You may not. You may pester them for updates, and you may get a follow-up call. But, most likely, that is all you will get out of your visit. The result will be a disappointing call or email informing you that there is not enough evidence and they cannot recommend charges to Crown.
How do I know this? Two years ago, incensed by the violence that every single person in my small friend group had endured, I started volunteering at a women’s rape crisis centre. What I have described above is an amalgamation of what women have told me of their experiences reporting to police. I have run out of energy to be surprised or disappointed by what I hear.
But the RCMP have not run out of fresh ways to incite my anger. This week, the article “Were you turned on by this at all?: RCMP officer asks Indigenous youth during sexual assault report by APTN National News states that during an interview with an Indigenous youth rape victim, an RCMP officer asked questions like: “Were you at all turned on during this at all? Even a little bit?"; and “Is one of the reasons why you came up with this is because you thought you might be pregnant and you thought you might need the pill?”
She was young and I cannot imagine the courage it took to go to a police station to report this horrific crime. Instead, this brave young woman was confronted with a condescending RCMP officer whose inappropriate and dangerous line of questioning was depicted in the audiovisual statement since released to the public.
I wish she had a women’s advocate in the room with her. At our rape crisis centre, in the cases where women call us before they call police, we always offer to accompany them.
We explain that often the RCMP will argue that it is better not to have an advocate in the room because she might “taint the interview.” Sometimes they will try to usher the victim away to dissuade her. But, it is your inalienable right to have an advocate with you while being interviewed by the police.
Further, our research shows that when a woman’s group advocate is in the room, police mind their Ps and Qs. We know how to evaluate an adequate police response. We are witnesses. We are often more knowledgeable than the average constable that probably had little sexual assault training. We recognize biased questions perpetuated by sexist myths, and, most importantly, our only obligation is to you.
To make sure what is recorded represents your account of what happened and that you are treated fairly and in a dignified manner. We can also continue to advocate on your behalf during the following months of investigation.
As a resident of Metro Vancouver and as someone who has advocated to police on behalf of countless women, I want to tell my fellow women in the community to call your local women’s group — never go alone.
Ashani Montgomery is a Burnaby resident and a rape crisis counsellor in Vancouver. This article originally appeared on Burnaby NOW.