Advocates hope new case review program will convince more sexual assault victims to come forward

Herald File Photo. Members of the Prince Albert CAVR program have already conducted two reviews into sexual assault reports that did not result in charges. A third review is scheduled for April.

VACR program members to hold third Prince Albert review in April

Advocates who work with sexual assault victims have welcomed the start of a new Victim Advocate Case Review (VACR) program in Prince Albert.

The provincial government increased funding for VACR partnerships by $25,000 for the 2022-23 fiscal year. Those funds helped cover the cost of expanding the programs to Prince Albert and Moose Jaw. There are already VACR programs in Saskatoon and Regina.

The Prince Albert Sexual Assault Centre, Prince Albert Safe Shelter for Women, and Prince Albert Crisis Unit comprise the VACR review team in Prince Albert. Mobile Crisis Unit executive director Vicki Stewart said they hope the program will convince more sexual assault victims to come forward.

“It’s huge,” Stewart said. “I think anywhere (in Canada), and if you look at Stats Canada they will tell you, it’s a low reporting rate. That’s seen everywhere. Just having that advocacy review will help.”

The goal of the VACR programs is to ensure “best practice” responses to sexual assault reports involving suspects over the age of 18. That means improving the effectiveness of the investigative process, providing a proper level of support to victims, promoting open communication between police and advocacy agencies, and improving the transparency of sexual assault investigations.

The Prince Albert program members have met two times so far to review sexual assault complaints that didn’t result in a charge. Reviews are held quarterly. The next Prince Albert review is scheduled for April.

Stewart said both police and advocacy groups are aware of the problem with underreporting. The question is what to do about it, and they’re hopeful the VACR will help them find solutions.

“The police are working really well with us,” she said. “I find that they’re just as eager to find solutions on ‘how do we get them (victims) to report.’”

In a press release on Monday, the provincial government touted VACR programs as a way to increase transparency and improve how police departments handle sexual assault cases. Saskatchewan’s Minister of Corrections, Policing, and Public Safety, Christine Tell, said they’re looking for ways to increase the chance offenders will be held accountable for their crimes.

In 2018, Stats Canada published a fact sheet on self-reported data from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization. Those numbers showed at least 83 per cent of sexual assaults were not reported to police. Of those that were reported, 42 per cent of cases tried in adult court resulted in a guilty verdict.

In 2013, Justice Canada completed three studies with both male and female sexual assault survivors. One study showed 70 per cent of male victims and 59 per cent of female victims who were sexually assaulted or abused as adults did not report it to police. Another study of Canadians who were sexually assaulted as children showed 68 per cent of men and 64 per cent of women did not report the assault, nor did another individual.

The Justice Canada studies also asked victims to rate their level of confidence in the criminal justice system in general. Roughly two-thirds of victims surveyed said they were not confident in the police, the court process, or the criminal justice system in general.

Between 1998 and 2015, the rate of sexual assault reports cleared by charge ranged from 41 per cent to 46 per cent.

@kerr_jas •