The way forward II – An update on the implementation of the RCMP’s sexual assault review and victim support action plan

Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes in Canada. Results from the General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization indicates that only 6% of sexual assaults in 2019 were reported to police. This finding is consistent with former studies.

In February 2017, The Globe and Mail published a series of articles on how police handle sexual assault reporting. The articles raised concerns about police classifying sexual assaults as unfounded (20% of the time on average), as well as victim mistreatment.

Later in 2017, the #MeToo movement brought to light a number of sexual assault cases involving public figures. Sparking more open conversations about sexual violence, many people felt comfortable sharing their stories, and the number of sexual assault cases reported to the police increased.

In 2017, the RCMP established a national RCMP Sexual Assault Review Team (SART). The SART is the internal centre of expertise on sexual assault investigations.

In December 2017, supporting Canada's Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence, the RCMP published The way Forward the RCMP's sexual assault review and victim support action plan. In this report, the RCMP committed to 13 action items under the categories of:

  • File review
  • Police training and awareness
  • Investigative accountability
  • Victim support
  • Public education and communications

The following tables will highlight each of the action items and inform of progress.

File review
Action Status Update Next Steps
The RCMP's file review has been expanded to include all sexual assault investigations not cleared by charge for calendar years 2015, 2016 and 2017. Completed

The review included over 30,000 files across all contract divisions where the RCMP is the police of jurisdiction (which excludes Ontario and Québec). Footnote 1

The review had two primary objectives:

  1. To provide case-specific findings and recommendations to RCMP divisions on their investigations
  2. To identify trends, issues, and concerns and make recommendations to help improve the quality of sexual assault investigations

The review found consistent deficiencies in some files, which required action to address gaps in training and oversight.

SART is now conducting file reviews of recently concluded sexual assault investigations. These reviews allow SART to identify investigational shortcomings. In time, they will also allow SART to measure the effects of:

  • investigational recommendations
  • policy changes
  • new trainings

In 2022, SART plans to conduct a file review of sexual assault investigations involving youth aged 12 to 17.

The RCMP created a Best Practices Guide for Sexual Assault Investigations that complements RCMP policy and provides investigators with a reference guide and checklist to assist them in conducting comprehensive investigations. Completed The Best Practice Guide was created and has been continually updated with new information. The Best Practice Guide will continue to be updated as required.
Police training and awareness
Action Status Update Next Steps

The RCMP will develop a sexual assault training curriculum that addresses existing legislation and consent law; focuses on trauma-informed investigative tools and approaches, and gender-based violence; highlights common myths and stereotypes; reinforces victim rights and support services; and bolsters supervisory oversight and review. This training will be inclusive of vulnerable populations including but not limited to: Indigenous people, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, sex trade workers, children and youth under 18.

The training will be reflective of the diverse cultures and communities the RCMP serves.

Ongoing – on track

New tools, resources and training are now available to RCMP employees. These include the:

  • Common Sexual Assault Investigational Gaps Guide
  • Consent and Sexual Assault Myths course
  • Victims Bills of Rights course
  • Using a Trauma Informed Approach course
  • Cultural Awareness and Humility course
  • Guidance on UCR scoring

SART has also:

  • Updated the RCMP's internal Sexual Assault Investigations website and the RCMP's Sexual Assault Investigations Best Practice Guide
  • Worked with the RCMP Training Academy - Depot Division - to update their sexual assault investigations scenario, which came into effect in February 2020
  • Developed a web-based Sexual Offence Investigations course that will launch in early 2022

SART has developed an in-class course on sexual offence investigations to complement the online training.

SART will focus on developing tools and resources for child and youth sexual violence investigations in 2022.

The RCMP will continue to develop additional trainings that includes specific modules on vulnerable populations.

RCMP Divisions will share components of the RCMP training curriculum with all employees who may interact with sexual assault victims and/or support investigations. Completed

All RCMP employees can access the tools, resources and training.

The Trauma-Informed Approach course is mandatory for all RCMP employees who interact with the public.

RCMP Divisions will continue this objective as new training is developed over time.
Investigative accountability
Action Status Update Next Steps
The RCMP will form a national unit to provide training, guidance and oversight for sexual assault investigations; work with Divisions to establish external advisory committees where appropriate; and provide advice and guidance on sexual assault files where the RCMP is the police of jurisdiction. Completed

The RCMP created the Sexual Assault Review Team (SART) to be the internal centre of expertise on sexual assault investigations.

The RCMP has an internal Advisory Committee for Sexual Assault Investigations (ACSAI). The ACSAI acts as an open forum for investigators to:

  • Share information on good practices
  • Discuss challenges and concerns about sexual assault investigations
  • Provide recommendations and guidance on sexual assault training, investigative policies and procedures

All divisions where the RCMP is the police of jurisdiction are forming Sexual Assault Investigations Review Committees (SAIRCs). Victim advocates and other experts sit on Committees that are an extension of the RCMP's sexual assault investigation process. The SAIRCs help ensure investigations are thorough, timely, impartial, and properly classified. This helps strengthen and improve the RCMP's response to sexual assault crimes and investigations.

As of December 2021, SAIRCs are active in ten RCMP divisions. One remaining division encountered delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Planning is underway to establish the remaining SAIRC in 2022.

Work is ongoing to establish the remaining SAIRC in 2022.

SAIRCs will continue reviewing sexual assault investigations on a regular basis.

The RCMP will update its policies and procedures to direct that investigators must provide clear justification for classifying a file as unfounded, and the classification must be approved by the immediate supervisor. Completed

The RCMP regularly reviews and updates operational policies. The RCMP national policy on sexual assault investigations was updated in 2019 and again in 2020. Updates include direction on correct file classification and emphasizes the need for supervisory approval.

Work is ongoing to update national policy to address findings from SART reviews and consultations with external partners.

RCMP policies are reviewed periodically and updated as required.
The RCMP will continue to work with partners and stakeholders, including NGOs, to consult on the development of training, public awareness and internal policies associated with sexual assault. Ongoing – on track

The RCMP collaborates with stakeholders to develop sexual assault training, public awareness materials, and internal policies.

Individual divisions have also progressed this initiative. Some examples include:

  • Participating on a sexual assault working group discussing policies, practices, and the effectiveness of available trainings
  • Collaborating with external agencies to develop training on sexual assault investigations
  • Partnering with external agencies to develop training on LGBTQ2+ experiences and perspectives, terms and definitions, and challenges and opportunities when it comes to disclosing or reporting relationship violence
  • Collaborating with victim services, Child and Family services, and other agencies to provide officers with training on how to interview sexual assault victims and children
  • Completing a community orientation when becoming an RCMP member, which includes meeting representatives from local agencies and learning about services available in the community
  • Collaborating with an external agency to develop best practice procedures and policies surrounding sexual assault
  • Collaborating with an external agency to develop public awareness campaigns
  • Having an external agency review a section of the RCMP policy, to ensure a victim-centered and trauma informed lens is conveyed
  • Having an external agency conduct a review of a section of the RCMP website, which provides education on sexual violence and resources
Efforts in this area will continue through participation on working groups and committees, as well as collaborating with community agencies on the SAIRCs, trainings, and policies.
Each RCMP Division will put in place a process to ensure appropriate supervisory oversight of sexual assault files. Ongoing – on track

The RCMP national policy directs that supervisors in all RCMP divisions must:

  • Review sexual assault files within 24 hours of receiving the initial complaint or as soon as possible
  • Review sexual assault files every two weeks after the initial review
  • Document every time they review the file
  • Ensure investigators use the correct clearance codes

RCMP divisions are taking steps to ensure appropriate supervisory oversight of all sexual assault files. For example, one or more divisions have:

  • Updated their divisional policies
  • Created a sexual assault investigations checklist
  • Assigned a member to oversee sexual assault files
  • Added a process where case managers review all initial sexual assault complaints
  • Implemented high-risk reviews at the district and detachment levels

The RCMP continually reviews and updates operational policies.

Efforts to ensure appropriate supervisory oversight of sexual assault files will continue.

Victim support
Action Status Update Next Steps
RCMP Divisions will establish protocols for providing safe, secure and private environments for victims to report sexual assault. Ongoing – on track Some detachments have designated interview rooms where victims can provide a statement in a more comfortable environment. These are usually called "soft interview rooms." Other detachments can use private rooms for this purpose. Not all RCMP detachments are able to offer soft interview rooms. In some remote communities, RCMP buildings are too small to create soft interview rooms. When soft interview rooms are not available, divisions can use other spaces in the community or the soft interview room of a neighboring detachment. The RCMP supports the use of external partners for victim support during the investigative process. Understanding the severity of the crime and its effect on victims, the RCMP continues to work towards making safe spaces available to people reporting sexual assaults to police.
Employees that interact with victims of sexual assault will be given a list of available victim services programs, and clear procedures for referring victims. Ongoing – on track Several RCMP divisions have access to a list of victim services programs that can be provided to victims of sexual assault. Some examples include:
  • A pamphlet or resource card that contains useful contacts
  • A government web page with relevant information
  • An up-to-date database of services

Several divisions also have specific policies that provide clear direction on the use of victim services.

In some northern and remote areas, a lack of community resources and/or culturally relevant resources makes it difficult to provide meaningful referrals. The RCMP will continue to work with partners and advocate for access to these essential services for victims.
Investigators, supervisors and detachment commanders will strengthen relationships with victim services partners, and hold regular meetings to share information, identify concerns, and work collaboratively to support victims. Ongoing – on track

RCMP divisions are working with external partners to support victims. For example, one or more divisions have:

  • Sat on committees with victim services representatives
  • Participated in regular meetings with victim services
  • Established daily communications with victim services to provide referrals, information, and/or file updates
  • Engaged victim services on RCMP-led committees to provide feedback on sexual assault files
  • Assisted with training community-based victim services agencies
  • Involved victim services to assist with RCMP training
The RCMP will further strengthen relationships with outside agencies and continue to work towards this objective.
The RCMP will continue to explore alternative options for victims to report sexual assaults, such as third party reporting. Ongoing – on track

Third Party Reporting allows a survivor to report a sexual assault, anonymously, through a community-based organization. It is generally a community/organization-led initiative with police support.

Several provinces and territories have implemented third party reporting, including:

  • British Columbia
  • Yukon
  • Manitoba
  • Newfoundland and Labrador

The RCMP continues to support alternative reporting options in communities within our jurisdiction. Some developments to date include:

  • The Third Option program in Alberta and Prince Edward Island Footnote 2
  • The Kits on Ice program in the Yukon Footnote 3
  • An online reporting tool for victims of sexual violence in post-secondary institutions across Manitoba
  • The ability for victims in Nova Scotia to have forensic evidence collected and stored for up to six months while they decide if they want to report the sexual assault to police
  • The Supportive Reporting program in Alberta Footnote 4
  • Forensic holds in Manitoba Footnote 5
The RCMP will continue working with partners across the country to explore the option of Third Party Reporting in interested communities.
Public education and communications
Action Status Update Next Steps
The RCMP will develop public awareness products that encourage victims to report allegations to police, and explain what victims may expect when reporting a sexual assault. Ongoing - on track

The RCMP has developed an infographic and brochure on sexual consent.

The RCMP has also added information for sexual assault survivors onto our national public website.

The RCMP uses its corporate and divisional social media accounts to:

  • Raise awareness about sexual assault
  • Share information on the supports available to victims
  • Encourage victims to report sexual assaults
The RCMP will continue working towards this objective.

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