The pane will discuss structural changes to deliver better support for sexual violence survivors. (Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society)

UBCO and Elizabeth Fry host panel to discuss structural change for sexual assault survivors

The panel follows backlash against RCMP which deemed 40% of sexual assault cases as “unfounded”

Three community organizations will team up to host a panel discussion about how to change the way Kelowna’s RCMP detachment helps sexual assault survivors.

Spearheaded by the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society, UBC Okanagan and the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office, the panel will discuss ways to improve accountability and structural change within the local police force.

The panel follows intense backlash against the RCMP last fall, after Kelowna Capital News revealed the RCMP deemed 40 per cent of sexual assault cases as “unfounded” in 2019.

READ MORE: ‘Steeped in rape culture’: Sexual assault survivor speaks out against Kelowna RCMP

“Sexual assault is a big point of discussion in the community and we really wanted to try to put together an event that would provide more of an opportunity for the community to come together and be involved in the discussion,” said Mandy Glinsbockel, Elizabeth Fry’s community engagement coordinator.

Aden Withers, who is one of four panelists and a sexual violence activist and survivor, said she hopes the panel will demonstrate the need for a dedicated sexual assault unit within the local police detachment.

“We as a community need to come together and make demands of the RCMP to better their services and put in place a sexual assault unit,” said Withers.

She added that officers and personnel need to be trained to deal with sexual assault cases because it will keep the RCMP more accountable and provide victims with better care.

READ MORE: Petition calls for sexual assault investigation unit within Kelowna RCMP

“Accountability to me looks like specially trained officers handling sexual assault cases, increasing funding for organizations like Elizabeth Fry for more trauma counselling sessions and a properly trained advocate to be present during all sexual assault cases,” she said.

She also said structural change within the police force also needs to happen.

“We as a community need to work within the RCMP to change the stigma behind sexual assault here in Kelowna. We as survivors often have to face negative stereotypes because our community is quite stuck in a traditional mindset…our RCMP should be at the forefront when it comes to debunking rape myths,” said Withers.

“I want to open the discussion by debunking the stigma behind sexual abuse. One in five individuals is sexually abused and so often, it’s not talked about because of how people view rape or victims of rape.”

The Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society’s executive director Michelle Novakowski said Kelowna is past due for a dedicated sex crimes unit.

“We really need one. That would mean that’s all the officers are dedicated to, to investigate sexual assault reports and take them,” Novakowski said.

“They need trauma-informed training, so they understand why a survivor’s story doesn’t come linear, the way it does when you have a break and enter or something.

“The brain responds to this kind of trauma and it’s not always available to clearly talk about it.”

The Kelowna RCMP is currently conducting an internal review to find out why 40 per cent of sexual assault cases in 2019 were deemed unfounded, dwarfing the 15 per cent average across the province.

The panel will be held at UBCO’s student union building Jan. 22, 4:30 p.m.

For more information on the panel, visit the panel’s event site.

READ MORE: Speaker series in Kelowna raises funds for trauma counselling

READ MORE: ‘We represent the 40%’: Protesters swarm Kelowna RCMP over unfounded sexual assault reports


Twila Amato
Video journalist, Black Press Okanagan
Email me at twila.amato@blackpress.ca
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