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Survivors of sexual assault in Manitoba now have another option when coming forward to tell their stories.

Winnipeg Police, Manitoba RCMP the province and three community organizations have come together to implement Third Party Reporting.

That means if a survivor does not want to go to police, they can now report the details of their case anonymously to three community organizations, including Klinic Community Health Centre at 870 Portage Ave., Sage House at 886 Main Street and Heart Medicine Lodge at 455 McDermot Ave.

“It’s a little overdue but it’s very timely in a lot of ways,” Heart Medicine Lodge Executive Director Leslie Spillett said at Monday’s announcement. “We know that relationships are key to getting the confidence of people so they can and will share their story of sexual violence.”

“This is an incredibly important partnership between the police, justice and community-based organizations to ensure people have yet another option in the tool kit to allow them to come forward with their stories.”

Spillett says this will also help Indigenous women, who face higher levels of sexual assault than any other group.

Provincial Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Rochelle Squires, says sexual assault is an extremely underreported crime.

“The statistics support this,” Squires said. “We know that less than five per cent of individuals report an experience of sexual assault and only 17 per cent of sexual assault victims reported they consulted any support services.”

“We know providing options to survivors and ensuring they have control over what happens next is an important part of being trauma informed. Equally important is that by coming forward, survivors can become connected to the emotional and health supports they need.”

The way Third Party Reporting works is survivors of sexual assault will contact one of the three organizations to report the incident and then that information – with the exception of the survivor’s name – will be turned over to police. If the survivor ends up wanting to open a criminal investigation, those organizations will put them in touch with police when they are ready.

Both Manitoba RCMP and Winnipeg Police say Third Party Reporting does not replace traditional reporting but it is another option.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Scott Kolody and Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth both noted Third Party Reporting will not lead directly to criminal investigations, but it will provide them with valuable information that will be entered into the VICLAS system, which is a national database designed to track violent offenders.

Smyth says this will help them identify repeat offenders and trends.

“We’ll have the ability to see if other assaults that are similar,” Smyth said. “It doesn’t mean a criminal investigation, but it will give us a good sense of how much of it is happening in the community.”

Kolody says in order for case-by-case assaults to be investigated, eventually the victim will have to come to police.

He hopes that might be easier for them now that they have this new support.

“They are facing trauma, they have anxiety and sometimes they are intimidated to walk into a police station,” Kolody said. “This is information at the onset to make them feel comfortable coming forward, but at some point if criminal charges are going to be laid then that identification will have to be made.”

Klinic Executive Director Nicole Chammartin says their crisis line gets around 4,000 sexual abuse calls per year, but it’s too early to tell whether or not Third Party Reporting will lead to an increase.

“For some people making a formal report is not an option or it’s something they don’t feel safe doing and for others making no report doesn’t feel good,” Chammartin said. “There are a lot of reasons people choose not to report or disclose, and it’s really important to find ways to make sure those voices are heard and I think this is a really important step in doing so.”

Manitoba joins BC and Yukon as the only three jurisdictions that have implemented Third Party Reporting.

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