On December 15, 2020, the Comité d’experts sur l’accompagnement des victimes d’agressions sexuelles et de violence conjugale (committee of experts on support for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence) announced the publication of their report, entitled Rebâtir la confiance (rebuilding trust). The result of 18 months of work during the time of the #MeToo movement, the over 200-page report was the product of a trans-partisan initiative spearheaded by four female MNAs: Isabelle Charest, Minister for Education and Minister Responsible for the Status of Women; Isabelle Melançon, Member for Verdun; Christine Labrie, Member for Sherbrooke; and Véronique Hivon, Member for Joliette.
These four women recruited 21 experts, including university professors, legal experts, social workers, criminologists, actors on the ground and victims of sexual violence. During a consultation process with specialized organizations in several regions of Québec, many victims courageously spoke out about their experiences by answering an online questionnaire.
The committee’s recommendations
The report’s 190 recommendations focus primarily on psychosocial/legal support for victims of sexual violence. They propose making real changes to the current system, offering tools for victims and support workers to facilitate the entire process—from reporting an attack to the culmination of subsequent legal proceedings.
The committee’s main recommendations advocate:
specialized training for medical and psychosocial/legal professionals, police officers, lawyers, prosecutors and judges in working with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence
continuous support provided by a single counsellor
a service offering that is sensitive to Indigenous values
access to free legal counsel as soon as a complaint is made
creation of a special tribunal to deal with cases of sexual assault and domestic violence.
An improved complaint process
The committee expressed the importance of creating teams specialized in sex crimes and domestic violence within police departments and prosecutors’ offices to ensure that victims receive the appropriate support. It was also recommended that a counsellor be present when victims report a crime to the police to keep them informed of progress made in their case, and to offer them assistance in preparing their testimony (by explaining the legal process and humanizing the complaint process).
Adapted services for sectors of the population that are often ignored
The committee paid particular attention to victims from Indigenous communities, stressing the importance of offering them services that reflect their cultural values. Our sociohistorical context must be at the heart of any reflection if it is to result in real changes in the support services offered to Indigenous victims. The committee thus recommends the creation of a Centre intégré de services holistiques des Premières Nations et Inuits en matière d’agressions sexuelles et violence conjugale (an integrated centre for holistic services for members of First Nations and Inuit communities with respect to sexual assault and domestic violence) within the specialized tribunal.
Concrete impact on medico-social services in designated centres
Over 1,500 victims agreed to answer the questionnaire in order to express their needs and help identify the changes and improvements that need to be made to the current support system. The analysis of their responses revealed that:
50.1% of respondents had obtained services from the following organizations:
61.4% from CAVACS
47.3% from CALACS
27% from women’s shelters
23.1% of respondents who had not received services from any organization said that they were not aware of the existence of such services or thought that they were not appropriate for their situation.
The committee recognizes that the general public and various actors (the police, health professionals, etc.) are unaware of many of the services that are available to help victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. Many of its recommendations advocate improvements to referral services by provincial helplines (SOS violence conjugale and the Provincial Helpline for Victims of Sexual Assault).
The committee also recommends that general training be offered to people who work with victims to help them develop a general knowledge of the problem, and that specialized training should also be developed for counsellor in order to improve services.
Creation of a secretariat for the coordination and integration of actions against sexual and domestic violence (Secrétariat à la coordination et à l’intégration des actions en matière de violences sexuelles et conjugales)
This is the committee’s last—but far from least—recommendation. After reading the observations set out in this report, the importance of creating a body to be responsible for coordinating government initiatives in this area is obvious, bringing together experts on the subject of sexual and domestic violence from all sectors of intervention: governmental, para-governmental, community and voluntary.
The report also includes several other recommendations related to victims who are male and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as to the promotion and application of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. Possible solutions are also proposed for offering perpetrators of violence services that focus on prevention.
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