By Nina Kalirai
The Canadian Armed Forces is one of many industries that is often overlooked when it comes to acts of sexual misconduct that occur within the workplace.
In the interview, VIBE TALKS correspondent Nina Kalirai speaks to Catherine Gagné of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre for the Canadian Armed Forces on sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces. We also discuss services the Centre offers to victims, as well as the reporting process and how this may differ depending on how long victims take to come forward with allegations.
Nina: What is the reporting process for sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces?
Catherine: I work at the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, and we’re actually not an investigative centre. When people call wanting to report, we gather minimal information and we refer them to the appropriate resource. We don’t actually take the report ourselves. We facilitate access to the appropriate reporting mechanism. Often, that’s our military police liaison officer. If they want to report to the police, they can talk to the military police liaison officer anonymously. If they’re thinking about reporting, they can talk to the military police liaison officer about the process, what’s involved, and what it will look like before actually making a report. But whenever people call us, and they definitely want to report, then we would refer them to the appropriate mechanism
Nina: How often do acts of sexual misconduct occur within the Canadian Armed Forces?
Catherine: This is an endemic issue. I can’t tell you exactly when or how often it occurs, but we know that way more people are talking about it. Several people are calling us, so that means they are becoming more comfortable discussing it. But we know that that number is often very much underrepresented. Last year we had 410 individuals come forward. They weren’t all about sexual assaults per se, but those were the number of people that called us for different services. Often, it’s just to request information, but that may involve reporting or wanting to discuss a specific case of sexual assault.
Nina: Just based on your experience, around what time frame and how long do sexual misconduct victims usually wait before coming forward, if that’s mentioned at all?
Catherine: That’s a good question. It’s the second time I’ve been asked that question actually. Everybody responds to the incident in a different way. Some people do want to report the incident right away, some people want to wait a bit. It’s hard to tell you an accurate number, it really ranges from immediately, to a few days, to several years. We have people calling us wanting to make a report or discuss an issue that happened 25 year ago. Lots of people may also call us just once to discuss the issue, and then it may take them up to a year before wanting to report it. They’re just kind of wrapping their minds around the process, and making sure that’s really what they want to do. There’s no specific time frame I could give you, in terms of the length of time between a sexual assault occurring, and when the person reports it. The reporting of a sexual assault is actually an exception, it’s not the norm. The vast majority of people actually never disclose a report.
Nina: So, you mentioned that some people wait up to 25 years, others up to a year to report acts of sexual misconduct. It kind of just depends on how comfortable they are. In that sense, in the process of reporting, if someone was to report an act from 25 years ago, would the reporting process be the same, or would it vary greatly?
Catherine: The reporting itself would be the same. They have access to the same resources. They could talk to our military police liaison officer. It’s maybe the investigative portion that may be different, because at that point your looking for witnesses’, documents, different things like that. The longer it has been since the incident, of course the harder it’s going to be to find the evidence required. But we do have cases that are investigated that were 25 years ago, and I can’t really speak on the outcome of those incidents, but it’s doable. The military police and Canadian Armed Forces National Investigative Services (CFNIS) do their best to go out in the different units or bases, and try to find information that would help the case.
Nina: How does the sexual misconduct response centre work to ensure that victims do not become re-victimized in their situations?
Catherine: Our primary focus is to support all victims and other people that have been affected by harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour. We’re always there to listen to them if they want to call us. We try to provide support throughout their journey and their recovery. I know that the Canadian Armed Forces strategic response team on sexual misconduct, is doing a lot regarding training and different education programs. Lots is being done through Operation Honour to change the culture, and the more we talk about it, the more I think this will be something that will not be tolerated anymore. More people will speak out, and hopefully that will help people not be re-victimized.
Nina: You just mentioned Operation Honour. Through my research I actually did come across Operation Honour. So, tell us a little bit about what Operation Honour is?
Catherine: Operation Honour is a mission for all Canadian Armed Forces members to eliminate harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour. This mission has no end date, so it’s something that the Chief of Defence Staff chief has implemented, and has given orders for all its members to follow. It has four pillars that it’s based on. Awareness and understanding, so that’s where all of the discussions and training come into play. Response and support, that’s where we come into play, the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, as well as prevention. Through these four pillars we are trying to reach everybody and every aspect of the issue. Operation Honour aims to help people who have been victimized, and are currently dealing with this, but also prevent it and change the culture so it does not occur further.
Nina: Are there any other support measures that the Canadian Armed Forces offers to those who are victims of sexual misconduct? Maybe something like counselling or anything like that?
Catherine: Our services include supportive counselling. It’s not long-term counselling, but we are there to respond when people want to call us. We also provide crisis intervention. So, we’re there. We’re client centred and we respect the needs of the victims, or the people that call us, and we just go from there. We have empathy and provide compassionate support, and we provide options and also refer people to resources. There’s lots of other resources within the CAF that are available. There’s the CF Health Services, the Chaplaincy, and the Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program. Of course, if anybody calls us and they feel they identify needing more long-term support, we can definitely refer them to other services. That’s the great thing about the Sexual Misconduct Centre, is that we’re the only centre right now that’s mixing this knowledge of the Armed Forces, and the knowledge of sexual trauma and sexual misconduct. It’s through a call with us that we can then help them access different services. It can also include civilian services, local community centres, local sexual assault centres in these resources, so we give a variety of options to whoever calls us.
Nina: What’s the phone number and e-mail address that victims of the Canadian Armed Forces can reach out to if they do need to report an act of sexual misconduct?
Catherine: The phone number is 1-844-750-1648 and the e-mail address is DND.SMRC-CIIS.MDN@forces.gc.ca.
But if anybody wants more information about us, you’ll find on our website Sexual Misconduct Response Centre. Counselors answer the line 24/7 and we respond to e-mails during business hours, from 7am to 5pm.