Sup­port­ing vic­tims

Amherst po­lice of­fi­cers take part in two-day work­shop

The Amherst News - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREW WAGSTAFF An­drew.wagstaff@amher­st­ Twit­ter: @ADNan­drew

Mem­bers of the Amherst Po­lice Depart­ment have re­ceived new train­ing on how to deal with vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault trauma.

When it comes to deal­ing with sex­ual as­sault vic­tims, things are not al­ways as they seem.

That’s be­cause trauma af­fects a dif­fer­ent part of the brain than the cere­bral cor­tex, where our log­i­cal “think­ing brain” is used for ev­ery­day in­ter­ac­tion, ac­cord­ing to Su­san Wil­son, provin­cial co­or­di­na­tor of the Sex­ual As­sault Nurse Ex­am­iner (SANE) Pro­gram.

“It’s a mat­ter of un­der­stand­ing trauma, un­der­stand­ing that fear is at the core of trauma, and un­der­stand­ing how the brain pro­cesses trauma,” said Wil­son. “A dif­fer­ent part of our brain is af­fected by trauma, and we shouldn’t ex­pect the same kinds of re­ac­tions we tra­di­tion­ally have. We’ve gone way off cen­tre where we should be with re­gards to how we treat vic­tims of sex­u­al­ized vi­o­lence.”

When ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fear, a com­mon re­ac­tion is to “freeze” rather than scream or fight or run, and this can cre­ate a per­cep­tion of sub­mis­sion or even con­sent to the un­in­formed ob­server, she ex­plained.

Wil­son was in Amherst re­cently to as­sist with a two-day work­shop on Trauma In­formed Re­sponse to Sex­u­al­ized Vi­o­lence for mem­bers of the Amherst Po­lice Depart­ment and other po­lice of­fi­cers.

Also on hand was Mark Hobeck, a pub­lic safety and polic­ing ser­vices con­sul­tant with the depart­ment of jus­tice, who ex­plained

the work­shop is a prov­ince-wide ef­fort to bet­ter equip of­fi­cers to com­mu­ni­cate and deal with vic­tims of vi­o­lence so as not to re-vic­tim­ize them.

“Your first con­tact with vic­tims can not only make or break your file as an in­ves­ti­ga­tor, but it can ei­ther pro­vide a pos­i­tive, nur­tur­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the vic­tim, or it can be dev­as­tat­ing to the vic­tim if not ap­plied prop­erly,” he said.

With the re­cent work­shop, ev­ery full-time of­fi­cer with the Amherst Po­lice Depart­ment (be­sides soon-tio-re­tire chief Ian Nay­lor) has re­ceived the train­ing, a claim no other po­lice force in the prov­ince can make, ac­cord­ing

to Hobeck. Also on hand for the re­cent ses­sion were RCMP of­fi­cers and of­fi­cers from other mu­nic­i­pal agen­cies such as Stel­lar­ton, Westville and Truro.

Nay­lor rec­og­nized a need for this train­ing and was try­ing to line it up last year, be­fore it be­came a provincewide ini­tia­tive.

“Po­lice want to get it right, and feel we’re go­ing to to be able to do a bet­ter job for vic­tims,” said Nay­lor. “We want them to un­der­stand we do care, we do be­lieve them, we want to be sen­si­tive to their needs, and this course pro­vides skills to be able to do a bet­ter job at that.”

Mem­bers re­ceive in­struc­tion

on such things as the le­gal as­pect of these types of in­ves­ti­ga­tions, tech­niques and ap­proaches to in­ter­viewig sur­vivors, and the ap­pro­pri­ate lan­guage to use when doc­u­ment­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Feed­back from of­fi­cers has been pos­i­tive, ac­cord­ing to Hobeck.

“For the most part, what we’ve found is that, even though they are long days, no one is re­ally itch­ing to get out the door,” he said. “They seem to want more in­for­ma­tion, and it seems to be very pos­i­tive at this point.”


Mem­bers of the Amherst Po­lice Depart­ment have re­ceived new train­ing on how to deal with vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault trauma. On hand for the two-day work­shop were (from left) Amherst Po­lice Chief Ian Nay­lor, Su­san Wil­son, provin­cial co­or­di­na­tor of the...

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