Rob Tycholiz is a sergeant with the Winnipeg Police Service sex crimes unit.
I’m one of the supervisors in the major sex crimes unit at the Winnipeg Police Service. We investigate the serious stuff: penetration cases, predatory cases, serial cases, and things like that for victims who are 14 and up. We take all the reports, investigate them and make arrests if warranted.
You need specific training to deal with sexual assault victims. We run a nine-day sexual assault course for police officers, teaching them how to work with witnesses and victims of this type of crime, and how to handle evidence. We have psychologists, doctors, sexual assault nurses and social workers come in to speak. That instills in the officers that the victims have needs that must be attended to, even if they’re peripheral to the investigation.
Officers should treat the victims as if they may be suffering from post-traumatic stress. This can affect their initial recollections of the incident. We need to be able to identify that, and maybe back off and take a statement at a different time. We put the health of the victim before the investigative needs. That’s a little different than if you were investigating a robbery.
Sometimes the victim’s statement is enough to go forward and charge somebody. That’s why we interview people who the victim told about the assault prior to contacting police. That’s specific to sex crimes cases. What those people tell us is supportive evidence and it’s accepted in court.
We can get information from texts or from the victim’s phone. It’s not very often that a case really comes down to “He said, she said.” A lack of forensic evidence certainly can stymie us, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Sometimes, we may really want a case to go forward, but if there is no likelihood of a conviction, why would we revictimize the victim by putting them through the whole process? Also, sometimes a media release about a sexual assault prompts others to come forward and report that person too. All the offences can be combined into one, much stronger, case.
I’ve been a policeman for 34 years. When I first started in the police service, we rarely went forward with a court case on spousal abuse. Now it’s much more common. With sexual offences, there hasn’t been as much progress.
It takes a lot of courage for a man or a woman to come forward and make a report of sexual assault. It doesn’t take courage to come forward if you’ve been stabbed or robbed. There’s so much stigma around sexual assault. Even the way the victim views themselves has to change—to not let it be a defining moment for them. They did nothing wrong. They had something wrong done to them.
I don’t think we need to change the law, I think we need to enforce the law more.
What bothers me is the number of assaults that aren’t reported to us. People should have more options. Right now, your choices are to report or not report. Maybe we can allow people to report anonymously online as a starting point. Another idea is to allow victims to speak directly with investigators, tell them what happened, and then make a decision about whether to go forward or not.
The victims we see in a lot of our cases were really drunk and did not have support people with them. People make poor decisions when they have been drinking. But who doesn’t do that? We can’t give advice to people on how not to be a victim. You never want to blame the victim. We need a lot of partners to help us get those messages out. That’s going to have to come from people a lot smarter than me.
— As told to Genna Buck. This interview has been condensed and edited.
This story is part of #Project97 — a year-long conversation about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Visit Project97.ca for more details on this collaborative project by Rogers-owned media outlets, and join us on Twitter with the hashtag #Project97.