Oak Centre is a Vernon-based program that has been in existence since the fall of 2015. (Brieanna Charlebois - Morning Star)

Vernon Women’s Transition House responds to RCMP interrogation video of sexual assault victim

“When we saw the interview, we were heartbroken, frustrated, and furious because this was such an egregious handling of a really traumatic situation for a teenager.”

Vernon Women’s Transition House is speaking out after a sexual assault interrogation video surfaced last week.

The video, shot in 2012, shows a Kelowna RCMP officer interviewing an Indigenous girl for two hours. It included the officer asking if the teenage girl was “turned on…even a little bit,” during the alleged assault and questioning how hard she resisted her attacker, against whom no charges were ever laid.

“When we saw the interview, we were heartbroken, frustrated, and furious because this was such an egregious handling of a really traumatic situation for a teenager,” said Sherry Demetrick, Vernon Women’s Transition House Society co-executive director of administration.

She said that this video, though several years old, is still a “wake-up call.”

“We need a better system – one where police and social workers are specifically trained in how to take a disclosure of sexual assault from children and youth,” she said. “Obviously this officer was not properly trained and clearly interjected his own biases into his investigation but because it’s such a unique area of crime, it really does require investigators to conduct forensically sound, unbiased interviews with vulnerable youth.”

She said that while no victim should be subject to interrogation and retraumatization, one of their main concerns is officers treating teenagers and youths as adults. She also took the opportunity to shine a light on the Oak Centre in Vernon, a child and youth advocacy sector of the VWTH. This program, which has been in existence since the fall of 2015, is a resource to children and youth who have experienced abuse, sexual assault, or witnessed a crime. The goal of the program is to facilitate partnerships between police, child protective services, victim services, health and counselling programs and school districts.

“These partnerships focus on specialized training for interviewers, collaboration for police and child protection investigations and engagement with victim services from the time of disclosure,” Demetrick said. “There is a movement within the province to do better. We have seen the development of child and youth advocacy centres, including Oak Centre in Vernon. These partnerships focus on specialized training for interviewers, collaboration for police and child protection investigations and engagement with victim services from the time of disclosure.”

When asked how things have evolved — both societally and within programs at the Transition House — since 2012, when the taping of the video took place, Demetrick noted that things have improved, but there is still much more authorities can do.

“RCMP have been a great community partner with us and been very involved but obviously that can always improve and grow and we are very hopeful that is going to continue to happen especially because [the Oak Centre] is still a new program. We are continuing to develop those partnerships and strengthen them and then, hopefully, we’ll see less of this as we evolve.”

Demetrick encourages anyone who is the victim of child abuse or sexual assault to reach out by phoning 250-558-3850.

The Vernon Women’s Transition House is located at 2400 46th Avenue in Vernon.

Related: Kelowna RCMP under fire after video shows officer interrogating Indigenous girl who reported sex assault

Related: B.C. government is failing vulnerable kids and families, according to its own audits

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