Staff Sergeant Celso De Lemos
General Investigation Unit (GIU) Surrey RCMP
Victim Support Worker Surrey Women’s Centre
It is estimated that only 1 in 10 women will report a sexual assault to the police.
In 2008, BC launched a Third Party Reporting Protocol as an option for women (19+ years) to report a sexual assault to the police while remaining anonymous.
Surrey is one of several communities in which the local police and community-based victim services programs are working together to ensure that sexual assault survivors have an alternative reporting option.
“Not everyone is comfortable making a report to the police,” says Staff Sergeant Celso De Lemos. “Making a third party report is an important first step - they don’t have to be alone, they can tell someone.”
Nancy Drewery, Team Leader at Surrey Women’s Centre, explains, “When a woman has been sexually assaulted, she can go to a community-based victim service programs, like ours, to make a ‘third party report’. We take the details of the assault and then send the report to Celso’s unit without identifying the woman – she remains anonymous. ”
“Police officers have more responsibility than authority, meaning we can’t just do anything we want to advance an investigation” says Celso. He makes it clear that the report “goes directly to General Investigation Unit. It doesn’t go to any other unit within Surrey RCMP, it goes straight to my unit. I assign an investigator to review the file. We actually create a file so it’s on record that this is a third party complaint. Depending on what is in the report, we may be able to proceed and investigate a little further. …Sometimes the identity of the suspect is revealed and we can check, based on the information that we have, if this is the first time, the second time or there’s been multiple reports on the same suspect.” Therefore, we can now have an idea of whether it’s just a one-time report or part of a pattern. Third party reports can help police look for and evaluate trends, create profiles of serial predators and take actions such as increasing patrols in specific areas.
Nancy explains, “If there is enough evidence, the police come back to us at Surrey Women’s Centre to see if the complainant is willing to talk to the police directly.” In some cases, women who make a third party report decide to make a formal complaint to the police later. Celso adds “Surrey Women’s Centre becomes our bridge, our contact point for victims of crime who may not necessarily want to talk directly to the police, for whatever reason. If the victim agrees, it is a major milestone, because now we can conduct a full-scale investigation.”
Nancy adds, “We have to remember that most women are sexually assaulted by someone they know. “ “When a victim of violence is able to realize that it’s not a healthy relationship, that they have the power to get out of a violent relationship, that they don’t have to be afraid, there’s help out there, from the police, from the justice system, from agencies like Surrey Women’s Centre…... I feel that success is not necessarily putting people in jail. Empowering the victim to get out of that violent relationship, that’s also a success story,” says Celso.