(Ottawa) The head of the response center set up to help victims of military sexual misconduct said her organization had seen an explosion in calls for help in the past year.
Denise Preston, executive director of the Civilian-run Sexual Misconduct Response Center, said the increase coincided with allegations of inappropriate behavior by senior officers.
She said many victims and survivors have also sought help after having to relive bad memories and trauma in order to be included in the government’s settlement agreement in several class actions.
“What we saw, and this has been maintained throughout the year, is that once the allegations started to erupt in February and March, we saw an immediate increase in the volume of calls, ”said the director of the center in an interview.
“Some weeks we had double or triple calls than usual,” she said.
Denise Preston said the response center has hired more counselors due to the increase in calls.
The center is also spearheading several new measures for military personnel, veterans and civilian officials.
These measures include a peer support program and a much anticipated restorative process where victims can share their experiences with senior defense officials.
“There is tremendous potential in this program for healing and also for transforming culture,” said Denise Preston of The Restorative Process, which will kick off in earnest in January after months of consultation and preparation.
The center, which previously served only military personnel but recently expanded to help veterans and civil defense officials, is also preparing to expand its footprint across the country and will provide funding to more centers. community.
Yet even as he prepares to launch these initiatives, Denise Preston said the center scrambles to help victims and survivors hit by months of headlines that include unprecedented allegations against senior commanders.
The centre’s emergency line staff didn’t see this just in the number of incoming calls; Denise Preston said the nature of calls has also changed as more people pick up the phone in the hopes of finding support and advice.
“The vast majority of calls go to our advisers,” she said. “It’s really about support. People are upset by what they hear or by how it makes them think about their own particular situation. “
As a result, Denise Preston said she needed to prioritize hiring more counselors, with the center’s staff number tripling since April.
The center was established in 2016 after a scathing report by retired Supreme Court Judge Marie Deschamps uncovered a highly sexualized culture in the Canadian Armed Forces. The center operates outside the military chain of command, but depends on the Ministry of Defense for its funding.
Following allegations against several senior officers, victims and others have called for a truly independent center whose mandate includes oversight of the military, as Marie Deschamps initially recommended.
Denise Preston said she has also called on the military and the Department of Defense to provide the center with more information on incidents of sexual misconduct in the ranks so that it can provide better oversight, but that military commanders resisted for reasons of confidentiality.
She also met with retired Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbor, who is currently conducting a review of how the military deals with allegations of sexual misconduct and must make recommendations to address any shortcomings.
Denise Preston agrees, as some critics suggest, that the center is not fully independent, but she hopes that when Louise Arbor’s review is completed it will include guidance on its mandate and its complaints mechanism.
“We would really like Madame Arbor to clarify this in some way: what does our independence mean? And regardless of who and for what purpose? “