Thousands of people followed the trial of Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen and the verdict on Tuesday where he was found not guilty of sexual assault.
Local advocates say high-profile trials like this can make it harder for women to come forward with allegations.
“If you’re looking for justice, the justice system might not be the way to get it,” said Allison Mclauchlan, executive director of the Kelowna Women’s Shelter.
Mclauchlan says women who have experienced sexual violence watch how the trials play out and sometimes it discourages them to share their stories.
“They’re paying attention to see what people are saying, how the lawyers are defending or prosecutor, and they’re paying close attention,” Mclauchlan said.
“It will have an impact, it absolutely will.”
Central Okanagan Victim Services works with the Kelowna RCMP to provide support and lessen the impact of crime and trauma for anyone who has been victimized or witnessed a crime.
They provide emotional support and court support during the time they are involved with the criminal justice system. For sexual assault cases, they work with a local women’s society.
“All files are referred to us and we ensure that victims of intimate partner violence, sexual violence and child abuse are referred to a specialized unit which is housed with the (Central Okanagan) Elizabeth Fry society,” said Central Okanagan Victim Services team lead, Shari Ellis.
The University of British Columbia Okanagan offers support through its Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO). They help anyone at the school through their own healing journey.
“Most of the folks we help don’t report to police for a lot of reasons,” said SVPRO director, Shilo St. Cyr. “We provide lots of different options on what healing and support looks like, whether it’s joining an art-based group or specialized for indigenous, black and people of colour or it might be being connected to a trauma counsellor.”
St. Cyr hopes the trial can spark national dialogue on the root causes of sexualized violence.
“We have a lot of work to do to end rape culture, it’s someone’s choice and decision to reach out and get help. Only the survivor knows what’s best. Access to healing just looks different to everyone,” St. Cyr said.
The Kelowna Women’s Shelter provides support with their emergency shelter and encourages women to speak their truth as it’s the only way to end the stigma.
“We have to talk about it on a regular basis, not when it comes to a high-profile case such as this or any other case. We have to talk about it when it’s quiet, let’s not just talk about it when there’s a case in the media or something is in the media eye. We need to talk about it 24/7,” said Mclauchlan.
The shelter also has a 24-hour crisis line for anyone needing support.
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