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N.S. nurse tells police review board that officer seemed to place blame on victim

July 11, 2023  By The Canadian Press


July 11, 2023, Halifax, N.S. – A nurse who collected evidence of rape from a Nova Scotia woman told a police review board hearing on Tuesday that a constable asked the woman inappropriate questions that seemed to place blame on the victim.

Carrie Low filed a complaint against the Halifax Regional Police and Const. Bojan Novakovic a year after she reported being sexually assaulted by at least two men in a trailer in East Preston, N.S., on May 18, 2018.

Jane Collins, a sexual assault nurse examiner, told a Nova Scotia Police Review Board hearing that she felt Novakovic’s detailed questioning of Low at the hospital the next day should have been left to officers specialized in rape cases. Collins said the constable asked Low why she didn’t try to get out of a car in which she was being confined and call for help from police, who were in a nearby parking lot.

“It was putting onus on Ms. Low as to why she couldn’t escape,” Collins testified. I thought (Novakovic) was revictimizing her. It wasn’t anything I had experienced before with a police officer.”

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Low has told the hearing that after she left a bar in a Halifax suburb, she remembered lying down in a car and repeatedly asking the men inside to let her out. The hearing has also heard evidence that while Low was in the car, police were responding to a fight nearby

“I felt there was blaming involved and I didn’t think it was appropriate, that’s what really bothered me,” Collins said about Novakovic’s questions.

Novakovic has been docked eight hours pay for his handling of Low’s case. In response, Low appealed that penalty to the review board, and she has also requested that the board make recommendations to improve the Halifax police force’s response to sexual assault survivors. Low’s lawyer has said the legal team was considering what appropriate disciplinary sanctions should be sought against Novakovic.

Later on Tuesday, Samantha Sarty, a second sexual assault nurse who treated Low on May 19, 2018, testified before the hearing. Sarty said Novakovic told her he had training on how to speak with victims of trauma, adding that the constable appeared confident in doing so.

However, Sarty, who is also a social worker, said Novakovic’s questions caused Low to become flustered and red-faced. Sarty said she noticed Low began crying.

“What I mentally noted is he was asking her a lot of ‘why’ questions, challenging questions … Questions that seek to understand the motive behind someone’s behaviour, rather than just a fact,” she said.

Sarty recalled that Collins intervened and told Novakovic he shouldn’t be asking those kinds of questions.

On Monday, Low told the review board that police never went to the scene of her alleged rape, even after she gave Novakovic the address. As well, she said her underwear and one of her shoes were never recovered from the scene in East Preston.

Low also testified on Monday that Novakovic gave her an evidence bag and told her to store her clothing in it for potential DNA sampling. She said the constable told her an officer would collect it later in the day. The board, however, heard that it was Novakovic who picked up the clothing 10 days later, after Low had complained about the delays to a police supervisor.

Sarty told the hearing on Tuesday that clothing evidence should normally be stored in a refrigerated environment and that not doing so poses a risk to its validity.

Board chair Jean McKenna asked Sarty why the nurses didn’t collect the clothing themselves, and Sarty replied that she couldn’t recall exactly why they decided not to. She added that at times, nurses decide not to seize clothing because the victim doesn’t have other clothing to wear.

Collins testified that the general procedure is for the sexual assault nurses to ask a list of questions when they meet a rape survivor, adding that they strictly avoid challenging the survivor’s responses.

“We don’t ask, ‘Why didn’t you do this?’ or ‘Why didn’t you do that?’” she told McKenna.

Collins said nurses are sensitive about their questions because they know the victim will be interviewed again by police who are trained in sexual assault cases, and because victims are often exhausted after a physical examination – in Low’s case, her exam and interview with nurses took more than four hours.

Collins told the hearing she had apologized to Novakovic for becoming angry and interrupting his interview at the hospital; however, she said she stood by her critique of his questions.

The hearing continues on Thursday.


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