Too many sexual assault cases dismissed

Duane Hicks

The executive director of the Rainy River District Women’s Shelter of Hope is troubled by a Feb. 3 Globe & Mail article indicating Canadian police dismiss an average of one out of every five sexual assault reports as unfounded.
But Donna Kroocmo was more shocked to find the numbers even higher here in Rainy River District, where 40 out of 114 (35 percent) sexual assault allegations here between 2014 and 2010 were dismissed as “unfounded”–meaning the investigator does not believe a criminal offence occurred or was attempted.
“I was alarmed and disheartened,” Kroocmo told the Times.
“I really didn’t expect the local rate would be higher than the national average,” she noted.
“One out of five and then we’re 35 percent in the Rainy River District?
“That’s just unacceptable,” she stressed. “Completely unacceptable.”
Kroocmo said area police services need to work closely with support services when it comes to handling sexual assault incidents–and she doesn’t feel that’s been the case so far.
While Rainy River District does not have a dedicated sexual assault centre, the Shelter of Hope does have staff trained to help victims of sexual assault, as does the Rainy River District Victim Services Program, and they work closely with the Kenora Sexual Assault Centre.
“So we have access to resources for the victims and yet we have never received a referral from the police on a sexual assault case,” said Kroocmo.
“And that’s concerned me for a number of years now,” she noted. “But now when this came out, it’s even more concerning.
“We want more involvement,” Kroocmo added. “We want to work more closely with the police on these cases.”
Kroocmo said there is a working protocol between all shelters and the OPP and Treaty #3 Police, but maybe it needs to be revisited and updated.
“Because this is not okay,” she reiterated.
Kroocmo said it’s up to women to report sexual assault to the police or not, but she wants women to know the Shelter of Hope is here to support them.
“Women have enough reasons for not disclosing or going to the police,” she noted.
“The Jian Ghomeshi trial–that put a lot more fear into any woman who’s even considering reporting,” she added. “Because of that, they’re already terrified to go forward.
“And to know that there’s this likelihood that it’s going to be dismissed as unfounded . . . it’s not acceptable.”
The bottom line for Kroocmo is that the Shelter of Hope is available as a resource in sexual assault cases.
“We’re the experts in the women abuse field,” she reasoned. “That would be us–give us a call.
“We would even be willing to meet the woman at the hospital, or to accompany her or be with her while the police talk to her and give her her options.
“We do find that in other cases, when we advocate for a woman, not necessarily with the police but with any other agency . . . they fare much, much better when they have an advocate there because they’re not even able to hear what’s being said to them,” Kroocmo said.
“They’re in trauma and they need somebody.”
Women who have been victims of sexual assault can call the Shelter of Hope at 1-800-465-3348.
Rainy River District OPP detachment commander Insp. Steve Shouldice was contacted for comment but referred the Times to OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes’ statements made on Feb. 8 that the OPP will be reviewing previously “unfounded” cases.
“The OPP takes all reports of sexual assault and violence very seriously, and uses all resources necessary to conduct complete, thorough, and professional investigations,” said Hawkes.
“We have policies and procedures in place, mandatory training for investigators, and layers of supervision and review for these types of investigations,” he added.
“We are strongly committed to continuously seek improvement in order to earn and maintain the public’s confidence and trust.”
Hawkes noted that over the next several weeks, the OPP will review roughly 4,000 sexual assault investigation reports that resulted in a designation as “unfounded” between 2010 and 2014.
“We want to ensure that all reports during that period were properly classified when received; that the incidents were appropriately investigated; and that the correct classification was used when the investigation was completed,” he said.
“It will take some time to review and assess these incidents, and, if warranted, we will expand the review,” Hawkes explained.
“If it is determined that any sexual assault report was not properly investigated by the OPP, we will re-open that investigation.”
The OPP encourages victims to continue to come forward and report crimes, and its officers will continue to offer professional support and referrals to resources within the communities they serve.
“I want all victims of sexual assault or any crime to have confidence in the OPP and our ability to investigate crimes and bring those responsible to justice,” said Hawkes.
“I will provide another statement at the conclusion of the review, which will include a summary of the analysis.”
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services also announced Feb. 15 more support for people who have experienced sexual assault through a program that builds partnerships between community and justice partners, front-line victim service providers, and police services across the province.
Following a call for applications to all police services in Ontario, including municipal and First Nation police services, as well as the OPP, the province allocated a total of about $1.8 million over two years for 15 projects.
A total of $121,530 has been earmarked for the OPP’s Northwest Region to pilot an expert sexual violence review committee to review and oversee sexual assault complaints.
This will include assessment of cases that did not result in convictions and gap analysis, with a goal of mitigating potential re-traumatization as the victim navigates the justice system in future cases.
Another $150,000 has been allocated to the Treaty #3 Police Service to a program called “Support our Survivors.”
“S.O.S.” will provide local, culturally-supportive programming and support mechanisms to help indigenous survivors and their families facing trauma and assist with their healing journey.
A co-ordinator will serve as a central point of contact for survivors, supporting their safety and well-being by connecting them to services and guiding them through the complexities of the justice system.
The person also will help police maintain positive relationships with survivors.