Edmonton

Police report fewer sexual assaults in Alberta in 2016, but expert says data is misleading

The number of sexual assaults reported by police in Alberta dropped last year by seven per cent, but the executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton says the numbers don't tell the whole story.

'Eventually, we'll get to a point where ... victims will feel more confident to come forward'

Mary Jane James, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, says Statistic Canada's data on the number of sexual assaults in Alberta does not tell the whole story. (CBC)

The number of sexual assaults reported by police in Alberta dropped last year by seven per cent, but the executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton says the numbers don't tell the whole story.

The data gathered by Statistics Canada and released Monday is based on cases where police open a file and not on actual complaints, said Mary Jane James.

We hear almost every day of victims not being believed.- Mary Jane James

In 2016, police reported 2,698 sexual assaults in Alberta, down seven per cent from 2015, according to Statistics Canada.

The problem is how police agencies in the province respond to sexual assault complaints, James said.

"In the surrounding areas, in the more rural areas, we hear almost every day of victims not being believed, nothing was done," James said.
  
When nothing is done, the allegation is labeled unfounded and the case is closed.

Unfounded cases can also include those with too little evidence to proceed, or those where the evidence is compromised. But the standard across the province for delineating between founded and unfounded incidents is inconsistent. 

Many police forces report to Statistics Canada only those cases that lead to charges, while others, such as the Edmonton Police Service, includes unfounded cases.

Earlier this year, the agency announced it's coming up with guidelines for all police forces to include both founded and unfounded sexual assaults in 2018.

James is optimistic the more stringent reporting process will help more victims report assaults and show a more complete picture of the number of sexual assaults.

"Eventually, we'll get to a point where we can count on due process being done and victims will feel more confident to come forward." 

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