Hamilton police reviewing 7 historical sex assault cases after victims come forward
Move comes after review finds police improperly handled 70% of 'unfounded' sex assault cases
Two months after Hamilton police said they were willing to reopen historic sexual assault cases stretching back to 2010, seven people have come forward asking investigators to review their cases.
This comes in light of a recent community review showing investigators reached inaccurate conclusions in 70 per cent of cases they deemed "unfounded."
"We're pleased that the individuals have reached out," said Deputy Chief Dan Kinsella. "We're prepared to review any and all who come forward."
Kinsella said police weren't certain how many people would reach out to them and ask to have their cases reviewed, so it's unclear what would be a positive number in this instance.
This all comes after a sweeping Globe and Mail investigation revealed police in Hamilton and Halton dismissed 30 per cent of sex assault claims over a five-year period as "unfounded," which is a number far higher than the national average of 19 per cent.
We very much want to follow the victim's wishes. We will do anything we can to be supportive.- Deputy Chief Dan Kinsella
In the wake of that discovery, Hamilton police did an internal review of about 700 files from 2010 to 2014, which found 75.1 per cent of unfounded cases were properly cleared.
But a review by a new sexual assault community review team (SACRT), did a deeper dive into some of the cases. That included watching hours of video interviews.
That review found 70 per cent of unfounded cases should not have been ruled as such. Reasons included investigators relying on rape myths, giving greater weight to the suspect's story, and using interrogation tactics on victims, among other elements.
The SACRT will continue to meet four times per year now to review a random sampling of unfounded cases. That team includes people who work in victims services and at the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton and Area.
Difficulties trusting police
Lenore Lukasik-Foss, who was part of the community review, told CBC News that she has "mixed feelings" when it comes to these cases being reexamined.
She says she is heartened that police are being open and transparent, and willing to look at areas "where they had failed survivors." But she also thinks there are lots of victims out there who were traumatized by their last encounter with police, and so will be reluctant to come forward.
"They get very shut down about wanting to engage with police," Lukasik-Foss said. "It would suggest to me there are lots of folks out there who would want their cases reviewed."
There's also the prospect of time, and how that will impact investigations. As time goes by, evidence can become murkier.
"In all cases, as time goes by, it becomes harder to remember for victims and witnesses," Kinsella said.
'We very much want to follow the victim's wishes'
So why not just reopen any cases where it appears investigators had reached an improper conclusion?
Chief Eric Girt said at a police board meeting last November it's because victims may be in different stages of healing and not want the case to be reopened.
"We would not reopen them wholesale without consulting the victims," he said at the board meeting.
"We will leave it open to anyone who does want (the investigation reopened) to certainly contact police."
Dunbar echoed that statement, saying it's "very courageous" for victims to come forward once, let alone a second time.
"We very much want to follow the victim's wishes. We will do anything we can to be supportive."