Domestic abuse victims often recant stories

Police, victim services and the courts see all too often that victims of domestic abuse change their minds, recant their stories and go back to their violent partners.

Police, victim services, courts say problem frustrating

The police, victim services and the courts see it all too often: victims of domestic abuse change their minds, recant their stories and go back to their violent partners.

The public prosecution office doesn't have statistics on how often victims recant their accounts on the stand.

Arlene Hache, from the Centre for Northern Families in Yellowknife, said this problem happens often.

"Probably 80 per cent of the women that I speak to recant their story, or regret reporting it," she said.

Hache said at the centre, she sees abused women who fear for their safety, can't support their families or won't have a roof over their heads if their partner goes to jail.

Statistics Canada reports that one in 10 people in Canada’s territories report they’ve been the victim of domestic violence.

"When women do go back and when deaths are a result, it's crushing in one way. Of course I know several women who have ended up dead going back to partners," said Hache.

The RCMP can make video recordings of statements which can then be held up in court if a victim recants. This exact scenario happened in a recent Yellowknife court case when the victim testified that an assault didn’t happen.

The judge found the accused guilty anyway based on the sworn statement the woman gave to police right after the attack.

"We're here to help, we want to help break that cycle of violence. It gets frustrating for us when that person may well not want to continue with that effort to take that first step, and step away from their involvement in the cycle of violence," said RCMP Sgt. Wes Heron.

Rebecca Latour, with the GNWT department of justice, said the RCMP should re-think the way it looks at investigations into domestic violence. (CBC)

Rebecca Latour, who is a family violence analyst with the N.W.T. government’s justice department, says that across the country, the chances of a woman being murdered go up when a victim has left an abusive relationship. Latour said this is why many women often feel they will be at an even greater risk of violence if they leave.

She said the RCMP needs to look at the way it conducts investigations.

"Successful investigations or cases don't rely solely on the victim's testimony. We know that in general, victims will recant...Police in other jurisdictions - they approach their investigations, you treat as if … it’s a homicide case. A statement is a great thing to have, but it's not what you count on," said Latour.

RCMP said last year, more than 85 per cent of reported spousal assaults in the N.W.T. resulted in charges being laid – but Statistics Canada said only about half of victims ever contact the police.