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Yukon women's group not surprised by high rate of sexual assault cases dismissed as 'unfounded'

RCMP need to have specialized training to deal with sexual assault complaints says the Yukon Women's Coalition in response to a recent investigation by The Globe and Mail, which examined the numbers of sexual assault cases deemed "unfounded" by police forces across the country.

Victims need to feel safe reporting sexual assault, says Yukon Women's Coalition

A recent investigation by The Globe and Mail reported 29 per cent of sexual assault cases were deemed 'unfounded' by RCMP in Whitehorse. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

RCMP need to have specialized training to deal with sexual assault complaints says the Yukon Women's Coalition in response to a recent investigation by The Globe and Mail, which examined the numbers of sexual assault cases deemed "unfounded" by police forces across the country.

The report found very high numbers in the Yukon: 29 per cent of sexual assault reports in Whitehorse, 35 per cent in Dawson City, and 37 per cent in Haines Junction were tossed out between 2010 and 2014 because the RCMP didn't think they merited further investigation.

Sexual assault cases cleared as unfounded 2010-2014:

  • Beaver Creek: 0% (0 of 4 allegations)
  • Carcross: 16% (3 of 19 allegations)
  • Carmacks: 9% (1 of 11 allegations) 
  • Dawson City: 35% (7 of 20 allegations) 
  • Faro: 0% (0 of 2 allegations)
  • Haines Junction: 37% (7 of 19 allegations) 
  • Mayo: 20% (3 of 15 allegations)
  • Old Crow: 0% (0 of 14 allegations)
  • Pelly Crossing: 12% (3 of 25 allegations) 
  • Ross River: 20% (5 of 25 allegations)
  • Teslin: 15% (2 of 13 allegations) 
  • Watson Lake: 21% (16 of 77 allegations) 
  • Whitehorse: 29% (97 of 334 allegations)

Collyn Lovelace of the Yukon Women's Coalition says the numbers are "unsurprising."

"How these cases are dealt with in the criminal justice system can be very problematic," she said.

Collyn Lovelace of the Yukon Women's Coalition says the number of sexual assault cases deemed unfounded by police are 'unsurprising.' (CBC)

"It just really hit home that maybe there needs to be more training for officers who are responding to these types of cases."

For the past three years, the Coalition has run a 'third party' reporting program, where women and vulnerable people who feel uncomfortable going to the RCMP can report sexual assault. Since 2014, only five people have gone that route.

Barriers to reporting sexual assault

Lovelace says there are many reasons why a woman might decide not to report a sexual assault to the RCMP, including past negative experiences with police, fear of reprisal from the assailant, and worries that police won't believe them.

"The most important part of working with victims of sexualized assault is to provide a positive social response, so first and foremost, to believe them, to ensure that the setting where an interview is taking place, that it's safe, that the victim feels safe so that they can tell their story fully."

She adds that "rape myths," the belief systems of the officers themselves, contribute to the problem.

"Say for example that if someone was intoxicated, or if someone was wearing a specific type of clothing, or at a specific kind of party, those sort of 'why were you there?' types of things, if [officers] uphold any sort of rape myths, it's less likely that the case will go forward."

Lovelace says another rape myth is that only strangers commit sexual assault. She said in the Yukon, 92 per cent of victims know their assailant.

Rural communities

Lovelace added the situation is compounded in rural communities, where women need even more support after reporting a sexual assault. 

"Someone might see them going to the RCMP, someone could inform their assailant that they were reporting, and it also just sets up a 'he said, she said.'

"I've heard of victims feeling really isolated in smaller communities when they do come forward, because a lot of the community might then be upset that they have come forward and so yes, in the communities, there's definitely additional barriers for people coming forward." 

The women's coalition meets regularly with Yukon RCMP. Lovelace said the numbers of unfounded cases will be discussed when they meet next in April. 

"We can assist RCMP in addressing this issue, whether that be through training, whether that be through identifying different policing priorities with the Yukon police council. We'll assist any way we can," she said.

The coalition is recommending that RCMP have at least one member per detachment who has specialized training in investigating sexual assault complaints. 

The RCMP nationally has announced it's reviewing all sexual assault cases deemed unfounded from 2016.

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