Ottawa partner assault unit responds to report calling for less victim blaming
University of Ottawa report tells police how to improve response to crimes of violence against women
The head of the Ottawa police partner assault unit is considering changing the language used when responding to crimes of violence against women after a University of Ottawa report found that some women felt they were treated like suspects.
Staff-Sgt. Jamie Dunlop said that police have a legal requirement to warn against lying when they conduct video interviews.
"It is fairly harsh in nature in terms of warning someone," he said. "We have a problem in our communication — that we need to explain what that actually means."
Listen to the full interview with Jamie Dunlop below.
In January 2014, Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau asked for input on how to improve the force's response to violence against women.
In response, the University of Ottawa launched a study that asked 219 women who had reported violence to Ottawa police to complete a detailed questionnaire on topics including intimate partner violence, sexual assault and other types of violence including harassment, threats and physical abuse.
The study found that 44 per cent of women felt the first officer she spoke to believed her report of sexual assault while 64 per cent felt the officer believed her report of partner assault.
Only 37 per cent of women who reported sexual assault and 57 per cent of women who reported partner assault found that the officer was considerate of her feelings and opinions, the study found.
The report found that Ottawa police officers could improve their response to crimes of violence against women with more charges and less victim blaming.
'It's not that we don't believe'
Dunlop explained that the way the legal system works sometimes limits police in laying charges, he said.
"The police and the courts have a certain standard we have to prove in court about offences," he said. "It's not that we don't believe. Sometimes simply that, especially in historical circumstances, it's difficult to gather the evidence we require."
A woman might feel like she is being blamed if an officer asks what she was wearing but Dunlop explained an officer might ask for investigative purposes.
"Sometimes we need to know because we go back and look for video. We look for various things and we're looking to pick you ot of a crowd," he said, adding that communicating the reason behind a question could help prevent a misunderstanding.
In terms of how they felt, we have to take that seriously.- Staff-Sgt. Jamie Dunlo
Ultimately, he said the findings of the study help police understand how women who report violent crimes feel.
"In terms of how they felt, we have to take that seriously," he said.
Holly Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa who authored the study, was a guest on CBC Radio's All In A Day on Wednesday.
Listen to her full interview below.