PEI

Police need more oversight and training on sex assault cases, says rape centre

Police need more training and oversight to reduce the rate of sex assault cases deemed unfounded, according to the PEI Rape and Sexual Assault Centre.

'This has raised awareness that everything doesn't fit into neat boxes,' say police

'I think it means that we need to ask the question why and to look into that a little further,' says Sigrid Rolfe of the numbers from Statistics Canada. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Police need more training and oversight to reduce the rate of sex assault cases deemed unfounded, according to the PEI Rape and Sexual Assault Centre.

"I think that police have a lot of work to do to build up trust and confidence in their response to sexual assault victims," said Sigrid Rolfe, coordinator for the centre. "We have a long way to go."

Rolfe is calling for oversight by a third party of all sex assault cases on P.E.I., following the release of new numbers from Statistics Canada that show P.E.I. has the highest rate of cases labelled unfounded by police.

"I think it means that we need to ask the question why and to look into that a little further," said Rolfe.

Calls for more police training

Rolfe wants the province to adopt procedures used in the U.S. where a panel of victim workers and law enforcement agencies review all sexual assault cases. She also wants more training for police into how they investigate these assaults.

Police and RCMP on P.E.I. say change is already happening. Most notably, police have adopted standardized, nationwide reporting practices. It includes a standard definition of unfounded — being where it's determined that an offence did not occur.

The new system allows more precision in categorizing crimes, instead of simply labelling cases founded or unfounded, as in the past, where unfounded in some cases included reports where there wasn't enough evidence to go to court or when the complainant didn't want to pursue charges.

"It was more of a reporting mechanism error than anything else," said Charlottetown deputy police chief Brad MacConnell.

'Everything doesn't fit into neat boxes'

"There was a certain belief that police were not taking sexual assault victims seriously and that certainly was very concerning to the police community."

'This has raised awareness that everything doesn't fit into neat boxes,' says Charlottetown deputy police chief Brad MacConnell. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

All Charlottetown police officers are enrolled in a new online training program that became available recently, said MacConnell. That program was developed in consultation with Statistics Canada.

"This has raised awareness that everything doesn't fit into neat boxes," said MacConnell.

"It's instilled in our training and our mindsets to put the victim first and to believe the victim and I haven't seen any change in that."

Unfounded doesn't mean 'victim is lying'

Island RCMP report 10 of 80 sexual assault cases reported to them in 2017 were classified as unfounded. In an emailed statement to CBC News, Island RCMP elaborated on those numbers.

"By classifying a file unfounded, a police officer is not saying that the victim is lying," according to the statement.

'By classifying a file unfounded, a police officer is not saying that the victim is lying,' says a statement from P.E.I. RCMP. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

"A significant number of the unfounded sexual assault files were complaints made by a third party who had heard a rumour, or had a concern.... A thorough investigation in these cases determined that no sexual assault had occurred."

'One of the most under-reported crimes'

The Summerside police department reports two of 28 cases of sexual assault in 2017 were deemed unfounded. 

Statistics Canada also reported a rise, nationwide, in reports of sexual assault last year, as a result of the #MeToo movement. Across Canada 28,551 incidents were reported last year.

Rolfe calls it progress.

"We know it's one of the most under-reported crimes. So anything we can do to make it easier for victims to come forward and report crimes, the better," she said.

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About the Author

Brian Higgins holds an honours Bachelor of Science degree in biology, as well as a Master of Arts degree in journalism. As a videojournalist, he currently reports for TV, radio and cbc.ca on Prince Edward Island with emphasis on courts and judicial issues.

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