The Current

It will take 'rewiring all of us' to change myths about sexual assault victims: reporter

The Globe and Mail's Robyn Doolitle says a 2012 video of an RCMP officer asking an Indigenous teenager if she was "turned on" by an alleged sexual assault demonstrates 'old, outdated stereotypes' around sexual assault and consent that persist to this day.

Robyn Doolittle weighs in on video of police asking teen if she was 'turned on' by alleged sexual assault

A still from this 2012 RCMP interview shows a male officer interviewing an Indigenous teenager who complained about a sexual assault. Globe and Mail reporter Robyn Doolittle says the video shows the officer doesn't understand the laws around consent. (RCMP)
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A video of an RCMP officer interrogating an Indigenous teen about an alleged sexual assault demonstrates that he doesn't understand the laws around consent, says an investigative reporter who has covered the topic extensively.

In the footage from 2012, the police officer asks the 17-year-old whether she was "turned on" by the sexual advances, adding he is concerned because she "didn't put up much of a fight."

"In Canada a complainant doesn't need to say 'no.' She doesn't need to fight back. Those are old, outdated stereotypes of how women or sexual assault victims are supposed to act," the Globe and Mail's Robyn Doolittle told The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.

"Our law has actually moved past those myths and stereotypes, but he clearly doesn't understand that."

The video in question was released as part of disclosure in an ongoing civil suit against a former Kelowna, B.C., social worker. The woman in the video, now 24, made the footage public after it was provided by her lawyers.

She cannot be identified because she was a minor at the time and is part of the lawsuit.

'Absolutely abhorrent'

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale condemned the interrogation on Wednesday, saying, "What was revealed in that video was absolutely abhorrent."

Warning: This video may be disturbing to some viewers.

The video was released after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ordered disclosure of material related to the sexual assault case involving a former Kelowna-based social worker 1:27

Doolittle said these stories advance our understanding of how sexual cases should be handled differently.

"You want police to do thorough investigations," she said, explaining that won't happen if officers don't ask the right questions, and if they believe the victim is lying.

"That officer didn't come out of that room and go, 'I'm gonna go do a darn good job looking in to see whether this actually happened' … So he's not going to do that work collecting that evidence to then hand to a Crown who could then take it to court."

RCMP providing more training

The RCMP declined an interview with The Current.

In a statement, the police force said its officers are receiving training on myths surrounding sexual assault, consent law, and how to better interview witnesses. It's also developing new training around cultural competency, and dealing with trauma.

Although the video is from 2012, Doolittle said those attitudes persist even today — and changing those cultural beliefs is "a slow-moving goal."

"The RCMP has been stepping in the right direction on what to do with these cases, but this is not going to change overnight," she said.

"This is about rewiring all of us — not just police, but all of us."

Audio to come.

Produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby, Rachel Levy-McLaughlin and Julianne Hazlewood.