Police organizations across the country were roughly shaken last week by a series of stories in The Globe and Mail revealing that on average 20 per cent of reports of sexual assault are dismissed by cops as unfounded.
“Unfounded” is the police designation for “we don’t believer her.”
It’s a startling statistic, given that previous research indicates the actual number of fabricated stories of rape told to police varies somewhere between two and eight per cent.
The Globe’s revelations follow a 20-month investigation involving 250 separate requests for data under the Freedom of Information Act and they impressively break down the numbers by community.
The Globe reports in Princeton BC 17 per cent of complaints of sexual assault between 2010 and 2014 were dismissed into the unfounded category.
So, Princeton hovers just below the national average but there are seemingly inexplicable – and therefore alarming – variances between communities.
Central Saanich, BC has the highest unfounded rate in the country, at 60 per cent. The lowest is Winnipeg at two percent.
Closer to home the numbers are also all over the map. Keremeos RCMP have a five-year unfounded rate of 21 per cent, yet in Penticton one-third of all sex assault complaints are dismissed as false. In Hope, just nine per cent were designated unfounded in the study period.
Response to the research has been swift and cuts deep. More than 32 police forces including the RCMP have already announced they will review unfounded files.
Law enforcement, women’s groups, politicians and scholars are going to be dissecting this information for months to come.
For the town of Princeton the real head scratcher is not the number of unfounded complaints revealed in the study.
It’s the number of complaints period.
Over five years there were only 30 reports to local RCMP of sexual assault – out of a policed population of 4,887.
Compare that to Keremeos, where police cover an almost identically-sized community, and there were 52 complaints. The RCMP in Hope policed only 1,195 people and took reports of 22 sexual assaults during the same time.
In 2010 in Princeton there was one report to police of sex assault – and it was classified as unfounded.
While it would be nice to believe this small town is just an uniquely and wonderfully safe place for women to live that is hardly a credible conclusion.
It is well understood that sexual assault is a hugely unreported crime, and it goes that way for many reasons.
A woman isn’t required to report a sexual assault to police or follow through on a complaint, nor should she feel forced or obligated to press a charge.
That said the shockingly low number of reports in Princeton and area suggests the community needs more information about sexual rights and freedoms, and options for women when assaults occur.
Giving a higher profile to the local victims services program would be a start, and a look at how sexual assault is addressed (or not) in our schools is indicated.
What the numbers say about Princeton is we need to do a better job of making women feel safe and supported and that is a responsibility for everyone – not just the police. –