It was encouraging to hear from Jane Sterk of the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society that the RCMP detachments that police the Cowichan Valley are taking reports of sexual assault, and the people that make the reports, seriously.
But we also welcome the RCMP’s upcoming review of such files.
Sterk spoke to the Citizen on the topic as we were looking into how many local sexual assault cases RCMP are classifying a “unfounded”.
Recently, the Globe & Mail newspaper produced a series of articles about huge discrepancies in the number of “unfounded” cases between jurisdictions, and across the country. As part of their probe, they produced a searchable database detailing the numbers by community.
Some of the numbers were absolutely shocking, with some places classifying upwards of 25 per cent of sexual assault reports as “unfounded.”
Our national rate of 19 per cent is worrying.
Unfounded means pretty much exactly what you think it does: “that the investigator does not believe a criminal offence occurred or was attempted,” according to the Globe & Mail.
With research from North America, the United Kingdom and Australia pegging false or mistaken reports between two and eight per cent of complaints, there’s a big problem.
North Cowichan/Duncan and Shawnigan detachments’ numbers are 12 and 10 per cent, respectively.
It must be noted that when we’re talking about small communities and detachments such as ours, the total number of reports is relatively small, so a few cases one way or the other can easily skew percentages.
But it is important to take a look at the two to eight per cent figure and be sure that our slightly higher numbers can be explained in a satisfactory manner.
Because it’s also a fact that the number of reports of sexual assault have been shown in numerous studies to be far below the actual number of crimes of this nature taking place.
Many, many victims of sexual assault never report it — as high as 78 per cent according to the 1999 General Social Survey on Victimization cited on the federal government’s Department of Justice site. It is one of the most underreported crimes in Canada.
One of the reasons for this is victims are worried they won’t be believed.
If we want to change that perception a long, hard look at “unfounded” is a good place to start.