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Sexual assault is in the media a lot these days, so you may be wondering if there has been an increase in the number of people going to police with complaints. In Ottawa, this is the case: More people are coming forward with sexual assault allegations. There was a 15 percent jump in sexual assault complaints made to Ottawa police between 2015 and 2016. However, that doesn’t mean that more people are being arrested or that these complaints are always going to trial.

According to a recent Ottawa Citizen article, “statistics from across North America suggest that only five percent of sexual assault cases are reported. Of those, about 80 percent don’t move forward to the courts.” According to a CBC News Ottawa report, Statistics Canada was quoted as saying a “sexual assault is an incident of unwanted sexual activity, including sexual attacks and sexual touching”.

The Pressures on the Police

The reason that sexual assaults are receiving more attention at the police level is because there is more pressure on the police to lay charges. While the number of police-reported sexual assaults are rising in Ottawa, the rate of charges laid has remained consistent at about 20 percent.

In order to meet the growing need, Ottawa police have increased staff. Yet even with more resources, CBC News’ Elise von Scheel noted that:

“The police service faced criticism from advocates in recent years after data revealed that officers dismissed almost 30 percent of reported sexual assaults as “unfounded.”

A sexual assault complaint is deemed unfounded when an investigator determines no crime occurred.”

This is the one of the main reasons why so many assaults go unreported. Many victims feel that the police will not believe their story. To that end, Ottawa police have started a pilot project where a civilian panel will review how reports of sexual assault and domestic violence are handed by police.

Improving How Sexual Assault Cases Are Handled: The Philadelphia Model

The panel will look at the “unfounded” cases as well as “cleared otherwise” cases where a complainant usually does not want to lay charges. (The third and final way to clear a case is by police laying a charge or charges against someone.) The panel will look at patterns and trends in the cases that were “unfounded” and “cleared otherwise” to see if there are similarities in the way cases are handled, and if improvements could be made.

Ottawa police are looking at instituting a civilian panel to look at sexual assault cases that are unfounded for this year — some 165 in total so far. This panel would be similar to what was adopted in the city of Philadelphia in the year 2000. Such a panel typically has five to 12 people on in, and includes:

  • Front-line workers who have dealt with sexual assault survivors.
  • Advocates for women.
  • Academics.
  • People with experience in the legal system.

These types of panels — which treat information as being strictly confidential — review these “unfounded” case by the police and look at interview videos.

Philadelphia took to instituting this model after a 1999 newspaper series of articles detailed the police’s handling of sexual assault cases. According to one panel member who has been on the panel since it was instituted, the number of people reporting sex assaults in the city has increased and rape crisis centres report that victims feel “more satisfied” with their police interactions.

Details on how this panel would work in Ottawa are still to be determined, but it will likely be in place sometime in the fall.

How Does This Affect Me?

The likelihood of you being reported for sexual assault will probably increase, especially if your case is “borderline.” With the police possibly changing the way that sexual assault victims are interviewed, they may be less likely to view such cases as being unfounded and police might be more likely to proceed with laying charges.

Protect Yourself

Contact us if you have reason to believe you may be charged with sexual assault. Armoured Suits offers a complimentary 30-minute private phone consultation, and we can explain the process if you are charged and how to handle it. Contact Armoured Suits by phone at 613-233-0008 or e-mail at yourteam@armouredsuits.ca to book your meeting.