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 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.
For instance, police tend to judge the credibility of a sexual assault victim based on the chronological account of the complaint. Police ask the victim if they can recount the series of events backwards. However, a survivor of sexual assault may not be able to provide this as they may be traumatized by the event. Therefore, changes may have to be made by police as to how they interview complainants.
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, it may very well be that they will less likely to view such cases as being unfounded and police might be more likely to proceed with laying charges.
Contact us if you have reason to believe you may be charged with sexual assault. Armoured Suits offers a complimentary 30-minute private 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 [email protected] to book your meeting.