Four women headed a panel to talk about how the police force can better serve sexual assault survivors, especially those who choose to report it, on Jan. 22.
The panel was headed by the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry and UBCO and included panelists from different sectors of society who were brought together by their advocacy to support sexual assault survivors.
The event was organized after Kelowna Capital News revealed last year that 40 per cent of sexual assault cases were deemed “unfounded” in 2018, which is more than double the provincial average.
Unfounded cases mean police didn’t find evidence that the crime was attempted or that it occurred at all.
The focal point of the panel discussion was to answer two main questions:
- Why are sexual assault cases being deemed unfounded at differential rates compared to other assault cases like physical assault?
- What are the individual and structural changes that need to happen in the system?
Buffy Mills, one of the panelists, said when the alarmingly high statistic first became public, she felt sick and disgusted.
“I can’t help but feel for the victims who’ve experienced sexual assault. For someone to dismiss them altogether, like they don’t matter,” Mills said.
“They were going to a detachment, talking to a police officer looking for help and they’re dismissed … I have no other words but it makes me sick to my stomach knowing there are women out there … being told they’re irrelevant.”
Panelist Elaine Alec said she wasn’t surprised by the numbers, but having to build safe spaces now will be a long road.
“I think what it really breaks down to is being able to show each other vulnerability,” she said.
She added that supporting those who’ve gone through trauma means trying to understand them.
“If you don’t understand trauma and understand what it’s like to go through that, it’s really hard to support people. I don’t think enough people in our society overall understand how to respond when someone discloses … I know that there’s so much training that needs to happen with the RCMP because 40 per cent unfounded is basically saying 40 per cent we don’t believe you.”
The panelists agreed that the most important thing that must happen is to train officers to handle and understand how trauma works, and to ask questions with compassion, especially in sexual violence cases.
The RCMP recently said it has completed its internal review of the high number of sexual assaults that were deemed “unfounded” by police in 2018 and 2019, however, the results will not be made public for several more weeks.