Lack of charges not just a policing issue
Victim-blaming still a systemic problem, says YWCA director
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer, with files from Lisa Gervais | February 16, 2017|
Between 2010 and 2014, nearly 50 per cent of sexual assaults were categorized as unfounded in Haliburton County, meaning the investigator didn’t believe a criminal offence occurred, but YWCA director Darlene Smith-Harrison says the problem isn’t just a policing issue.
“The problem is much more complex,” Harrison told The Highlander. “Being in a rural setting, everybody feels that they know everybody, and I’ve seen women come forward with their story and be shunned by the community.”
The high unfounded rates across Canada, which was reported in a recent Globe and Mail investigation, are attributed to a number of factors including inadequate police training when it comes to interviewing victims.
The Y believes women every time, stresses Jen Cureton, the Y’s director of philanthropy and communications.
“It’s important for women to know that there is someone out there who will believe them, and that would be us and the other service providers we work with,” she said.
Haliburton Highlands OPP did not comment for this story, but OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes has announced that they will review about 4,000 unfounded reports across the province, covering allegations made between 2010 and 2014. In the county, the highest number of allegations happened in 2014 with a total of 23, 10 of which were deemed unfounded.
These numbers puzzle Laura Proctor, executive director of Kawartha Haliburton Victim Services, who wonders how many of the unfounded cases in Haliburton were referred to victim services.
“Even if there are a lot of unfounded cases, victim services still should be offered to the individuals … we can then provide them with counselling,” she said.
Understanding what victim services can do and ensuring victims of assault are referred to them consistently is critical, says Proctor.
“It’s not just throwing teddy bears at people and running away. It’s providing a core service that makes the police’s job easier.”
Smith was pleased the Globe article referenced the work done by Lori Haskell, a Canadian specialist studying how the neurobiology of trauma factors into sexual assault cases.
“The timing of that initial interview is important … often police are trained to get the information and do it in a way that’s quick and efficient, but when someone has experienced life-threatening trauma, that isn’t the moment for them to be able to communicate what exactly happened,” she said.
Whitney Rickard, client services coordinator for Kawartha Haliburton Victim Services, says the high number of unfounded cases in the county is an eye-opener, but also points to the fact that some of their cases are 30 years old or more, making it hard for police to fully understand the story and lay charges. But she still encourages victims to come forward, no matter how much time has passed.
“Whether it was 50 years ago or now, our view doesn’t change … our supports are still the same,” she said.
In Haliburton County and other rural areas, sexual assault victims looking for certain medical and forensic documentation usually need to travel to Peterborough or Orillia, says Smith, creating another layer of complexity to the high unfounded rates in Ontario, which is 34 per cent, well above the national average of 20 per cent.
A recently formed committee that includes the OPP, various victim and mental health services and the Y, is looking at ways to improve the coordination of referrals and make it easier for victims to access the resources they require. A full list of contacts for the Y’s programs and shelters can be found at ywcapeterborough.org/contact/
Women who can’t reach out directly because of a partner who is monitoring their telephone or Internet activity can text the Y at 705-991-0110. The Y’s website can also clear browser history.
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.