Kelowna RCMP's sexual assault unit is a step in the right direction, says survivor | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna RCMP's sexual assault unit is a step in the right direction, says survivor

Aden Withers wants people to know she's more than an unfounded statistic.
March 09, 2020 - 6:30 PM

Sexual assault survivors may change the way Kelowna RCMP members conduct investigations going forward.

“They have contacted me and they are asking survivors for their input on the sexual assault unit,” Aden Withers, the Indigenous woman who sued the RCMP and the Ministry of Family and Children over mistreatment she received while making a rape complaint years earlier. As awareness of Kelowna's unfounded rate became a rallying cry, she was among a group of women who lobbied for the unit to be instated at the local detachment.

Kelowna’s top cop, Supt. Brent Mundle announced in recent days that he's setting up the four-person sexual assault unit this month. Its job will be to help general duty officers with new sexual assault investigations and, as needed, the unit may take over those investigations. Members of the team will also review all sexual assault investigations.

Withers has yet to speak with the officer who reached out to her but she’s thought a lot about where she believes help is needed.

“First and foremost I hope that there are Indigenous officers involved in this unit,” Withers said.

“Statistically, Indigenous people are at greater risk of being sexually assaulted …even if officers aren’t Indigenous, there needs to be special training so non-indigenous officers can handle these issues correctly.”

If insights she and other survivors offer are taken seriously, Withers has high hopes that others won’t have to tread in her footsteps and that what she deems to be rape culture will be squashed.

The unfounded rate and the slow response to addressing it, she said, is just a part of that culture.

READ MORE: Kelowna's unfounded rate issues

Statistics Canada reported the Kelowna RCMP had an unfounded rate of 40 per cent in 2018 — it dwarfed the provincial unfounded rate of 15 per cent. In response the RCMP National Headquarters Sexual Assault Review Team reviewed the 66 cases from 2018 and 2019, they found 29 were “incorrectly scored” as unfounded, or unsubstantiated, while 12 sexual assault investigations had to be reopened.

So too, however, are the number of civil suits against local RCMP members for allegations of sexual misconduct.

Supt. Mundle addressed the concern about how RCMP culture may contribute to these issues in a recent interview.

“We have had some incidents of some member conduct that, once we became aware of those, we addressed them quite quickly and initiated our own internal processes that should demonstrate to the public that, when issues arise or are brought to our attention, we do manage and deal with them to ensure and maintain public confidence,” Mundle said.

“I look at the staff of approximately 200 officers that we do have here. They come from a variety of backgrounds, including other employment before they came to the RCMP, a wide variety of educational backgrounds. They represent a number of different cultures or nationalities as well as our gender balance within our office.

“Based on all of that, I think it’s somewhat unfair to tarnish all of those individuals and paint that wide scope that there’s a culture within the office. I think there’s always room for improvement but policing is no different than other organizations or professions.”

This, Withers said, was upsetting to read.

“I think he’s trying to excuse rather than apologize for what the RCMP has put these women through,” she said.

“I think it’s not fair to not acknowledge pain and suffering we went through at the hands of RCMP. If he wants to change the public view on the RCMP, a better step would be to apologize than to excuse behaviours.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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