Kelowna's high 'unfounded' rate may further deter sex assault victims from going to police | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna's high 'unfounded' rate may further deter sex assault victims from going to police

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November 25, 2019 - 2:00 PM

Kelowna women living in high-risk situations are already reluctant to go to the police when sexually assaulted, said a local outreach worker, which makes the city's high unfounded rate even more disturbing.

“I probably get 10 stories a week of women who were assaulted in one way or another,” Angie Lohr, of HOPE Outreach said, speaking about the population of women who spend their days, and sometimes nights, on the street in high-risk situations.

"Sometimes the ladies will come forward, but not always. They either don’t either have the strength or the ability.”

She and her team of outreach workers make “bad date reports” as needed but taking the next step of going to the authorities is another matter altogether.

So often, she said, the “he said, she said” nature of sex assault investigation is daunting enough to convince someone to not go forward but the revelation that so many cases are dismissed as unfounded could make it even harder to convince someone to go through with reporting.

“Many abused women are already distrusting of the system,” Lohr said, adding that even if a case gets to court it can be a torturous process.

“Women are shamed in court, asked if their skirt was too short, or why did you spread your legs, and things like that,” she said. “There’s never enough proof, and usually the woman is in a desperate state.”

Worse yet, she said, getting long term counselling can be difficult. The Elizabeth Fry Society can help offer counselling immediately if it’s an emergency, but in a post #MeToo world, their services have been strained to the limit as more women come out and address past wounds.

They recently said that their waitlist is six weeks for counselling, though they don’t want anyone to be deterred from coming to them. Each case is dealt with on a case by case basis.

Lohr said she’s been trying to link people up with the services they need unofficially because the need is so great.

“I personally seek out friends who are social workers who will take the women we work with and offer pro bono counselling,” she said. “They’re donating their time, but it’s me advocating for them — they’re too terrified to relive that trauma.”

When all is said and done, the one thing that the concerns about the unfounded rate have done is highlight problems in what’s clearly a damaged system, right from the reporting model to the courts and finally with the follow through with counselling.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” she said, adding that trust in the system needs to be built. How that will work, however, remains to be seen.

The Kelowna Mounties have said that in 2018, they received 82 reports of sexual assault, and deemed 30 cases unfounded after investigations were completed. That’s around 37 per cent. The southern Interior city has a population of about 132,000.

Statistics Canada said in July that, nationally, 11 per cent of sexual-assault cases reported to police were classified as unfounded in 2018, down from 14 per cent in 2017.

Unfounded means the investigating officer did not believe that a crime had occurred.

Kelowna RCMP Cpl. Meghan Foster said in a statement that the sexual-assault review team will look at files and refer them for additional review if all investigative steps were not followed.

“We understand that there are many questions about the roots of these statistics and we’re taking immediate steps to get answers,” she wrote. “We are aware that people may find the number of unfounded sexual assault cases unsettling."

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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