The face of Kelowna's unfounded rate: 'I cried tears of fear and relief' - InfoNews

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The face of Kelowna's unfounded rate: 'I cried tears of fear and relief'

Aden Withers wants people to know she's more than an unfounded statistic.
November 26, 2019 - 1:10 PM

Aden Withers didn’t want to become the face of rape survivors who have been failed by the system.

When Kelowna RCMP’s 40 per cent unfounded rate recently came to light, however, she had a visceral reaction.

“I was horrified. I broke down and cried. I cried tears of fear and relief — relief because I knew I wasn’t the only one and I was afraid because I wasn’t the only one,” Withers said.

That’s when she decided then to come forward and say she was the Indigenous woman who gained national attention earlier this year when a video of her attempting to file a sex assault complaint was released.

“Were you turned on at all by this at all… even a little bit,”  West Kelowna RCMP Const. Kent Hall asked her in the now-infamous interview that quickly made its way around the country.

“No,” she said.

“Physically you weren’t at all responsive to his advances … even maybe subconsciously,” he asked.

“No, I was really scared,” she said.

“OK because you understand that when a guy tries to have sex with a female and the female is completely unwilling it is very difficult,” he said.

Her case, after that interaction, was dismissed. She was an early unfounded statistic.

When the story broke, Withers asked to be hidden behind a pseudonym.

“It was terrifying to come forward,” Withers said. “I debated telling my story publicly a lot because I knew there would be people who didn’t believe me or people who just want intimate facts that they just don’t need to know."

In the time that has passed however, support has filled some of the holes left behind.

"I was scared, but I knew from leaking my video that the majority of people would be outraged. I have found support from the public, but the other unfounded cases don’t have that and it’s harder for them to cope with.”

Withers is now 25, and still suffers from that RCMP encounter, which is the subject of a lawsuit.

She now just hopes others don’t have to tread her path.

“I am hoping the RCMP will conduct a fulsome review from an outside source instead of just investigating themselves,” Withers said. "I’m also hoping victim services from Elizabeth Fry will start offering counselling to the women who are unfounded cases. Before the investigation is concluded, I think there needs to be counselling. People are suffering from this guilt and shame.”

Withers said since coming forward numerous stories have filled her inbox.

“It’s been tragic what happens and it’s definitely a problem in Kelowna,” Withers said. “I think the (Kelowna RCMP’s) reputation is beyond repair. They can only do better than what they’ve done, though.”

Of particular concern, Withers said the indigenous population in this city is at risk and that she’s “afraid for them.”

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. Kelowna 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."


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