The head of Saskatoon’s Sexual Assault Centre is calling for a new way of labelling cases where police believe an assault occurred, but there’s not enough evidence.
The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) brought in retired police inspector Shelley Ballard to conduct a review of sexual assault complaints deemed unfounded between 2011 and 2016.This came in response to a series of stories published by The Globe and Mail in February 2017, in which it was reported that police services across the country deem sexual assault complaints unfounded at a far higher rate than other crimes.
The results of the SPS review were released in a report to Saskatoon’s Board of Police Commissioners on Oct. 10.
The report looked at 284 sexual assault files from 2011 to 2016. It found nearly a third of the complaints were proven false, and another third were situations in which no offence occurred.
In those cases, some were parents making complaints of their teenage children engaging in sexual activity. One case was found to be warranted, but the investigator couldn’t reach the complainant after the initial statement and medical tests.
In the report, Ballard noted the SPS doesn’t have any category for cases that could be deemed “unsubstantiated,” that is to say where police believe an offence may have been committed, but where evidence might be insufficient to lay charges.
Faye Davis, the centre’s executive director, met with a representative of the Saskatoon Police Service to discuss and clarify the findings of the review of unfounded sexual assault cases.
SSAIC fully supports the recommendation that the Uniform Crime Reporting and/or internal statistical gathering methods should be amended to include a new category of Founded – Unable to Substantiate.
This category would reflect the cases in which officers believe a sexual assault occurred, but are unable to gather enough substantiating evidence to make a successful conviction.
According to the SSAIC, the average accepted statistic for false reporting of sexual assault is between two and eight per cent – which is in line with false reports of other crimes.
The range is calculated based on the percentage of all cases reported to police, not a percentage of the subcategory of unfounded cases.
“In the SPS review, this statistic is much higher since it is drawn from a pool of ‘unfounded’ cases and not from the entire pool of reported sexual assaults,” the SSAIC states.
“A comparison of total number of reported sexual assaults to the number labelled as false reports would be needed in order to comment on this statistic outlined in the review with any accuracy.”
Sexual assault a ‘unique crime:’ SSAIC
In its release Wednesday, the SSAIC noted sexual assault was a unique crime because it’s the only area in which lack of consent is a substantive element of the offence.
The categorization of the reasons for being unfound that include consensual sexual activity and false complaints,
The organization states further discussion between agencies is needed when categorizing a case as unfounded due to the sexual activity being consensual, or it being a false report.
“Since those conclusions are vulnerable to officers adopting common myths, or misunderstanding of how complainants who have experienced a trauma are likely to behave,” the statement reads.
“We have no reason to suspect this has occurred, but those areas would be part of any sexual trauma training provided to police officers.”