When completing an investigation, Canadian Police are required to give the file a case code to declare its closure; one code option that is raising new concerns relating to sexual assault cases is unfounded. This code signifies that the allegations of the investigation are baseless; in other words, the police assume that no crime was attempted or took place.
The Globe and Mail recently released a report that concluded a 20-month long study relating to sexual assault and how police handle allegations of this nature. The results show that across Canada, 1 in 5 sexual assault allegations is recorded as unfounded.
The Globe and Mail received information from 873 police jurisdictions, representing 92% of the Canadian population. The used the data to discover that “the statistics varied wildly from town to town, city to city and province to province. Even separate police services located in the same geographic area recorded starkly different unfounded rates. In total, police in 115 communities dismissed at least one-third of sex-assault complaints as unfounded.”
The data shows a trend in which bigger centres with higher populations were less likely to code a case as unfounded. Winnipeg had the lowest unfounded rates in the country, with only 2% of sexual assault allegations being branded as such. The smaller regions, such as those up North or in the Maritimes, were more likely to have higher unfounded rates. The rates per jurisdictions ranged from 2-60%, while the rates per province ranged from 11-32%. World reports have estimated the actual unfounded claims for sexual assault to be between 2-8%. So what does this mean?
The Globe points out that the effects of the dramatic differences in provinces and jurisdictions is most likely linked to the fact that victims are more likely to be believed in certain areas of the country. The differences in police practice and training coupled with false coding are assumed to be substantial contributing factors. This is substantial for victims of assault given that:
“It is widely believed that fewer than one in 10 victims of sexual assault will actually come forward with a complaint. Those whose cases get to trial face a grueling process and a low chance of seeing a conviction. Unfairly dismissing their complaints as unfounded only adds to the sense that the system is weighted against sexual-assault victims from the start.”
Following the release of the Globe’s Report on February 3, 2017, by February 10, 2017 32 police forces have launched investigations into the practices related to sexual assault allegations.
For an illuminating assessment of this situation read Professor Karen Busby's Op Ed: Winnipeg Doing More For Victims of Sex Assault.
Doolittle, R., Pereira, M., Blenkinsop, L., & Aguis, J. (2017, February 3). Unfounded: Will the Police Believe You?. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/compare-unfounded-sex-assault-rates-across-canada/article33855643/
Doolittle, R. (2017, February 3). Unfounded: Why Police Dismiss 1 in 5 Sexual Assault Claims as Baseless. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/unfounded-sexual-assault-canada-main/article33891309/
White, P., & Doolittle, R. (2017, February 10). Unfounded: Over 10,000 Sexual Assault Cases to be Reviewed. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/in-unprecedented-response-32-canadian-police-forces-to-review-thousands-of-sexual-assault-complaints/article33991368/