“What does unfounded mean to anybody? It means ‘You’re lying,’.”
March 12, 2017 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Unfounded: Why Police Dismiss 1 in 5 Sexual Assault Claims as Baseless by Robyn Doolittle [The Globe and Mail] In a 20-month-long investigation into how police handle sexual assault allegations, The Globe and Mail gathered data from more than 870 police forces. The findings expose deep flaws at every step of the process.
• Will Police Believe You? Compare Unfounded Sex Assault Rates Across Canada [The Globe and Mail]
When Canadian police officers complete an investigation, they give it a closure code to show the outcome. One of those codes is “unfounded.” “Unfounded” indicates the investigating officer does not believe a crime was attempted or occurred. Once an allegation is categorized that way, it effectively disappears from public record. Considered baseless, the case isn’t reported to Statistics Canada, which has implications for police and victim-services funding. [...] Our investigation has shown that sexual-assault cases are nearly twice as likely as physical assault to be designated unfounded. (The Globe found that only 11 per cent of physical assaults were coded as unfounded.) The number is also significantly higher than the false-reporting rate, which studies have shown to be somewhere between 2 and 8 per cent.
• How Do You Fix a Broken System? [The Globe and Mail]
“I’m really supportive of any community doing case reviews, but to be worth doing, to be successful, it needs to be the right kind of review,” she said. “You need the expertise of those who work on the frontline. Sexual assault centres. Advocates who deal with survivors. Only 5 per cent of women report to police. We still talk to the other 95 per cent,” said Ms. Marriner, the executive director of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre.
• Inside North Bay's Struggle to Change How They Handle Sexual Assault Cases [The Globe and Mail]
Legal experts, criminologists and law-enforcement officials interviewed by The Globe say there are a few possible explanations for the discrepancies. The larger the police service, the bigger the budget, with more opportunities for training, mentoring and specialization. Smaller communities have to do more with less. In North Bay, the training budget for the entire service is less than $100,000 a year, which doesn’t go far once travel costs are considered. The departments don’t have the spare bodies to form dedicated units for specific types of crime, so officers are left juggling all manner of cases, from vandalism to noise complaints to sexual assaults. And while big-city forces have civilian-crime analysts to collect and evaluate the data for trends, small forces are often flying blind.
• The Challenge of Handling Sex Assault in Canada's North [The Globe and Mail]
Julie Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre in the Northwest Territories, said even though the territory is small, she would like a specialized sex-assault unit and new training. She has asked the territory’s Justice Minister to provide specifics on what type of training is under consideration and what the government plans to do with the results of the unfounded-case audit. Some problems in Northern communities are always going to exist, Ms. Green said. Not every place has a police detachment. Law enforcement is flown in on a scheduled basis, which makes reporting more challenging. Some communities are isolated and not accessible by roads. And in general, the NWT’s small population means fewer services are available. Ms. Niego, who was an RCMP officer for 25 years before she joined Nunavut’s Department of Justice, said it can take time for officers to become familiar with life in the territory.
• Unfounded: How Police and Politicians Have Responded to The Globe’s Investigation So Far [The Globe and Mail]
Within a week of the Unfounded investigation’s debut, more than 30 police forces representing more than 1,000 communities had announced investigations into sexual-assault cases that were deemed “unfounded.” More are likely to follow after the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police urged “all police services to review practices around sexual-assault investigations.”
- The Story Behind The Globe's Unfounded Series [The Globe and Mail]
- Robyn Doolittle On Breaking The Story Of The Year [Canadaland Interview]
- In Conversation with Robyn Doolittle: the Reporter Behind the Globe’s Unfounded Investigation [Torontoist]
posted by Fizz (11 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, I'm still horrified and incensed by the ruling for the Halifax sexual assault case. I believe the judge is being investigated and I hope some form of justice for the victim happens.

A local reporter here in Kingston is doing a seven part series of assault victims whose cases were never followed up. I felt just a crushing sense of sadness and anger knowing that they were more or less dismissed.
posted by Kitteh at 8:43 AM on March 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

This story was so huge, and what an impact, with several police forces beginning a review of sexual assault cases that had been categorised as unfounded.

My town had one of the highest "unfounded" rates, so that was pretty chilling.
posted by chapps at 8:51 AM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah, like London, we have a major university in town so obviously I think of all the female students who may have never come forward or if they did, it was probably seen as "well, you were drunk so nvm."
posted by Kitteh at 8:55 AM on March 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Two complainants were charged with public mischief for filing a false report (in both instances, the charges were dropped before going to court); another two women said they were threatened with public mischief after making allegations of sexual assault.

So, not only are these cops just plain bad at their job, they're also abusive fartbags. Anyone else feel like punching things?
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:57 AM on March 12, 2017 [17 favorites]

Kitteh, although the crown is appealing the Halifax taxi case, and they are apparently appointing two special prosecutors for future sexual assault cases, I'm not aware of any investigation underway into Judge Lenehan. We've been protesting in Halifax to demand his disbarrement, but so far the response has been wishy-washy.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 9:09 AM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Thanks for that update, mrjohnmuller. Hearing the circumstances of the case was just so upsetting.
posted by Kitteh at 9:16 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I suspect that all that will happen as a result of this story (which is very high profile here in Canada, if the number of times it's come across my various news feeds is any indication) is that police services will start recoding these things as something other than unfounded after having put exactly the same pressure on the complainants during the process. But what gets counted is what counts, and if the statistics move from unfounded to unprosecuted, then people's closing rates start to go down or we start to wonder 'why is it that so many victims don't want to continue with the charge?' Those are, of course, already the questions being asked in this piece, but if you take away 'oh, it was unfounded' as the answer, maybe we'll see a little more truth.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:21 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

if the statistics move from unfounded to unprosecuted, then people's closing rates start to go down or we start to wonder 'why is it that so many victims don't want to continue with the charge?'

Hopefully. There are so many people pushing you to not continue with the charges - not just the cops, but all sorts, some of whom do actually believe they're doing it for your own good - that it gives the denialists so much fodder.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:15 AM on March 12, 2017

I looked up my city in the "Will Police Believe You?" database and found out the "unfounded" rate is 6%, and charges are NOT laid in 84% of the sexual assault cases per year.

What the general public needs to understand is that these aren't some abstract stats. To me, it means that if I'm raped, I'll be assumed by a non-zero number of police officers to be a liar, and there's very little chance my rapist would be charged, let alone prosecuted. That's a horrific thing to know.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:45 AM on March 12, 2017 [17 favorites]

And yet I still see men at my Uni getting offended at women's rights groups having meetups on campus, because feminism is over amiright?

I'm sad but not surprised that my city has a really horrible rate of unfoundeds and uncharged rape cases. The police where I am are generally unapproachable for a woman reporting any sort of crime let alone sexual assault. I've heard of women getting shamed for being mugged( like being told "why would you carry a purse in a dark parking lot?") so it's no surprise that the police here are incapable of handling sexual assault cases like empathetic humans.
posted by InkDrinker at 12:37 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Congrats to Robyn Doolittle and the G&M for doing this sorely needed work.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:55 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

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