/Half of sex assault claims discarded as "unfounded" 

Half of sex assault claims discarded as "unfounded" 

By Chad Ingram

Published Feb. 9 2017

A damning investigative report by The Globe and Mail has shown that nearly half of sexual assault claims handled by the Haliburton Highlands OPP are dismissed as “unfounded” that is situations where police officers believe no crime was committed.

Following a 20-month investigation that looked at the handling of sexual assault cases by nearly 1000 police forces across the country “Unfounded: Why police dismiss 1 in 5 sexual assault claims as baseless” was published Feb. 3.

While nationally an average of one in five sexual assault claims is dismissed as “unfounded” in Haliburton County that figure is nearly one in two at 48 per cent.

The report draws on data for the years 2010 to 2014 for its findings.

In 2010 six of 14 allegations of sexual assault – or 43 per cent – were considered unfounded by the Haliburton Highlands OPP. In 2011 10 out of 18 – that’s 56 per cent – of allegations of sexual assault were dismissed as unfounded by the Haliburton Highlands OPP. For 2012 the figure was 50 per cent with seven of 14 claims dismissed. In 2013 eight of 17 allegations (47 per cent) were dismissed and for 2014 the figure was 10 of 23 allegations or 43 per cent.

By comparison the Haliburton Highlands OPP dismissed 21 per cent of regular assault claims during the same five-year time period.

The Globe story said researchers “concluded that a case was more likely to be classified as a real ‘founded’ allegation – meaning police believe a crime occurred – if the file noted that: the victim had said ‘No’; if the victim appeared upset; if force was used; if the victim physically resisted; if the suspect was a stranger; if the victim did not present mental-health issues which the study said included drug and alcohol abuse. In other words complainants who do not conform to stereotypes about the perfect victim were winding up with cases deemed unfounded at a disproportionate rate.

“The researchers also noticed that the allegations that had been classified as unfounded were less likely to show evidence of a robust investigation – such as formal interviews with the victim and statements from witnesses.”

The Times asked the Haliburton Highlands OPP detachment for comment on the statistics to explain what the criteria are for a claim to be labelled “unfounded” to explain the investigation process up to that point and how many cases of sexual assault claims involved partners.

The Haliburton Highlands OPP referred the paper to provincial media relations co-ordinator Sgt. Peter Leon who said the provincial force would be conducting a review of its sexual assault investigations.

“The OPP really can’t speak specifically to the sources of information that were utilized in that story” Leon said. “That being said we will be reviewing our sexual assault investigations and the outcomes on a detachment-by-detachment basis. As you can appreciate this will probably take some time so the exact specifics of your questions I probably won’t be able to speak to.”

Leon stressed the OPP have procedures and policies in place regarding sexual assault claims and that members working on such cases must take a special one-week sexual assault investigator’s course.

“I think it’s important for you and your readers to understand the OPP take allegations of sexual assault seriously” he said. “This type of crime is something that is not tolerated and we’ll certainly investigate thoroughly.”

Some neighbouring OPP forces had even higher rates of sexual assault cases categorized as “unfounded” than the Haliburton Highlands detachment.

The rates for the Huntsville and Bracebridge OPP detachments were 55 and 56 per cent respectively while the rate in the City of Kawartha Lakes OPP was 38 per cent.

The report showed that of all the police forces in the country the OPP has the worst record when it comes to the percentage of sexual assault allegations that are considered “unfounded.”

While the average rate for the OPP is 34 per cent it drops to 19 per cent for local forces

Seventeen per cent for the RCMP and 10 per cent for the RNC (Royal Newfoundland Constabulary).