Task force releases final report on 'unfounded' sexual assault cases

A committee combing through old sexual assault cases recorded as unfounded by Waterloo Regional Police says it disagrees with the final decision made in at least 26 per cent of the cases that were reviewed.

Review committee disagrees with 'inappropriate techniques' used in at least 26 per cent of cases

The task force has been reviewing 78 old sexual assault cases that were recorded as unfounded by Waterloo regional police. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

A committee that has been combing through old sexual assault cases recorded as unfounded by Waterloo Regional Police says it disagrees with the final decision made in at least 26 per cent of the cases that were reviewed. 

The Sexual Assault Task Force began its work in 2017, after a Globe and Mail report revealed that the number of sexual assault cases recorded as unfounded in Waterloo region was 27 percent, higher than the national average of 19 per cent.

"That statistic was staggering," said Sara Casselman, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Waterloo Region and co-chair of the review committee, "and created a lot of media attention and public attention to that issue."

78 cases reviewed

The group looked at 78 unfounded cases from 2015 and 2016 that involved a victim over the age of 16 and a suspect over the age of 18. 

Of those, the committee agreed with the final decision reached in 47 cases, but did not agree with the decision reached in 20 cases. Committee members also felt that in 11 cases the investigation was either incomplete or inadequate, not allowing them to reach a conclusion.

I can't imagine, as an advocate, 10 years ago, ever having full access to police files and being able to critique them- Sara Casselman

According to their report, Casselman and her colleagues disagreed with the "inappropriate techniques" that were used in some of the police investigations.

"There was evidence, in some cases, of gender bias," Casselman told CBC News. "There was evidence that officers had not been trained or weren't using trauma-informed investigations."

And although it wasn't in the group's mandate to re-open old files, she said the group had serious concerns about two cases and did send them back to police.

11 recommendations

In their report, the review committee made 11 recommendations to improve future sexual assault investigations. 

Suggestions included: 

  • Training on how to ensure rape myths and gender bias are not part of sexual assault investigations.
  • Procedures that ensure victims are able to speak with an officer of the gender of their choosing.
  • Training officers in trauma-informed investigation techniques.

The group also wants to see ongoing reviews of sexual assault cases, starting in 2019 — something that has "significantly reduced unfounded rates" in the United States, and Casselman hopes will also improve the rate of offenders who are charged. 

She said police have already accepted all of the recommendations, and have been incredibly supportive throughout the process.

"I can't imagine, as an advocate, 10 years ago, ever having full access to police files and being able to critique them," she said. "It is a different world out there, that we have that kind of access."

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